Tuesday, November 21, 2017

What South Africa's Reserve Bank can -- and can't -- do about illicit financial flows

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South African Reserve Bank deputy governor and registrar of banks, Kuben Naidoo, has the tough task of curbing money laundering.
Supplied by SARB

Developing nations are facing a rising wave of illicit financial flows and money laundering. In South Africa the country’s Reserve Bank is at the forefront of managing the problem. Mills Soko asked South African Reserve Bank deputy governor and registrar of banks, Kuben Naidoo, to explain the scale of the challenge and what’s been done about it.

What are the key highlights of how to fight money laundering?

First let me just say that we don’t know how big the losses are, but South Africa must be losing billions, if not tens of billions, of rand in revenue through illicit financial flows.

The South African Reserve Bank plays two particular roles in dealing with money laundering and illicit financial flows.

Firstly, we assess the compliance of banks with the provisions of the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) and the relevant regulations. This is purely a compliance job to ensure that banks have the requisite systems, processes and procedures to be able to implement the act.

We do this through an auditing methodology. We ask a bank for a sample of customer accounts, let’s say 70 accounts. We then go through the sample to determine whether the bank has complied with FICA’s Know Your Customer requirements. Did they check the names of their customers against the United Nations database on criminal sanctions? Did they check them against the database of politically exposed persons? If anyone was on a list, did they do an enhanced diligence?

Then, we ask for all the transactions involving the 70 people and pick out suspicious transactions or those that fall within the cash threshold reporting requirements. And we check whether the bank’s systems flagged these suspicious transactions.

There is then a manual process that takes up to two weeks to see if these are indeed suspicious transactions. If they are, did the bank submit a suspicious transaction report to the Financial Intelligence Centre.

The second role we play involves enforcing the remaining foreign exchange controls and regulations in terms of the Currency and Exchanges Act of 1933 , a function delegated to us by the Minister of Finance. We monitor and enforce the foreign exchange aspects of cross border transactions. If a South African company or individual wants to take money out of the country above a certain threshold, they need foreign exchange control approval.

If, in the course of monitoring these transactions, we pick up violations of exchange controls, we have an administrative process to find out:

  • Why the person violated exchange controls?
  • If they want to declare what they’ve taken – what we call regularise?
  • Is there a sanction we can apply?

But we don’t have the ability to prosecute. We refer cases that are ready for criminal prosecution to the police who, after their own investigation, refer these to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision whether to prosecute or not.

What are the big challenges that developing countries face in terms of tracking and curbing money laundering?

One of the challenges facing countries like South Africa is that it has relatively open capital markets. You can bring money in, and take money out within limits. At the same time, it also has significant amounts of corruption and crime, both of which are sources of illicit financial flows. While compliance has improved dramatically since 1994, there are still people who take a chance by avoiding taxes. The challenges therefore are: the corruption; proceeds of crime; and the legitimate South African businessmen who wants to avoid taxes.

What are countries like South Africa getting right?

The Financial Intelligence Centre – which is housed in the National Treasury – is a significant tool for monitoring the financial sector. But it’s limited to monitoring the formal financial sector. It also has a strong bias towards electronic transactions.

In general, the financial sector has a high level of compliance with the Financial Intelligence Centre Act. The act, and recent amendments, give the Reserve Bank significant powers to monitor transactions and require banks to report suspicious transactions. The legislative framework also creates room for greater cooperation among the three institutions - South African Revenue Service, the South African Reserve Bank and the Financial Intelligence Centre – to connect the dots and pick up patterns regarding money laundering, tax evasion, or fraud.

Where are the big gaps?

The financial reporting system that the South African Reserve Bank monitors is almost unique in the world. The bank has records of every ATM, debit card, credit card, or electronic funds transfer (EFT) transaction, whether done in South Africa or abroad. If a South African uses their card to buy coffee at Starbucks in New York the bank knows.

The system provides the bank with an opportunity for further investigation if it picks out what it believes are patterns of money laundering. But there are gaps. For example, South Africa’s remittance system allows transactions worth R3 000 per transaction, or R10 000 per month. There are almost no questions asked, only proof of identity. And there’s evidence that the remittances system is being abused.

Then there are gaps relating to South Africa’s trade with the rest of the world. For example, we have a 40% duty on imported clothing. You bring in a container load of shirts and tell the South African Revenue Service these shirts cost R10 each, and you pay R4 in import duties per shirt, but actually the shirts cost R100 each.

You now have to get R90 out of the country illegally to pay for the shirts. What you do is you send lots of gifts to somebody abroad. Alternatively, you set up a company and you apply for an advance purchase authority to pay for the imports. Once the payment goes through, but before the goods are delivered, the company collapses.

Or you say you are importing software for R50 million and you transfer R50 million and the exporter sends to South Africa a box of compact disks (CDs). Our customs officials have no way of knowing whether these CDs are worth R5 or R50 million. For all you know, they could be copies of Lionel Richie’s CDs.

Even though the legislative framework provides for cooperation, there is often not good cooperation between South African Revenue Service, the South African Reserve Bank and the Financial Intelligence Centre.

The last gap relates to law enforcement. We have given 151 cases to the police and/or the National Prosecuting Authority over the last 5 years, out of which there have been only two prosecutions . This might be because they don’t have the time, resources, expertise, skills, or the will to prosecute.

How can the gaps be closed?

This can be achieved through tighter cooperation between relevant institutions. And by creating better capacity to prosecute money laundering and illicit financial flows.

The ConversationThis is part of a series called Face-to-face interviews The Conversation Africa is running in which leading academics put questions to prominent individuals in the public, private and not for profit sectors.

Mills Soko, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Zimbabwe beware: the military is looking after its own interests, not democracy

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Zimbabwe National Army commander Constantino Chiwenga, second from left, addressing the media.
EPA-EFE/Aaron Ufumeli

November 2017 will go down in the history of Zimbabwe as the beginning of the end of Robert Mugabe’s 37 year tyranny. A tumultuous week finally culminated in his resignation on November 21st. One cannot understate the widespread jubilation at the demise of Mugabe and his desire to create a dynasty for himself through his wife Grace.

But the optimism is misplaced because it doesn’t deal directly with the dearth of democracy in Zimbabwe.

First, contrary to popular sentiment that the coup was meant to usher in a new era of political liberalisation and democracy, the takeover is actually meant to deal with a succession crisis in Zanu-PF. The military made this clear when it said that it was dealing with criminals around Mugabe. And the party’s secretary for legal affairs Patrick Chinamasa indicated that removing Mugabe from the party’s Central Committee was an internal party matter.

Secondly, I would argue that the military resorted to a “smart coup” only after its preferred candidate to succeed Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was fired from the party and government.

The way in which the military has gone about executing its plan upends any conventional understanding of what constitutes a coup d'etat. It’s a “smart coup” in the sense that the military combined the frustrations of a restive population, internal party structures and international sympathy to remove a sitting president. It thereby gained legitimacy for an otherwise partisan and unconstitutional political act – toppling an elected government.

This begs the question: Is the military now intervening for the collective good or for its own interests?

Why the military intervened

It is baffling to imagine how the military has suddenly become the champion of democracy and regime change in Zimbabwe.

It’s clear that what motivated the military commanders was a fear of losing their jobs and influence after their preferred successor was purged. They launched a preemptive strike against Mugabe to safeguard their own selfish interests as a military class and the future of their careers.

Given the symbiotic relationship between the Zimbabwean military and the ruling Zanu-PF party, it was inevitable that the top commanders would be embroiled in the party’s succession crisis. After all, the military has been the key lever behind the power of both Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF since 1980.

In the past they have acted as part of the Zanu-PF machinery, openly campaigning for Mugabe alongside other security agencies.

And they have played a key role in neutralising political opponents. Back in the 1980s the military was responsible for the massacre of thousands of civilians and Zapu supporters in Matebeleland. More than two decades later in 2008 they were responsible for the torture, death and disappearance of 200 opposition activists and the maiming of hundreds more.

In addition, the UN has implicated Mnangagwa and the generals in the illegal plundering of resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have also been fingered in the disappearance of diamond revenues from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields.

On top of this the military and Zanu-PF share a special relationship that has its roots in the liberation struggle. The Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) was the political wing of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) during the liberation war. They therefore have vested interests in the survival of the party.

After independence, the relationship remained intact as the military became the guarantors of the revolution. Some of the same surviving commanders of Zanla are still senior high ranking officials. The commanders are also bona fide members of the ruling party and guarantors of Zanu-PF power.

The same securocrats are also members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association. This quasi paramilitary group is an auxiliary association of the ruling party and has fiercely opposed Mugabe’s attempt to create a dynasty.

Military must step aside

Zimbabwe goes to the polls next July to choose a new president and parliament. The elections – if conducted in a credible way – will provide the next government with the legitimacy it needs to take the country out of its political and economic crises.

Now that Mugabe has resigned the hope is that the military will allow a genuinely democratic transition to take place. All political players, including opposition parties, would need to be incorporated into a broad-based transitional authority pending credible elections.

But for the elections to be credible, the transitional authority would need urgently to reform the electoral system. This would ensure Zimbabweans can freely and fairly choose their leaders. Without this, peace and prosperity will continue to elude Zimbabwe.

The ConversationIn the long run, the military would do well to get out of politics instead of continuing to view itself as “stockholders” in the country’s political affairs because of its liberation struggle credentials.

Enock C. Mudzamiri, DLitt et DPhil Student in Politics, University of South Africa

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mugabe and Dos Santos: Africa's old men seem, finally, to be fading away

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Mugabe tried to impose his wife on his party as his chosen successor.
Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
Soon after Zimbabwe’s army confined President Robert Mugabe to his palatial Harare home this week – allegedly for his safety – it was announced in Luanda that Angola’s new President, João Lourenço, had relieved Isabel dos Santos of her position as head of the state-run oil company Sonangol.

While there may not be any direct connection between these two events, they suggest some intriguing comparisons. In both countries ruling families seem to have failed to secure themselves in power.

When Mugabe, as leader of the Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), became ruler of Zimbabwe at independence in April 1980, José Eduardo dos Santos was already President of Angola. He had succeeded to that position after the death of Agostinho Neto in September 1979.

Dos Santos had to deal with external intervention and over two decades of civil war , during which he ruled dictatorially. Mugabe, despite a facade of constitutionalism and regular elections, also became increasingly dictatorial. He abandoned adherence to the rule of law and his country’s economy collapsed. Angola became notorious for the scale of the corruption linked especially to its oil riches. Zimbabwe went from bread-basket to basket-case. With the great majority of the people of both countries living in dire poverty, Dos Santos flew to Europe when he needed medical attention, while Mugabe went to Singapore.

Though Dos Santos was probably as reluctant as Mugabe to give up power, he decided to quit as president of the country and try to retain influence through the ruling party and members of his family. Mugabe tried to impose his wife on his party as his chosen successor and then to cling on to his positions even when the army took effective control of his country.

Given recent developments in Luanda and Harare, it would seem that neither of these two old men have succeeded in securing their family dynasties.

Dos Santos’s succession plan

By 2016, suffering health problems that took him to Spain for treatment, Dos Santos announced that he would step down as president of Angola and he approved his Minister of Defence, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço as his successor.

João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, president of Angola.
EPA/Fernando Villar

Following the victory of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the general election held in August this year, Lourenço took over as president in September. But Dos Santos remained president of the MPLA, and clearly expected Lourenço to look after his interests and that of his family, who had become enormously wealthy.

From the action Lourenço has now taken against Dos Santos’ billionaire daughter Isabel, it would seem that he’s becoming his own man. It appears he wishes to distance himself from the Dos Santos family, which for many Angolans is associated with corruption on a vast scale.

The London-educated Isabel has proved herself to be a very capable businesswoman, and though the Angolan economy has been suffering because of low oil-prices, on top of massive corruption, it’s unlikely she was sacked to bring in a better chief executive to run the country’s most important state owned company. There is talk in Luanda that Isabel’s brother, José Filomeno dos Santos, will be relieved of his position as head of the country’s large Sovereign Wealth Fund and that his father, the former president of the country, will be replaced as president of the ruling party, though that may have to wait until a party congress is held.

Mugabe’s succession plan

In Zimbabwe Mugabe has sought to arrange that his wife will succeed him. But Gucci Grace and Robert made the mistake of trying to ensure this by firing Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Though at the time of writing, the 93-year-old Mugabe remains president both of the country and of the ruling Zanu-PF party, it’s widely expected that he will soon be relieved of both positions, probably by Mnangagwa, with the assistance of the army.

Changes for the better?

New leadership in Angola and Zimbabwe will have an impact on the region as a whole.

Given Mnangagwa’s record as a long serving member of government in Zimbabwe, and his involvement in the mass killing of Ndebele in the early 1980s, it is hardly likely that he will emerge as a champion of democracy.

In Angola, Lourenço is still finding his feet as head of government.

Fired Zimbabwean Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
EPA/Aaron Ufumeli

It is therefore unrealistic to hope that either country will soon move from decades of repressive rule and lack of transparency to greater constitutionalism and closer adherence to the rule of law.

But if we are witnessing the end of an era in which dictators stayed in power for decades and tried to secure their continuing influence through their families, and if we are seeing the diminishing importance of liberation movements turned political party, this must be good not only for Angola and Zimbabwe but for the southern African region as a whole.

The ConversationIt should also hold lessons for those who rule in neighbouring countries.

Chris Saunders, Emeritus Professor, University of Cape Town

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

How farm dwellers in South Africa think about home, land and belonging

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Farm dwellers like Zabalaza Mshengu live in extremely precarious conditions.
Association for Rural Advancement

South Africa’s unemployment rate puts it in the bottom ten countries in the world. Hunger levels are growing. It has what Berkeley geography professor Gillian Hart calls a “population surplus to the needs of capital” that must find ways to survive despite living a “wageless existence.”

This is happening against the backdrop of three unfolding social processes.

The first involves deteriorating conditions for survival. A new social category is emerging called the “precariat”: growing numbers of people who struggle to secure the conditions for their survival through traditional means like permanent work. Instead, more and more people survive through multiple jobs that are part-time, insecure and precarious. Guy Standing, who is a professor of economy security at Bath University and coined the term, estimates that a quarter of the world’s adult population is now in the precariat.

Secondly, land reform is now geared at servicing the economic needs of black and white rural elites. Land reform budget allocations are spent on the wealthy rather than poor South Africans who are unable to access land.

Thirdly, the structural legacy of dispossession of Africans from land hasn’t been addressed. Failing to resolve this means that a painful political question is left hanging and becomes an easy symbol to manipulate.

So how do these historical and present conditions constitute the conditions for an emancipatory politics? For instance, will rural people who need land to live on or to farm organise to assert claims for restoration?

One possible answer emerges from research undertaken by the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), a land rights NGO working with farm dwellers in South Africa’ Kwazulu-Natal province.

AFRA recently undertook a socio-demographic and income survey of 850 households resident on farms in the Umgungundlovu Municipal District to understand more about farm dwellers’ conditions and how these have changed over time.

AFRA’s conclusion is that the politics associated with land is not about an organised emancipatory movement. While the radical opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and some factions of the governing African National Congress (ANC) are calling for the restoration of land to Africans without compensation to existing landowners, farm dwellers are mainly preoccupied with daily survival strategies.

If work opportunities arise away from farms, then many farm dwellers will choose to leave the farm. However, such opportunities are increasingly limited. Many farm dwellers are now asserting a demand to remain on land they have long ties to. These different strategies fragment farm dweller interests in the land.

But it seems that the potential exists for a social movement of people “surplus” to capital’s requirements. Whether such a movement develops depends on how effectively populist political groups can create alliances within and between the agricultural precariat, those living in city slums and those whose land access is threatened by agreements between traditional authorities and corporate interests like mining.

The International Peasant Movement, Via Campesina provides one example of a social movement involving reoccupation of unproductively used farmland. However, we argue that South Africa’s precariat is more complicated because the country is not agriculturally rich and more than half the population is now urbanised and lives in shacks on the edges of cities.

What we found

AFRA defines farm dwellers as rural people who live on large commercial farms owned by someone other than themselves.

In some respects farm dwellers are a relic of the country’s agrarian history, which involved the establishment of capitalist agriculture in the early 1900s on the back of African labour tenants’ unpaid labour. In return, tenants were granted the right to use some of the farmland for their own farming.

Our data shows that farm dwellers are not simply wage workers. They identify intimately with the land they live on. More than half of the interviewees have family graves on the farm. Their livelihoods are land-based: more than half cultivate crops, while just under half own livestock.

We identified three distinct responses of a fragmenting class of agricultural labour to the increasingly strained conditions for its social reproduction. These are: moving away from conditions on farms that make survival intolerable or impossible; seeking out better options in the cities and towns; and holding on to the roots of a familiar life and place on the farm despite deteriorating conditions.

Those who decide to move away from farms usually do so because of landowner decisions. These include explicit measures to evict some or all of the family members – this affected 7% of the total sample of over 7 000 individuals – as well as implicit or “constructive” evictions which involved the impounding of livestock, cutting off access to basic services such as water and electricity, locking gates and preventing children from attending school.

The second response – seeking better options – involves individual farm dwellers who decide to leave the farm. About a quarter of farm dwellers who have the landowner’s permission to live on the farm choose to live elsewhere. Rates of unemployment affecting households on these farms exceed 80%, so those who leave tend to have done so in search of work.

Farm dwellers must contend with difficult living and working conditions. This makes the third response – staying on the farm – perhaps the most surprising.

One factor is farm wage income which makes up 55% of household income. So when people can get work on the farms where they have dwelling rights, it makes sense for them to stay.

There are other explanations for why farm dwellers stay on farms. We call this the politics of holding on to home.

Nearly 75% of all farm dweller households we interviewed had lived on the farm in question for 23 years or longer, and had a parent, grandparent or great grandparent who was born on the farm. When asked “who is the owner of the house you live in?”, 61% said they owned the house – even though they had already stated the name of the farm’s owner.

Among the reasons given were that they had no other home and had never lived anywhere else.

When asked who would take over the home after the household head died, more than half said that someone in their family would take it over. This suggests that a different, parallel conception of ownership co-exists with legal ownership of the land. Farm dwellers know the farmer is the title holder of the farm but are also asserting that they are the owners of their homes.

Creating alliances

A political alliance among farm dwellers opting for different survival strategies doesn’t appear to exist yet although the economic conditions are present. It could possibly develop if either the EFF or a breakaway group from the ANC organise it.

The ConversationFor now, the EFF’s focus seems to be on shack settlements and the urban poor and the ANC is too mired in its own internal wrangles to be able to organise a movement of this kind.

Donna Hornby, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of the Western Cape

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Mnangagwa and the military may mean more bad news for Zimbabwe

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Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

The military has taken control of the national broadcaster, troops are in the streets and the president is being held in a secure environment. All military leave is cancelled and a senior general has addressed the nation. Yet the Zimbabwean military continues with the pretence that this is not a coup d’etat.

The obvious response to this is: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then the chances are it’s a duck. And the sole reason the Zimbabwean military is not acknowledging this as a coup d’etat is to avoid triggering the country’s automatic suspension from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Both bodies frown on coups.

A perfect storm formed ahead of these events and made military action predictable. The country had once again entered a steep economic decline (not that its “recovery” had been anything of note). A clear and reckless bid for power was being made by the so-called Generation 40 (G40) faction around Grace Mugabe in direct opposition to the Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the standard bearer for the so-called Lacoste faction.

This culminated in Mnangagwa’s dismissal by President Mugabe: a clear indication that Grace Mugabe was now calling the shots. It also served as a follow up to the 2015 Grace-engineered dismissal of another Vice President and rival, Joice Mujuru.

The coup means that Mugabe’s long and disastrous presidency is finally over. The only questions that remain are the precise details and mechanics of the deal which secures his departure.

Why the coup

Mnangagwa is a long time Zanu-PF stalwart and is clearly closely integrated with the military high command and the intelligence services. Both institutions are concerned that the succession is being arranged for a faction led by people with no liberation credentials but who have been skilled in manipulating Mugabe himself and in making him do their bidding. The G40 now appear to have overreached, perhaps believing that their proximity to the “old man” made them invincible.

This coup’s explicit purpose is twofold. First, it’s trying to definitively kill off Grace Mugabe’s ambitions to become president and to set in place a ruling dynasty akin to the Kims in North Korea. Second, it’s a bid to clear Mnangagwa’s path to power, first in Zanu-PF and then within the state itself (over the last three decades these have been virtually one and the same thing).

What we do not yet know is what counter force, if any, the G40 can bring to bear against the military. The calculation of the military hierarchy appears to be that Grace and company are paper tigers who will have few cards to play against such force majeure and who lack the popular appeal to bring angry and disillusioned masses out onto the streets.

Could this be the end of President Robert Mugabe’s 37 year reign?
Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

The coup has formally stripped away the façade that Zimbabwe is a constitutional state. This is clearly a militarised party-state where the military is a pivotal actor in the ruling party’s internal politics. It is not simply a neutral state agency subordinate to the civilian leadership. And the idea that this military intervention is an aberration – a departure from the constitutional norm – is misplaced.

Zimbabwe is a de facto military dictatorship. It serves as a guarantor of ZANU-PF rule rather than as a custodian of the constitution. It has helped Zanu-PF rig elections. And it was central to the state terror which was unleashed against the population to reverse Mugabe and Zanu-PF’s electoral defeat in 2008. The military has always been a key political actor. The only difference this time is that its intervention is designed to control events within Zanu-PF rather than to crush opposition to it.

But, a highly politicised military is a major impediment to the re-establishment of a democratic order in Zimbabwe. It has nothing to gain, politically or financially, from democratic rule given the lucrative networks of embezzlement and plunder it’s put in place over decades. Most recently it seized and siphoned off of the country’s diamond wealth for military officers and the party hierarchy.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

This intervention is designed to secure the presidency for Mnangagwa. So it is hard to avert our eyes from the elephant –- or in this case the Crocodile –- in the room. Mnangagwa is the Mugabe henchman who helped enable the misrule and tyranny of the last 37 years. He was one of the principal architects of the Gukurahundi -– the genocidal attack on the Ndebele – in the early to mid-1980s which left at least 20 000 people dead.

He has also been instrumental in rigging elections and crushing all opposition to Zanu-PF rule, including the atrocities of 2008.

Expecting such a person to now make a deathbed conversion to the democracy, constitutional government and good governance he has spent an entire career liquidating is dangerous nonsense.

Dilemmas to come

Mnangagwa will soon have to confront a series of dilemmas. How can he put in place an administration which has the appearance of a national unity government, can secure international approval and the financial assistance required to help rebuild a shattered economy – but avoid ceding any meaningful power or control? Can this circle be squared?

The best hope for Zimbabweans is that the international community uses its leverage wisely and sets stringent conditions for such assistance: free elections closely monitored by an array of international organisations, the establishment of a new electoral commission, free access to the state media and the right of parties to campaign freely.

There should also be a role here for South Africa to restore its badly tarnished image as a champion of democracy in Africa. It has followed a malign path over the last two decades, facilitating Zanu-PF authoritarianism in the name of a threadbare and increasingly degenerate “liberation solidarity”.

The ConversationSuch a combination of pressures will severely restrict Mnangagwa’s room for manoeuvre. Anything short of that will deliver an outcome which is essentially Mugabeism without Mugabe.

James Hamill, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester

This article was originally published on The Conversation.