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FOREIGN POLICY

Norway has no double standards on Middle East and is investing in SA renewable energy – visiting minister

Norway has no double standards on Middle East and is investing in SA renewable energy – visiting minister
International Relations and Cooperation Deputy Minister Alvin Botes (right) with Norway's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andreas Kravik. (Photo: Yandisa Monakali)

Norway’s deputy foreign minister, visiting South Africa for his country’s biennial consultations, says the Global South appreciates that Norway ‘talks to everyone’ and tries to understand everyone’s perspective. He’s unfazed by the country’s ambiguous stance on renewable energy.

The South African government accuses many western governments of double standards, because it says they condemn Russia for invading Ukraine, but don’t condemn Israel for occupying Palestine. Norway insists that criticism does not apply, at least in its case, as it has consistently criticised Israel for its settlements on the West Bank. 

But equally it has criticised Hamas for its “brutal, terrorist” attack on Israel on October 7, in which more than 1,400 mostly civilians died, deputy foreign minister Andreas Kravik said on a visit to South Africa for Norway’s biennial consultations with South Africa.

He met his South African counterpart Alvin Botes to advance the wide range of issues on which the two countries collaborate, including strengthening multilateral governance that would increase the representation of Africa in global institutions and, for instance, give it a permanent presence on the UN Security Council. They also discussed reinforcing international law and the law of the sea; human rights and civil society; improving ocean policies; and transitioning to a greener economy. 

“We are strong partners … We both seek global solutions to global problems … We see South Africa as a regional leader … who it’s important to engage with,” Kravik said, noting that the “very good” relations with South Africa date back to Norway’s support of the fight against apartheid. The two governments also discussed international crises such as the Middle East and Ukraine. Kravik noted that Botes had criticised western countries for double standards in their differing approaches to the two conflicts. 

Clear and consistent

Norwegian ambassador Gjermund Saether presents his credentials to President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Siya Duda / GCIS)

But Kravik said Norway had been “very consistent because we have said for many years that the occupation of Palestine territory, the settlements are unacceptable. They violate international law and the illegal settlement activity should be stopped and reversed. We’ve been very clear about that”.

Norway’s ambassador to South Africa, Gjermund Saether, added that the same was true for many other European countries, which also provided a lot of financial support to Palestine and met the Palestinian leadership all the time. 

Norway has led the AHLC (the international donor group for Palestine), since 1993 and provides between NOK800-million and NOK900-million to Palestine annually, including support to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, civil society organisations and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Norway has a special interest in the Middle East, because it brokered the negotiations which led to the 1993 Oslo Accords committing both sides to a two-state solution. And Kravik said Norway had remained engaged in the Israel-Palestine issue, maintaining contact with a range of relevant parties in the Middle East. “This includes representatives from Hamas, with whom we have stayed in contact since they took power in Gaza in 2006.

“And we’ve been very clear in stating unequivocally to Hamas when they engage in behaviour we find abhorrent. So for example after the attacks that occurred on 7 October, we’ve been very adamant about explaining to Hamas that this is something that cannot stand. I mean they slaughtered civilians, and that’s of course a travesty and needs to be called out.”

Kravik said his government had been very clear “that what Hamas did represented a terrorist attack”. Norway had also condemned Hamas for taking more than 200 hostages in its attack on Israel. “So we’re very clear in our condemnation, both in public and in private.

“And we’ve been unequivocal that Israel has a right to defend itself. It should do so within the confines of international law. 

“We have raised concerns about the blockade [of Gaza], saying to Israel you have an obligation under humanitarian law to let humanitarian aid come in and reach civilians. And we are very concerned when we see the number of civilian casualties.”

Israel should protect civilians and ensure humanitarian aid entered Gaza, he said. 

“So I don’t think we’ve been ambiguous or equivocating when it comes to criticising both sides, when we feel they’re not acting according to international law.”

Kravik said that apart from the immediate needs of protecting civilians and ensuring humanitarian aid entered Gaza, Norway had also urged that discussions should start now to find a long-term, sustainable solution to end the constant cycle of violence and conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

While Norway was engaging all the parties and players in the region, he noted that there was a risk of the conflict spreading, and that all the processes for the normalisation of relations, including potentially between Israel and Saudi Arabia, had also now been jeopardised. 

Daily Maverick asked Kravik how it helped to talk to Hamas when it did not recognise the state of Israel. Was Hamas amenable to negotiations when the objective was a two-state solution?

He replied that “we just need to be agnostic about what can happen”, adding that “we’ve seen throughout history that organisations have been able to change their positions if you provide the right incentive structure. We just need to find a solution which is viable. But Israel has a right to expect and a right to have its neighbouring territory not governed by an organisation which has its main purpose to eradicate them”.

Kravik said there was “not much light” between Norway and South Africa’s positions on the Middle East.

But Saether also observed that Norway was “a bit faster than South Africa in condemning the terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel”. (It took Pretoria over a week to criticise Hamas for its attack at all.) And Kravik’s remarks make it clear that Norway has also been stronger in condemning Hamas.

Differences

Kravik cited Ukraine as one issue on which South Africa and Norway had differed, and this has been the international issue on which Pretoria has differed most with Western countries. 

He said Norway had taken “a very strong stance” in support of Ukraine. 

“We think it’s the only viable position to take if you’re committed as we are to democracy, committed to international law, committed to the UN Charter. And so we have condemned in the strongest terms what Russia has done. It’s a violation of the most fundamental international norms enshrined in the UN Charter, which prohibits the use of force to annex another country’s territory, or part of the territory; and that’s the purpose, the Russians have been very clear about that. And of course South Africa has taken a slightly different approach and that’s something we’ve discussed and I think we know where we stand.”

Pretoria has taken a “non-aligned” approach and has barely criticised Russia for its invasion 

Norway is increasing its support to Ukraine and other countries affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, from about NOK10.7-billion in 2022 to about NOK15-billion annually from 2023 to 2027.

This includes 10 F-16 fighter jets, eight tanks, as well as rocket launchers, other artillery systems and ammunition.

Kravik said that, in absolute terms, Norway had provided more military support to Ukraine than most other countries and, in relative terms, more than anyone. 

He said Norway was happy to work with South Africa in the discussions on Ukraine’s own peace formula, and Oslo also welcomed the seven-nations African Peace Initiative which President Ramaphosa is leading. 

Peace mediation is a key Norwegian foreign policy priority and it is currently engaged in mediating the negotiations between the government of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition in Venezuela and in efforts to persuade the EMC-FARC  holdout faction of the FARC rebels in Colombia to lay down arms.

The Venezuela talks recently led to an agreement on the conditions for presidential elections in 2024 – including the presence of international election observers – and in exchange the US suspended some sanctions on Venezuela in the oil sector and gold extraction.

‘We try not to pontificate’ 

Kravik said he thought Pretoria appreciated Norway’s approach to Venezuela – which many other western countries had boycotted – and its general approach to foreign policy “which is that we talk to everyone, we try to understand the country’s perspectives. We try not to pontificate. We try to explain why we are committed to certain values, but then we also try to understand why some other countries aren’t necessarily committed to the same values, without losing our commitment to our values. So I think that balance is something which South Africa and other countries in the Global South, for lack of a better term, appreciate .”

He also observed, however, that the US sanctions seemed to have worked in incentivising the Venezuelan parties to get together to resolve their impasse. 

Apart from these international issues, country-to-country relations are currently dominated by Norway’s support for South Africa’s renewable energy programme.

Investment in South Africa

Saether pointed out that because South Africa is a middle-income country, Norway’s development support focuses on investment rather than grant aid. So Norfund, Norway’s development finance institution, has a climate investment fund which is investing $100-million in South African renewable energy this year alone. 

He stressed that though the mandate of the fund was development, it used private-sector methods. So the $100-million was in capital as investing in clean energy in SA was “ a good value proposition”.

In total so far the fund had invested R5-billion in South Africa and that figure would rise considerably. 

In addition, five Norwegian renewable energy companies are planning to invest billions of dollars to build at least 10GW of energy generation.

And apart from renewables, the Norwegian Pension Fund has invested about NOK35-billion (about R60-billion) in 78 different South African companies. Most assets are in the consumer space (Woolworths, seafood harvesters), the industrial sector (packaging, automotives and mining) and financial institutions, but the fund has also invested in health, telecoms, gold and more. By 2025 all these investors must present plans to achieve zero-emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

Daily Maverick asked how Norway dealt with South Africa’s fraught energy environment, including ambivalent policy, with some Cabinet ministers supporting renewables and the Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe energetically punting coal. 

Saether seemed unfazed. “In Norway we do all kinds of energy; we do oil and gas; we do hydropower. Offshore wind is going to be the new big thing. The plan of the government is 30GW of offshore wind by 2040”. 

“We already have 35GW of hydropower, which gives us what we need domestically. I think the oil will continue and will peak around 2030 and then gas maybe 10 or 15 years later. 

‘We’re not preaching to anyone’

“So we are not preaching to anyone. We are also giving new licences for drilling in the North Sea, especially since Russia invaded Ukraine so Europe needs all the energy it can get especially gas because Norway is now by far the biggest gas supplier to Europe.”

And he noted that Norway had a good dialogue with the Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, the Presidency and environment minister Barbara Creecy and referred to his talks with Mantashe at the Africa Oil Week.

“The fact that you have different interests on energy in that environment is not new to us,” Saether added, noting that the assessments of Norway’s ministry of oil and energy also sometimes differed from those of the ministry of environment.

“I think in Norway the ministers would normally discuss it in private though,” he added.

The main obstacle expanding Norwegian renewable investment was now the lack of transmission lines. “Some of our companies have wind farms of which they can only use about half the capacity because they don’t have transmission lines. They could put out far more energy but there is no space on the grid.

“There is not always full clarity in policy but there are also many in government that try to be helpful”.

The big question now was how private companies could contribute to building more transmission lines and Norwegian companies were ready to participate. 

Kravik noted that like South Africa, Norway was also battling with the transition from fossil fuels – with an economy that had been heavily geared towards oil and gas – towards renewables. That was largely being done through public-private partnerships including international companies. 

He said many people made the mistake of thinking that because of Norway’s social democratic background that it had a socialist government with a state-owned economy. That was not true. The state was very much involved in the economy through enforcing strong government regulations and policies. But private companies did the production and made the profits. 

African strategy

He said Norway was currently revising its African strategy, which it hoped to finalise next year. One of the purposes of his trip to South Africa had been to get input from various partners here to update its analysis on how it could play a constructive role. And one of Norway’s aims, he said, was to ensure its companies could be more involved in South Africa not only for profit but to help facilitate the green transition. 

Norwegian companies were willing to invest but it could be difficult to break into the South African economy,because it worked differently and the rules were not always understood. The Norwegian government could help its companies overcome those difficulties. DM

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