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African Briefs

Africa Brief                                                                             15 January 2017

The South African Year 2017     

by Cees Bruggemans                    words 530

Unlike Britain, which is consumed by Brexit expectations, or America which is looking forward with apparent equal measures of enthusiasm and dread to the Trump presidency take-off, South Africa hasn't quite the equivalent.

Instead, 2017 is in important respects a missing year, a leap year to get over with preferably as quickly as possible. Yet what awaits is a painful journey.

Africa Brief                                                                             2 January 2017

Proliferating non-usuals     

by Cees Bruggemans                    words 1500

The non-usual. Events that change our trajectories. Can be natural disasters. Or man-made windfalls. Sometimes it is just the uncertainty created by powerful politicians leaving us in the dark about their true intensions. Or the inability of complex systems to keep pace with change, their own inflexibility contributing to a deepening structural rigidity which accumulates over time.

Brexit wasn't expected, yet has huge ramifications. After that vote in late June, little was the same again for many in Britain, even if the consequences would take time arriving. But even politicians like Trump or Zuma can put us in binds with their uncertainties and choices. Overseeing systems that are no longer functioning as efficiently as they should, if they ever did, in times of rising population expectations giving rise to explosive pressures seeking outlets.

Africa Brief                                                                             25 December 2016

Counting Christmas blessings     

by Cees Bruggemans                    words 780

It was the year in which Zuma could have tried various nuclear options on the SA economy. Shuffle his cabinet in order to be rid of Gordhan, causing financial market mayhem and a further lowering of business confidence. Declare a state of national emergency, supposedly to contain the spreading student unrest but really intended to suspend parliamentary democracy. Declare a social media nuclear winter, like in Ethiopia in force since September, enforcing silence of critics of the regime.

None of this happened. Instead Zuma lost court case after court appeal, and lost a lot of ground in the local elections, with the NEC closing off the year with three days of enclave deliberations, like the good cardinals that they are, agreeing to postpone the inevitable for another year (or something like that, one can never be sure with these people). It actually gave some lift to hope in watching people, though yet to be truly reflected in confidence indicators.

Africa Brief                                                                             18 December 2016

Overheating Trump     

by Cees Bruggemans                    words 1500

Six weeks past the US election, and one day before the electoral college formerly inks the Trump Presidency (by voting for him by a comfortable majority, despite Clinton having achieved nearly 3 million more votes than Trump in the election), one is allowed to wonder what has been achieved in this short interim, and what may lie ahead.

Most new Presidents start with enormous noise about what they intend to do and achieve, only for the American political checks and balances to erode this into virtual nothingness ere long. Will Trump await a similar fate? Or is this time different?

Africa Brief                                                                             11 December 2016

Windfalls & animal spirits     

by Cees Bruggemans                    words 1300

Among talk of cyclical lift in SA growth to above 1% next year, and possibly more thereafter, it remains difficult to fully comprehend what engines will drive such lift. Some upside in the commodity cycle courtesy of China? Some agricultural lift as drought effects ease? Easing inflation and real purchasing power gains, though eroded away by higher taxes and slower government spending? What else will drive national income and output higher?

The recent commodity lift and drought easing appears real, with iron ore reaching $80. But insiders expect relapses in commodity prices, iron ore probably good for $50-60 in the medium term. That would still provide lift, given the extremely poor early 2016 base. But these are not windfalls, more in the way of modest bounces. And where are the animal spirits?

Africa Brief                                                                             4 December 2016

South Africa’s winding road      4/12

by Cees Bruggemans and Prof Willie Esterhuyse                   words 1470

As the second term of the Zuma era steadily unwinds, the nature of political change in South Africa is acquiring an ever sharper edge. At a time when few can be certain of the Zuma succession (or its timing), it is perhaps remarkable how many are convinced of having an understanding of the processes playing out, and therefore its ultimately outcome.

Two main streams are current (with more wildly populist ones also on tap, if on a longer view). There is deep non-ANC conviction that only alliance politics will make for a viable future, as opposed to the equally deep conviction in ANC ranks that its hegemony will continue in some or other shape or form.

Africa Brief                                                                            27 November 2016

Disruptive consequences     

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 1400

With potentially a new disrupter astride the world scene, if he so desires to act in this way, in the person of American President-elect Trump, and more such actors potentially astride the European scene from next year, one is tempted to cast back in time for similar disruption fears, and wonder what could still follow.

I found such intense musings in the opening chapter of the book that made John Maynard Keynes famous overnight. In his “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” (1919), Keynes noted Europe’s economic progress in the 50 years before WW1 and its achieved prosperity but also what he termed the unprecedented situation of Europe then, making its economic condition unstable and peculiar.

Africa Brief                                                                            13 November 2016

Democracy & the economy     

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 780

Our political management, from which the economy takes its guidance, has been well summarized by President Zuma, in what he had to say the other day, and in how at times he tends to act.

According to Zuma, the political opposition and civil society’s idea of democracy is to tie him up endlessly with court cases, somehow hoping to trip him and be rid of him. That, according to Zuma, isn't democracy.

Africa Brief                                                                             6 November 2016

Unusual events discounted     

by Cees Bruggemans                    words 540

The usual run of the mill are things we know and how to reckon with. It is the unusual crossing our path that instills fear, not knowing how to assess these.

Three major unusuals are currently in focus for us: whether Clinton or Trump wins through Tuesday; what the real nature of Brexit will prove to be on a five year view, as much for the British as for us & others; and if Zuma will peacefully make way for a successor on schedule, whether for a worse copycat or a genuine reformer.

Africa Brief                                                                             30 October 2016

Windows opening/closing     

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 980

Windows are closing on bumping Gordhan, as presumably Shaun will discover this week. But then there is still most of the dead driftwood cabinet to be rid off, which would still leave a window opening also on Gordhan, if utilized. He sounds fairly casual about occupying his seat as compared to someone else doing so. But then that is the risk we ARE running, and hoping for the best?

The university anarchy has played wildly, but runs the danger of its window closing as we enter November. Empty lecture halls, emptying residences, students drifting elsewhere to write exams (?) or otherwise electronically finishing off, and a long hot summer awaiting (though structured catchup from January?). This could again run out of steam, until September next year? But then we are upon the elective ANC leadership conference, perhaps a dangerous time to burn, baby, burn. Somebody may take exception, more so than in 2016, never mind 2015. And then the fat could really be in the fire. But for whom mostly?

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