DIPLOMATIC DILEMMA ANALYSIS
Emmanuel Macron’s wish to attend BRICS summit a tricky litmus test for South Africa
If Cyril Ramaphosa gets invited to G7 summits, should France’s Macron not be invited to South Africa’s BRICS summit?
French President Emmanuel Macron’s stated wish to be invited to the BRICS summit in South Africa in August presents a litmus test of what the BRICS bloc is becoming: a neutral partnership to objectively boost the development of emerging nations, or a support group for Russia against Western efforts to isolate and sanction it because of its invasion of Ukraine.
It seems likely South Africa will fail the test, adding to a growing sense that BRICS is becoming more of a liability than an asset to South Africa.
Last week, visiting French foreign minister Catherine Colonna told journalists that she had conveyed to Naledi Pandor, her South African counterpart, Macron’s interest in attending the BRICS summit. Pandor said this would be an “innovation” but that it was up to President Ramaphosa, who will chair the summit.
A senior official later told Daily Maverick that France had not formally requested an invitation for Macron, and in any case, Ramaphosa would have to consult the leaders of the other BRICS member states – Brazil, Russia, India and China – before deciding whether to invite Macron.
French sources said that Paris was unlikely to request an invitation formally, but felt it was enough for South Africa to know that if invited, Macron would accept. They noted that Macron was known to be a bridge-builder, linking disparate countries and groups in pursuit of peace and reconciliation.
Pretoria’s suggestion that it needed a formal request from Paris and that the other BRICS member governments would have to be consulted almost certainly means Macron will not be coming to South Africa as a guest of the summit — Russia has already said it would be inappropriate for a Nato country to attend, and China would also very likely veto the idea.
But that does not mean it is a bad idea.
“It is an excellent idea to build such bridges among the three leading global plurilateral summit institutions – the G7, BRICS and the G20, to which the members of the first two all belong,” says political scientist John Kirton.
He studies all three institutions in his capacity as director of the G7 Research Group, the G20 Research Group and co-director of the BRICS Research Group, all based at the University of Toronto in Canada.
“Given Macron’s initiative in holding his recent Paris Summit to raise finance for the South, and its useful but inadequate results, it is all the more important to have him at the BRICS,” Kirton told Daily Maverick.
He was referring to the summit in Paris last week which Macron hosted to seek a “New Global Financing Pact” to enable developing and emerging nations to meet their targets for reducing global warming and also to reduce poverty.
Ramaphosa used the platform to berate the industrialised countries for failing to keep their promises to help develop the developing world, most notably their commitment to providing it with $100-billion a year to tackle climate change.
He nonetheless noted afterwards that “it is significant that there was broad consensus among most of the countries that much more funding is needed and that international development banks needed to be significantly reformed to direct that funding to where it will have the greatest impact.”
He also welcomed Macron’s summary of the outcomes of the summit, in which he said, “More than ever, international solidarity and transfers from the richest countries to the most vulnerable ones are essential to shaping a fairer world”.
Kirton pointed out that Ramaphosa and other South African presidents have been invited many times to G7 summits, as have Indian prime ministers. Macron himself invited both Ramaphosa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the 2019 summit which he hosted in Biarritz, along with other leaders to meet the G7 leadership.
However, Kirton also noted that even though it would be a good idea for Ramaphosa to invite Macron to this year’s BRICS summit, it was unlikely to happen.
“While South Africa has the prerogatives of host, it is the smallest, most recent member of the BRICS, and Russia certainly, and China probably, would veto Macron being there. So two against means no consensus.”
An opportunity lost
Not inviting Macron would be an opportunity lost for South Africa which is struggling to maintain the credibility of its official posture of non-alignment in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Macron would almost certainly only have attended the summit if Russian President Vladimir Putin was not there. With less than two months to go until the summit is held in Sandton from 22 to 24 August, the government has still not announced if Putin will attend.
But it seems unlikely, as his presence would present a major problem for Pretoria, as South Africa, being a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) would have to arrest him if he sets foot in this country. And if it didn’t arrest him, it would breach its international obligations to the ICC and also break South Africa’s own ICC Implementation Act.
In March, the ICC issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest, charging him with the war crime of complicity in the abduction of children from Ukraine and their deportation to Russia.
On Wednesday this week, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya told journalists that Ramaphosa would announce soon if Putin will attend the summit, after consulting his fellow BRICS leaders.
Most indications are that Putin will not attend, especially after the brief rebellion in Russia launched last Friday by Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary outfit Wagner which had been fighting alongside regular Russian soldiers in Ukraine and also has operations elsewhere in the world, mostly in Africa.
Pretoria has been secretive about its plans for dealing with its Putin dilemma. Until recently, officials said the government’s preferred solution was to move the summit to another country, preferably China. Another option was to hold the summit entirely online.
But this week the government announced that the summit would take place in person in Sandton, so it is likely that Pretoria’s solution to the Putin problem is for him to send someone to represent him.
The government is continuing to play its cards close to its chest on the Putin issue, and also in the courts. This week it emerged that Ramaphosa had filed a confidential affidavit responding to the Democratic Alliance’s application to the high court for an order that South Africa should arrest Putin if he comes to South Africa for the BRICS summit.
Generally court records are supposed to be public, but Magwenya told Daily Maverick that Ramaphosa had filed a confidential answering affidavit to the DA because he was “obliged in terms of international law to keep the interactions with the ICC on the warrant of arrest against President Putin confidential”.
He quoted Article 87 (3) of the Rome Statute which governs the operations of the ICC. It states that “the requested State shall keep confidential a request for cooperation and any documents supporting the request, except to the extent that the disclosure is necessary for execution of the request”.
DA leader John Steenhuisen told Daily Maverick: “I believe the public interest overrides confidentiality. However, our attorneys have requested a meeting with the judge in the matter to understand it better.”
He noted that the DA had agreed to Ramaphosa filing the affidavit confidentially (in line with the Rome Statute). But he added that the DA “reserved our right to challenge the need for confidentiality once we receive the affidavit.
“While we accept that certain portions of the affidavit can remain confidential, we do not accept that there is any basis for the majority of the affidavit to be confidential. We will argue that the court should refuse to keep those portions of the affidavit confidential.”
The fact that the Presidency has cited Article 87 (3) as its justification for keeping its answering affidavit confidential implies that Pretoria has received a request from the ICC in The Hague to arrest Putin if he sets foot in South Africa. However, ICC spokesperson Fadi al Abdallah would not confirm this to Daily Maverick, saying, “We are not offering public comment on that topic”.
Steenhuisen said he thought it would be “very silly” for the government to allow Putin to attend the summit.
“I also think Putin, given local circumstances, would be reluctant to leave Russia,” he said, in reference to the Prigozhin rebellion a week ago. DM