ACAS Review (Bulletin)



Reader’s Guide: Crude Democracy

By | June 2009

The central argument of the book is that resource revenues (including but not limited to oil) can support as well as undermine democracy. This, of course, runs directly contrary to the current accepted wisdom of the resource curse, that countries with substantial resources can generate sufficient rents to function as states, often including substantial payoffs to well-connected individuals, without having to get their populations to agree to pay taxes to support them; such efforts would presumably have involved some sort of accountability to the population, leading to democracy.

From The Geopolitics of Petroleum ACAS Blog Series

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‘Syriana’ as a Teaching Tool

By | June 2009

To my way of thinking, the confusion engendered by the film creates a teachable moment. Many Hollywood films are so straightforward that there is little justification for including them in the college curriculum. But this one is so complex as to be a puzzle, an interesting challenge. By the same token, it creates a real opportunity for the discussion leader to serve a real need, to help the students figure out the puzzle. As a discussion leader, I cannot claim any special brilliance or insight. What gives me the edge is the simple fact of watching the film several times. Each time I watch the film, it becomes a bit clearer. On multiple viewing, there are many “Aha!” moments.

From The Geopolitics of Petroleum ACAS Blog Series

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“Everything Must Change So That Everything Can Remain the Same”: Reflections on Obama’s Energy Plan

By | June 2009

Is President Obama’s oil/energy policy going to be different from the Bush Administration’s? My immediate answer to this prophetic question will be philosophical: a firm “No” and a more hesitant “Yes.” The reason for this ambivalence is simple: the failure of the Bush Administration to radically change the oil industry in its neoliberal image has made a transition from an oil based energy regime inevitable and the Obama Administration is responding to this inevitability. Consequently, we are in the midst of an epochal shift so that an assessment of the political forces and debates of the past have to be revised and held with some circumspection.

From The Geopolitics of Petroleum ACAS Blog Series

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South Africa: Political Liberation, Economic Capitulation

By | April 2009

Its that time of year again: shiny posters pasted to lampposts (beckoning people toward the light?); politicians pole dancing for votes, faces (and hands) scrubbed clean of deception; the largely uninformed and inactive flesh-and-blood electorate prying open ‘magic-voting-button’ boxes to retrieve dusty, moth bitten cloaks of idealism, stapled with old newspaper cuttings and dented dreams (its a little banged up, but now is your time!). But the duct tape is coming loose; the dream, unraveling – and this, far from the madding crowd – those swept up in the heady sensationalised narrative of the Mbeki-Zuma drama, fatally reducing the inherited and endorsed economic legacy of apartheid (and often contradictory internal dynamics) to a leadership clash between two pack leaders vying for the alpha or first male’s throne (seated atop the same system, so does it really make a difference?).

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The nuclear chain of command: South Africa and the Bomb

By | April 2009

The crash of the Berlin Wall — stripping the apartheid government of the primary pretext sustaining apartheid — and implicit US support, would see Prime Minister de Klerk dismantling the regime’s nuclear programme, employing Dr Wynand Mouton, then-rector of the University of the Free State and retired nuclear physicist, to destroy the body of evidence related to the nuclear programme. No amnesty was required for the estimated 1000 specialists involved in the industry.

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Legalizing Illegality in Madagascar

By | March 2009

This illegality will be explained away and accepted. There is a second illegality. The first, as mentioned, is the breach of constitutional requirement in terms of age; and the second is the manner in which the former president, Marc Ravalomanana, was removed. It is hard to think of what happened in Antananarivo as anything less than a coup. This was a coup – a coup undertaken on behalf of a group that’s yet to make itself public. As unstable as Madagascar is, it is almost unimaginable to have things play out as they have.

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Further Reading on Zimbabwe

By | March 2009

Further readings from ACAS Bulletin 82 (Summer 2009): Reflections on Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’

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Response to the Mamdani Debate

By | March 2009

Most of the responses to Mahmood Mamdani’s article in this issue have challenged his interpretations of several areas in the political debate on the Zimbabwe crisis, including: the land question and the role of the war veterans; the benign position on state violence and underestimation of the enormous levels of displacement that have taken place under Mugabe’s rule; the misreading of the history of the labour movement; the dismissive characterization of the MDC and the civic movement; the mistaken assessment of the contribution of sanctions to the crisis; the brutal closure of democratic spaces; and perhaps most astonishingly the evasion of the enormous loss of legitimacy of Zanu PF and its increasing recourse to coercion, particularly as evidenced in the 2008 elections, to remain in power. Together these responses should, at the very least, cause readers to pause for further thought in reading Mamdani’s analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe, based as it is largely on the work of Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros. In addition to many others I have, in several interventions, offered alternative readings of these events and will this year attempt to consolidate those positions within the context of a new History of Zimbabwe currently being completed by a group of Zimbabwean historians.

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Critique of the Article by Mahmood Mamdani

By | March 2009

The contribution by Mahmood Mamdani to the London Review of Books on the situation in Zimbabwe would make good comical reading had the situation in Zimbabwe not been so tragic. The poverty and subjectivity of his analysis is nothing short of a mockery of intellectual discourse, and not befitting of a submission to the reputable review. To the broad masses of the people of Zimbabwe and to an objective and dispassionate observer, Zimbabwe is a tale of a man-made human tragedy that exceeds the atrocities and heinous crimes afflicted on the people of Zimbabwe by colonialism. In all fairness, it would be a tall order finding any redeeming feature of Mugabe’s ruinous policies – other than the beneficiaries of his patronage.

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Mamdani’s Enthusiasms

By | March 2009

Cape Town is 2182 kilometers south of Harare. At the Iziko Gallery, just beside the houses into which much of Zimbabwe’s sovereignty has been deposited, one of philosopher-artist William Kentridge’s stupendous works is on display. The filmic I Am Not Me: the Horse is Not Mine (‘a Russian peasant expression’, Kentridge explains, for denying guilt) is a combination of Kentridge’s take on Gogol’s The Nose with a disturbing rendition of Nikolai Bukharin’s 1937 trials. As Kentridge puts it in his textual accompaniment to the shadows on the walls, the tale of Bukharin’s last gasps exemplifies the ‘comedy of a world at odds with itself … of inversion … where logical argument is a sure sign of duplicity and lying is explained away as strategy’. The trial’s transcripts are ‘as if a mordant comedy is writing itself out’. The shadows of dancing, searching, marching, climbing and exegesis were reminiscent of the academic and activist discourse around Zimbabwe. Harare’s and New York’s renditions of Zimbabwe’s crisis bore uncanny resemblance to Kentridge’s rendition of the end of the Stalinist — nay, even the Leninist/Bolshevik — dream. And Professor Mamdani may have lost his nose as the dreams of African ‘difference’ evaporated: only to find it with a higher rank than he.

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