Cairo, Egypt, December 7, 2010 – It has been 2 ½ months since my last column. I took many notes – in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Korea, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, US and Canada – and those are the places I can publicly acknowledge. I just couldn’t find the calm between flights and crisis to get my thoughts to paper. Here, now, are some of them.
Zimbabwe is still in a deep political crisis. Better – the introduction of the dollar as national currency has dramatically reduced inflation – there are basic staples bread and food in shops – but there are huge disparities among peoples and regions. And I do not mean among black and white – I mean among black and black. Robert Mugabe has simply moved his draconian style to the background. He still uses autocratic means constantly, hiding behind a coalition whose partners he regularly ignores; the nomination of regional governors is a good example of his riding roughshod. Morgan Tsvangirai is not a good option for Zimbabwe. He is equally corrupt and infinitely less intelligent than Mugabe. What a choice indeed!
In South Africa the pre-World Cup drudge has returned. Corruption continues to be a big issue. Many in government see public finances as their personal bank account. The head of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, is a particularly dangerous demagogue. He reminds me of Idi Amin. In his late 20’s, he has not only garnered questionable financial wealth – despite coming from simple means in Limpopo – he pretends to represent all South African young people – utter rubbish. President Zuma is having huge problems keeping this chap under control and the COSATU – Coalition of South African Trade Unions – aspires economic policies evidently gleamed during communist times. The Amy Biehl Foundation does incredible work in the communities, the US Consul General in Cape Town is a remarkable woman, and two mid-30’s entrepreneurs I met – honest, dedicated, thoughtful and well-meaning – portend good things for the future of South Africa.
Morocco and Egypt are both in North Africa, and that is where the similarity ends. Though the events in Layun were not a good moment for Morocco, the King and government continue to push forward with economic and political reforms. The new port in Tangier will be finished in a few years, and there is an enormous push to improve infrastructure. In Egypt meanwhile, the recent elections were hardly a badge of honor. Egypt has a growing but hugely dysfunctional economy and major structural problems. It also has a leader who has stayed well-beyond his time. The problem is that Mubarak’s successor (likely his son) is not the solution – neither is the Muslim Brotherhood. The regular harassment of the press, of human rights groups, of minorities – sexual and other – is not the image Egypt should want world-wide. Even worse, Egypt continues to lose power in a region where she should be playing a major broker role.
The DPRK, North Korea, is in desperate need of a good hiding. The government remains the most centralized and draconian on Earth. While Kim Jong-il, the regime leader, ordered eight Mercedes S-Class sedans and 2 luxury yachts (with a down-payment of €3.3 million euros) through an Austrian middle-man – now punished by a Vienna Court – millions in his country are dying of starvation. It is guesstimated – no reliable figures exist – some 60% live below the poverty line. Mr. Kim has nearly brought the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war. China feigns being disgruntled – after saying nothing – but holds on to the DPRK as a bargaining chip for Taiwan and other political machinations. But no one can afford 24 million refugees crossing into Russia, China and South Korea. So, the corrupt boys and girls continue their game as the West creates hapless responses to North Korean aggression.
Poland – along with Canada – is one of the few countries to withstand the economic crisis in good order. The Poles have tackled economic and political corruption head on. Government debt is not out of control. Prime Minister Tusk shows competent stewardship, while Bronislaw Komorowski – in office for six months – has mostly made smart and intelligent steps as president. Relations with Russia are being managed more smoothly – much of the tension has dissipated. Russia President Dmitry Medvedev deserves some credit for this.
In the Czech Republic, two recent Prague Society/Global Panel Round Tables with Prime Minister Necas and Interior Minister John presented two thoughtful public servants. Radek John spoke about corruption at all levels of government – openly, passionately and honestly. Peter Necas showed why he is beyond challenge the cleanest man in Czech politics. Nicknamed “Mr. Clean” in the Czech press. We hope he succeeds against those he is fighting.
Former US Ambassador Bill Cabaniss publicly and bravely supported corruption charges against former Defense Minister Bartak. And, the elections for Prague mayor – won by former Central Bank Governor Zdenek Tuma – turned into a shambles when the losers formed a coalition to keep him out of power.
Mr Bartak should be behind bars. We will continue to gather evidence against hiim.
We will support Necas, John and Tuma any way we can.
On Jan 25th 2011, the 10th Hanno R. Ellenbogen Award will be presented in Prague to former Polish dissent Adam Michnik in the presence of Vaclav Havel and other previous recipients.
And so the wheels turn.
(Syndicated Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chair of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. He advises governments and companies on global political issues.)