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South Africa

A cloudy foreign affairs mandate – the ANC’s thinking on SA’s international future

A cloudy foreign affairs mandate – the ANC’s thinking on SA’s international future

The other day, we read the text of the international relations resolutions adopted by the ANC at its 53rd national conference in Mangaung, last December. On close examination, taken as a whole, the resolutions are both a greatly ambitious and a profoundly depressing document, writes J BROOKS SPECTOR.

On the one hand, it is devoutly forward-looking, searching for the way to nurture the creation of a better, safer, fairer world. On the other, however, this document seems deeply rooted in some old, worn-out ideas. Many of these might have been best left behind at the moment the East German border police, the Volpos, patrolling Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie opened that gate in the Berlin Wall and let all Germans come and go freely.

The party’s document begins on an emphatically optimistic, high, even messianic note. The precepts state:

“1. The ANC [is] in pursuit of its international relations objectives as directed by the Freedom Charter which states that ‘there shall be peace and friendship’. Therefore, International Relations is utilised by the ANC to form friendships and to work towards peace in the continent and in the world, whilst pursuing South Africa’s national interest;

2. The ANC’s international relations policy is directly informed by our domestic policy, and vice versa, and they are mutually reinforcing;

3. The ANC remains committed to its founding values of a struggle for a humane, just, equitable, democratic, and free world;

4. The development and prosperity of Africa remains the central objective of the ANC’s international perspective and policy for purposes of advancing the African Renaissance; and,

5. The ANC’s international relations work is underpinned by a commitment to development, democracy, human rights, peace and security in the world.”

There is very little anyone could seriously object to in these five guiding axioms. But the problems begin once it heads off into the details – where the devils may be lying in waiting.

Meanwhile, the underlying precepts of South African foreign policy, according to the government’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), prioritise these key themes, saying in part:

  • “[S]trengthening of relations with strategic formations of the North. Our approach will be to pursue a developmental and investment-orientated engagement that seeks to advance South Africa, the African continent and the rest of the South’s development agenda… our relations with countries of the North have been and continue to be a source of increased investment, trade opportunities, as well as development cooperation for South Africa.”
  • “…to follow up on all commitments made by such multilateral groupings like the G8… we will continue to garner support from the developed countries of the North for South Africa’s National Priorities, i.e. Health, Education, Land reform and Rural development, Creation of decent jobs, and our Fight against crime.”
  • “Our participation in the global system of governance is fundamentally premised on our commitment to work towards global political and socio-economic stability and security. The end of the first decade of the 21st century has witnessed the emergence of major powers of the South, with formidable alliances being formed and others revitalized…”
  • “South Africa will continue to broaden and intensify its relations with BRIC member-countries, as they are key players in the current wave of globalisation – especially as it relates to the domain of technological innovation.”
  • “We seek to promote development, security, human rights and international law through our participation in the United Nations system and its specialised agencies. South Africa recognises the need to address the pressing social and economic challenges of developing countries, particularly those facing Africa. We still believe that the resolution of international conflicts should be peaceful and in accordance with the centrality of the UN Charter and the principles of international law….”
  • “South Africa’s international engagement on issues of climate change and energy security will continue to be guided by the principle of sustainable development. This principle seeks to ensure that we can enhance our economic growth without undue cost to the environment, while promoting social justice at the same time…”

And in summing up its tasks in an uncertain world, “…Dirco should be seized with the question: how can we help push the frontiers of poverty and underdevelopment and ensure we extend the reach of our potential as a country?”

In contrast, the ANC document speaks extensively to a “global contest between progressive and reactionary ideological perspectives on world affairs”. It devotes considerable space to a range of aspects of the AU, the Pan African Parliament, the Pan-African Women’s Organisation, and something called the All-Africa Student Union.

It also speaks at length to issues related to conflicts involving a number of African and other states, including Mali, Sudan/South Sudan, Swaziland, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Cuba (the Cuban Guantanamo Five prisoners), and Syria. And it also focuses on hoped-for changes in major international organisations such as the UN, IMF and World Bank and the theme, “Continental and International Solidarity,” that deals with conflicts like the Western Sahara and Palestine, as well as international party-to-party relations.

But in contrast to Dirco’s strategic document that speaks directly – right at the beginning of its strategic guidelines – about the critical importance of generating foreign direct investment and expanding trade, it isn’t until very far along in the party resolutions, following a long section devoted to those Guantanamo prisoners, that it makes any mention of economic issues. On this, the ANC document says, “Economic diplomacy reinforces our vision of a better Africa and better world as well as the achievement of national development objectives, believing that there can be no peace without development nor development without peace” and that “South Africa’s economic diplomacy should serve as a tool of foreign policy including the utilisation of state-owned enterprises in development projects on the African continent.” But what, exactly, does that mean? Unfortunately, the resolutions offer no further clarity.

Similarly, there is a long section devoted to the party’s opposition to Africom (the US military command that focuses specifically on African issues), arguing a debatable proposition in light of recent or on-going conflicts in Somalia, the Ivory Coast, Mali, the Central African Republic, and the Congo that “African states should be resolute in their stance against United State’s Africom presence in Africa under the guise of ‘War on Terror’, while actually militarising the continent” and that “The ANC recognises that the Africom is more than just the building of American bases on the African continent, but it includes more subtle programmes involving the US and Nato military in military training of African militaries, the funding of NGOs for anti-African agendas and increasingly the introduction of drones under the guise of technological assistance in conflict areas.”

The party document also spells out a series of international relations campaigns such as greater support for Africa Day and Mandela Day.  Finally, it notes the need for a “combined programme on international relations involving Alliance partners that needs to be developed that would include the issues of climate change, trade, foreign direct investment, industrialisation of Africa and transformation of multi-lateral institutions and global governance,” [italics by author] as well as the inevitable “Solidarity campaigns on Cuba, Western Sahara, Palestine and Swaziland, with a special discussion on our position on Swaziland” and affiliations with organisations like the “Socialist International, the Sao Paulo Forum, the Non-Aligned Movement and so forth”. International economic issues have received little more than a polite mention in the resolutions.

As a result, it was instructive to run the text of the entire document through a computer application known as a word cloud generator – for the result, see above. Word cloud generators simply count up the total usage of a particular word – giving the most used words a larger and darker presence in the resulting image.

Aside from logical, high frequency usage of “South”, “African”, “Africa” and “international”, and the acronym “ANC”, the geographical location that appears most frequently in the document is the combined usage of “Palestine/Palestinian”. By contrast, the words and phrases, “Europe”, “America”, “USA”, “trade”, “foreign direct investment”, “exports”, and “imports”, do not even show up in the word cloud, despite their prominence in Dirco’s strategic overview. A second test, using the “find” function of word processing software, similarly discovered the words “Europe”, “foreign direct investment”, “exports”, “imports” and “trade” were virtually absent, while “America” and “USA” only appear in conjunction with “Africom”. Words such as “Tibet”, “Falun Gong”, “Myanmar”, “North Korea” and other human rights-related words are similarly invisible.

The difficulty with the ANC document, of course, is similar to one that comes up in many other political party manifestos on international affairs from around the world. Such documents often become a shopping list of wants that answer to constituencies within a party, rather than a larger, more subtle consideration of national interest that balances broader interests against the desires of a particular lobby or interest group with a particular party. To name just one example, both US political party platforms were held hostage during the Cold War by interest groups vociferously supportive of the active liberation of Eastern Europe’s “Captive Nations” from the weight of Russian domination – Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Rumania.

Sadly, however, this particular party document sidesteps the vital relationship between business and job creation and the country’s international reputation to investors, and by the nation’s outreach via its foreign affairs ministry. Also ignored is the equally important relationship between various government agencies and political bodies in generating that reputation. While it is true this party document does not directly set government policy, nevertheless, it is equally true it will undoubtedly wield an influence on the mental landscapes – Plato’s famous shadows on the cave wall that represent the effective stand-ins for the larger reality of existence – of the party’s leadership whenever it turns its attention to international affairs.

If the ANC, via its policy documents, demonstrates it is uninterested in the critical role of trade, investment and economic relationships with the OECD nations of the world in securing a better future for this country – except when taking up the cudgels in a struggle between global “progressive” and “reactionary” forces – then parliamentary leaders, younger leaders and cadres may become similarly (mis)informed about the real shape of the world and this country’s place in it. As a result, it is incumbent on the nation’s think tanks, the media, business associations and universities to engage effectively with documents like this one – pointing out where and why the mental landscape it creates leaves out so much complexity that is crucial to the ultimate success of South Africa in a tough, globally competitive economy. DM

Read more:

  • Resolutions of the ANC’s 53rd National Conference, Mangaung, December 16-20 2012
  • Strategic Plan, 2010 – 2013, Dirco website
  • For comparison and as an alternative example, readers may wish to examine the Obama administration’s strategic guideline for US engagement with Africa at “The Future of America’s Partnership with Sub-Saharan Africa” (click on the PDF link for the full document).

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