Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The solution to Europe's migrant crisis

All that anyone can say for sure about what is happening is that this crisis is with us.

Europe, the Near East and North Africa are facing an exceptional event. Understandably no country was prepared for it, but all have to deal with it one way or another.

Argue as we may who is to blame for it, there is and can only be one solution now: to apply existing international and domestic law to the processing of migrants/refugees. It will be a messy, slow and less than adequate process. It will involve negotiations and questionable trade-offs, take many months of work to produce less than satisfactory results, and mean accepting that practicality and compassion will be at odds throughout. Every interest, using the media, will argue with whatever is done - and not done.

It seems trying to secure agreement on quotas and budgets is working against a collective response. As the numbers of migrants grow, improvisation is therefore unavoidable. Existing administrative capacity can only be used as best as possible and only expanded as quickly as possible where it is inevitably lacking.

If poorer EU countries opt out, the richer ones will end by taking more than their fair share of the burden simply because there is no alternative. Democratic governments must do their best to be honest with their citizens about the inconvenience and sacrifice this involves. They will have to grin and bear it when it makes them extremely unpopular with their electorates.

NGOs and charity will help, but inter-state cooperation alone can solve the problem. Eventually all the disagreements and recriminations we are witnessing will be replaced by a coalition of the willing. There is no other way.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A passing thought on the UK's new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

In ‘Status quo fatigue yields new radicals', September 15, you point to Greece’s Syriza, France’s National Front and Spain’s Podemos among others to suggest that ‘the question remains whether [radicalism] is a temporary phenomenon or the younger generation will continue to demand fundamental change.'*
Radicalism is with us because ‘the younger generation’ is. The benefits of the views and values of youth may be arguable, but every generation has to live with them.
However, as you also note, radicalism definitely waxes and wanes according to levels of ‘social stress’. And, inevitably, every younger generation grows up.
So when times turn bad and foster radicalism, there is always a generation that has either been there and done that or, if it hasn't, simply does not understand what today's youth are on about. On the other hand, when times are good, why would any darn fool want to change things?
There are exceptions. The UK’s newly elected Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is one. Mr Corbyn is a permanent radical. Thirty years ago he was ahead of the times. Today he is thirty years behind.
 From the Business Day article September 15 to which this is a reply

Monday, September 14, 2015

Can Britain be right to kill her own citizens?

To judge by commentary in the papers and on TV and internet sites, the drone killing in Syria on August 21 of two British citizens fighting alongside Islamic State (Isis), and the same but much higher profile end this week of so-called 'Jihadi John', continues to confuse and divide public opinion in the UK. No doubt it is doing so in many other parts of today's global village.

Was the Conservative government right to authorise these strikes? Not surprisingly the Labour Party has questions. But the Labour Party is in opposition again after last year’s elections and faced with the tricky task of judging a public mood swinging between Islamophobia and compassion for innocent Muslim refugees fleeing to Europe. The opposition has questions, but it raises them, one senses, gingerly, not all of one mind.

In any case in Britain’s democracy, the questions come in from across the political spectrum. What was the legal basis for the deadly strike? Was the action justified on grounds of self-defence against a clear and present danger?

MPs are not alone in demanding to know why the British parliament was not consulted before the action was taken. There is no law that says it must be, but it can now be called a convention for the executive to consult the legislature on such serious matters, along with the other conventions that are the historic basis of the British constitution. The fear is the UK is merely following the USA again, adopting unlawful drone strikes. Prime Minister David Cameron is doing a me-too on Tony Blair. Many see now what they did not see at the time Blair took his country to war in Iraq. They believe he was no more than the puppet of US President George W Bush.

All that aside, are drone killings out of the blue not fundamentally inconsistent with human rights? With the need for justice and a fair hearing? Do drone attacks also kill innocent people? Who can prove they do not? Is this the start of a slippery slope? Are the rule of law and democracy itself under threat in the UK, a country that should be guarding and honouring these institutions?

There are no answers all will accept. The questions overlap with no sharp boundaries between them. Nevertheless in assessing the use of drones in the radically different technological world of the 21st Century - a world where the nature of warfare is changing like everything else before our eyes - it helps to look at these questions separately on political, legal and moral grounds, even if those grounds can never be completely distinct.

On political grounds, Mr Cameron seems justified in arguing his government’s first duty is to ensure the safety of British citizens. More to the point, he can claim that their safety is what British citizens expect first and foremost from his government. If that involves the use of drones in today’s terribly dangerous world, so be it. Against this, calls for rational restraint and for negotiations with Isis - the calls the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is making - may be as arrogant and remote from the real wishes of the public as Tony Blair’s gung-ho adventure was in Iraq.

In such circumstances the strict letter of the law can easily be made to look like a barrier to common sense and observing it mere foolishness. In contradiction of the critics and doubters, legal experts as well as government ministers claim the drone strikes were legal: more may well be necessary in future. Isis directly threatens British lives and British law recognises the right to take pre-emptive action when one’s life - and by extension, therefore, citizens’ lives - are directly threatened. The left across the board are not satisfied with this. Their view is that government ministers and selective legal experts would say that. Totally new thinking is essential if the world is to avoid the apocalypse.

So the legal argument is muddled with the political, the political with the legal, and the moral argument with both. A fierce debate rolls on while what are called ‘ordinary people’ get on with their lives, trusting they won’t be blown up on the bus to work or in the market.

It is the moral question that is the most intractable in the end. As one comment on a website ran: “Questioning the authority of unauthorised military action does not equate with sympathy or support for Isis.”

Well, does it?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Is violence becoming an end in itself? - the choice for South Afica's democracy

The problem in SA is not that the ANC or President Zuma is uniquely corrupt, but that one party is unchallenged in power and has been for too long. Corruption inevitably follows that everywhere.
Moreover, what everyone forgets is that it started long ago with the arms deal under former president Thabo Mbeki, not President Zuma. President Mbeki is remembered for not firing a single minister or official except those who disagreed with him. No one called it tyranny then. No one dared to.
The criticism of ANC government - that it is absolutely corrupt and ineffectual, that Zuma is a 'tyrant' - runs to extremes, just as constant publicity encourages the Economic Freedom Fighters to excess. The freedom of the press can be used to harm freedom as well as to defend it.

Iwe hope to put right evident wrongs like Nkandla, as the EFF insist they will, the means must be weighted in the scales as well as the end. There is a choice. There is the way of due process and the rule of law, the way unmistakably marked out by the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of "trust, common decency and rational discourse". And there is the way of Julius Malema and the EFF.

We must ask ourselves what in the end that offers other than the threat of meeting violence, as they see it, with violence.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The scourge of corruption in South Africa

Heaven forbid people are stopped from blaming the government, the resort of authoritarian regimes. And heaven knows twenty years of ANC government has spawned nepotism, cronyism and incompetence enough to keep a whole nation of critics at work.

But as the proposals to solve the problems crowd in - a new ANC leader, a DA electoral breakthrough, achieving the promised land of the ANC's 'national democratic revolution' or the wonderland of the 'fighters for economic freedom', the EFF - we need to remember: no person or party can run a modern rights-based state without an autonomous bureaucracy that works both efficiently and effectively. To put it less academically, a corps of people who see themselves as public servants, trained for the job and committed to doing it decently.

This vital component is still missing in South Africa not only due to the governing ANC's policy of cadre deployment, though that plainly makes things worse.

The human resources to transform the state and society for the hopeful successor generation of 1994 did not exist. How could they, after half a century of legalised apartheid had neglected or ignored education for the majority of non-citizens and reserved positions of leadership and control to a minority?

All South Africans live with the consequences today, but with an ironic as well as painful extra twist.

As the ANC government comes under increasing democratic pressure to tackle corruption and inefficiency, so the word goes out through the party-state that such misdeeds are starting to be penalised.

Honest and competent officials, along with the venal, face a baffling new threat. In a system where loyalty and connections, not merit, have been the criteria, they find they had better now enforce the regulations to the letter.

Two things follow hand in hand: delivery slows further while rule-breaking continues to grow.

Corruption after all is a black market, closing the gap between the supply and demand of goods and services.