Southern Africa is facing an unprecedented climate change crisis which threatens to expose an estimated 45 million people in 18 countries across the region to severe food shortages within the next 6 months. Southern Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 35 years. The implications of this are not just an impending disaster set for an uncomfortably near future; the impact is already being felt at an environmental, economic and political level. The amalgamation of these factors has the potential to trigger instability across the Southern African region as a whole.
The U.N. predicts a 3.2 – 3.9ºC rise in global temperature in this century, which would bring wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts. Despite the stark warnings for the environment the UN Climate Change Conference COP25, held between 2-13 December 2019 in Madrid, failed to reach consensus in many areas. The lack of a meaningful outcome for the latest climate talks may not lead to immediate tangible environmental consequences for countries that are predominantly in the global north on a scale and frequency comparable to countries in the global south. This disparity is compounded by the El Niño phenomenon which has resulted in several countries in Southern Africa experiencing ongoing drought spells and extreme weather since 2015. The continuation of what was once a phenomenon experienced every few years in the region has meant that the largely economically and ecologically vulnerable countries in Southern Africa have increasingly fewer resources to offset the effects, triggering instability across the region.
Botswana, for example, is experiencing its worst drought in a decade which has wiped out entire harvests and left the land littered with dead livestock. As a result of frequent droughts, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has said the government plans to stop calling it an emergency and instead make drought relief part of the national budget. In Malawi, the government has had to make plans to import maize to ensure there are adequate quantities in the country, while in South Africa there have been reports of farmer suicides.
In financial terms Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and Namibia together suffered average annual losses of $700 million as a result of climate-related disasters. The frequency of these unpredictable climate- related disasters suggests that Southern Africa will have to factor this into its constrained national budgets as a recurrent and expected event rather than a one -time emergency experienced every few years. The reality of climate change and its devastating effects can be considered the new normal for this region.
As of 12 November 2019, it was reported that at least 1.6 million people in Mozambique are in need of assistance due to the devastating effects of the ongoing drought and increasingly severe weather effects. Mozambique has been hit particularly hard as the country is still recovering from two major cyclones, Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which hit the country earlier this year. For a country that signed a peace accord in August 2019 after years of instability and violence and is currently facing an Islamist insurgency in the North-east, this climate crisis could not have occurred at a less opportune moment.
Similarly, in neighbouring Zimbabwe, there are an estimated 7.7 million people that are facing food insecurity where it is reported that almost $300 million was urgently needed to supply some 240,000 tonnes of aid. The country is described to be ‘on the brink of man-made starvation’ with hyperinflation, poverty, natural disasters and economic sanctions identified as some of the causes. Zimbabwe has been in the throes of sustained political and economic instability for over two decades, with a period in 2008 where the country experienced a near total collapse. Currently there are fears that it could be returning to the abyss, two years after the coup that deposed of former President Mugabe, and the added climate crisis could be what expedites the return of critical uncertainty in Zimbabwe.. The added climate crisis which has resulted in the lowest rainfall for Zimbabwe since 1981 has not only impacted humans but also wildlife where at least 200 elephants were reported to have died as a result of the drought. In a bid to save the remaining wildlife a migration of the animals by ZimParks and private partners has been planned.
The immediate picture for Southern Africa looks bleak due to the toxic combination of prevalent national and regional issues that are being compounded by its climate crisis. While the level of impact among individual countries in the region may differ slightly based a number of external contributory factors unique to said country, the reality is that Southern Africa’s drought is borderless in its staggering devastation. Increased inter-regional collaboration particularly with relation to mitigating the impact climate change is having on wildlife is a typical example of how the region must do more together in order to maintain regional stability. Climate change has in indeed come early for Southern Africa.
Myanmar has been a British colony for more than a century. In 1948, Myanmar declared independence and began as a parliamentary democracy. Representative democracy lasted until the military coup of 1962, led by General U Ne Win. His party established a ruling council whose members were almost entirely drawn from the armed forces and held power for the next twenty-six years. In 1990, the junta held elections in which the party National League for Democracy (NLD) won 392 of 485 parliamentary seats. The military government refused to acknowledge the results, imprisoned many NLD politicians, forced others into exile, and continued to clamp down on dissent.
In September 2007, the biggest demonstrations started in Burma: The Saffron Revolution. This event posed a challenge for the junta, as the participating monks—venerated in Myanmar’s majority-Buddhist society—lent a degree of moral authority to the movement. In part driven by international pressure and its own “seven-step roadmap,” the junta announced that a referendum on a new constitution would take place in May 2008, followed by multiparty elections in 2010. In these elections, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party declared victory, winning 259 of the 330 contested seats. The United Nations and many Western countries have condemned the elections as fraudulent. The NLD, which overwhelmingly won the previous 1990 elections but were never allowed to take power, decided not to participate.
Since the 2008 Constitution, the legislative power of Myanmar (Pyidaungsu Hluttaw) is based on bicameral Houses: The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (People’s Assembly) and the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities).
The Amyotha Hluttaw is the upper house of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, with 12 seats accorded to each Region or State for a total of 168 directly elected seats. Of the 224 seats in the house, the remaining 56 are military appointees nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.
The Pyithu Hluttaw is the lower house of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, with seats accorded to each of the 330 townships in the country. Of the 440 seats in this body, 330 are directly elected and 110 are military appointees nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.
To elect the President, each group puts forward a candidate and then the three of them face a vote in a joint session that includes all the elected and unelected representatives of both Houses. The winner becomes president and the two losers vice-presidents.
New Parliament’s challenges
In November 2015, election gave NLD 80% of the seats in both houses; the ruling Union Solidarity Development party (USDP) had taken just 40. According to the 2008 Constitution, the army kept 25% of the seats without any election.
This landslide winning for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party is expected to lead the country through a peace process and a political transition. However, the army keeps a strong power in the transition and the most important stake will be to work with the army. Many expect that Miss Suu Kyi will try to avoid confrontation with the army, and that she will even appoint ministers who worked in the outgoing administration. Indeed, besides the 25% of parliamentary seats, the commander-in-chief, not the civilian president, appoints the heads of the home, defence and border security ministries, giving the military control of Myanmar’s civil service and security apparatus. It might frustrate the NLD’s attempts at reform. The military is unlikely loosen its grip on power so easily despite electoral defeat. Suu Kyi has to wrestle power from the military’s hands whilst ensuring that she remains in charge after the transition, to see the country through its fragile post-election democratic consolidation
Moreover, Aung San Suu Kyi focused partly on a peace process for her country with the numerous ethnic minorities. Since November 2015, she pushed the message of national reconciliation, lauding the choice of representatives from ethnic minorities. She is likely to focus first on ending conflicts involving ethnic minorities living in border areas. For the past decades, tensions and confrontations between army and armed ethnic groups remained in Myanmar. Despite the new parliament formation, a durable political settlement is far from agreed on the difficult issues of equality rights and shared resources.
The new parliament took its seats for the first time in February. Its primary role will be to elect the new president.
Aung San Suu Kyi : next president ?
Myanmar’s president is elected by parliament, not by popular vote. The upper house, the lower house, and the military bloc in parliament put forward one presidential candidate each. The combined houses vote on the three candidates. The winner becomes president and forms a government; the two others become vice presidents.
According to the 2008 Constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi can’t become president despite her leadership in the NDL winning. Indeed, Article 59F of the constitution states that if one of your “legitimate children… owes allegiance to a foreign power” you are disqualified. That covers both Ms Suu Kyi’s sons Kim and Alexander, who have British passports.
To change the Constitution, the NLD needs the support of the unelected army representatives. There are still a few who think that when confronted by the size of the NLD victory the army might change its mind. It’s certainly possible that Ms Suu Kyi might be nominated by her party, even if she didn’t meet the constitutional criteria. Since the November election, the NLD leader has met several times with military representatives to discuss both political transition and her possible election as president. The Parliament has set a deadline of March 17 for the lower and upper house, along with the military bloc, to submit their nominations for the presidency.
Under the leadership of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), remains on course for a landmark victory which if successful will give the South East Asian nation an opportunity to remake itself as an open democratic country for the first time in 25 years. Although results from Myanmar’s historic election are not yet final, the opposition have so far secured an extraordinary 327 seats in both chambers of parliament, just two short of an absolute majority which would enable them to elect a new president. Under Myanmar law, the NLD is required to secure a two thirds majority of seats not allocated to the military in order to nominate a candidate for the presidency. It is a complex process which requires both houses of parliament to chose between three presidential candidates and will, in all likelihood, not be resolved until next February.
Despite the role Suu Kyi has played in mobilising popular support for democratic reform, the former political prisoner will likely not serve in this office. Constitutional impediments established by her opponents will prevent her from being elected president on the grounds that she has two sons by a British husband, now deceased. The law, which some say was promulgated in order to prevent Suu Kyi from ever taking office, explicitly states that the president cannot have a foreign-born spouse or children. Despite this, Suu Kyi has said that if her party wins last Saturday’s election she will rule the country regardless. “I will run the government and we will have a president who will work in accordance with the policies of the NLD (National League for Democracy) ,” she told reporters. “We have a candidate that is ready to become the president … I will be above the president,” Suu Kyi said, adding that constitutional law did not prevent an individual from occupying a position above the presidency.
Even though an NLD victory looks like a forgone conclusion, there are two other alternative scenarios which demand consideration. 1) Suu Kyi’s party wins the most seats but a coalition of President Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), various ethnic parties and the army restores power to the incumbent. While unlikely, this could be achieved by the USDP with a comparatively small proportion of the vote. It would, however, be an extremely unpopular move, given the enormous outpouring of public support for Suu Kyi and the NLD. 2) Suu Kyi does not secure the requisite two-thirds majority and has to enter into a coalition with ethnic parties. Should this situation arise, Suu Kyi and the NLD would be required to negotiate with their new coalition partners over the choice of presidential candidates.