What The Ghosn Affair Says About Japan And The West

The fate of disgraced auto chief Carlos Ghosn has revealed deep differences between the Japanese and Western systems of justice. And not only.

Japanese newspaper headlines when Carlos Ghosn was first arrested in November 2018
Japanese newspaper headlines when Carlos Ghosn was first arrested in November 2018
Nicolas Barré iQ

PARIS — When visiting the West this week, and starting with France on Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe knows his country's image has been damaged by the extraordinary Ghosn affair. The allegations against Renault and Nissan's former CEO — indicted on further charges again in Tokyo on Monday — have stunned and shaken even his most fervent supporters. And yet the world has also discovered through this case the particularities of a judicial system that reveals a "double-layered" Japan: Western on the outside, Japanese on the inside.

Head of a nationalist government, Abe embodies this ambivalence with his contested vision of history, his controversial reinterpretation of the Constitution toward a deeper military commitment, and his iron fist against the critical media. Japan's history in the second half of the 20th century is one of a country that successfully opened itself to globalization, but on its own terms.

The frequent mistake of Westerners was to believe that appearances, capitalism sparkling with a thousand fires in the streets of Ginza, is the equivalent of adhering to our main principles. The Japanese, however, do not hide from the "gaijin," the prevalence of their own values: "This is Japan..." they often say to apologize to the incredulous outsider in response to the application of rules that seem strange to us. This usually contributes to the infinite charm of this country but can turn into an endless torment where one is caught in the clutches of a judicial system whose foundations are far removed from ours.

This primacy of individual rights does not have the same weight.

For us, respecting the rights of the defense is essential, including knowledge of the alleged facts, access to the file, and the presence of a lawyer at every stage of the proceedings. Similarly, deprivation of liberty during the prolonged detention from week to week seems contrary to basic rights.

This primacy of individual rights, resulting from liberal philosophy, does not have the same weight in a country where culture is more valued than the preservation of societal cohesion. The world was shocked to learn that 99% of prosecutions by Japanese prosecutors resulted in the conviction of the suspect. The whole procedure is based on confessions, wrenched out of the suspect whenever and however necessary. For many Japanese, this is seen as part of the guarantee of a safer society, a supreme goal that outweighs the risks, intolerable in other freedoms, of making a judicial error.

Revealed by the Ghosn affair, this dark side of Shinzo Abe's Japan has sparked, for the first time, a lively debate in the country about its own judicial system. Ghosn has turned out to be a different kind of consensus breaker.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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