South Africa aims to be ‘moral’ superpower

2014-08-10 15:00

South Africa can become “a moral superpower” and help ­manage conflicts in the way Nelson Mandela did, South Africa’s ambassador in Washington, DC, Ebrahim Rasool, has said.

Rasool spoke to City Press after the US-Africa Leaders ­Summit in Washington this week, where US President Barack Obama pledged $110?million (R1.2?billion) a year for the next three to five years to help African countries establish rapid­response peacekeeping forces.

Rasool said the agreement on peace and security was the summit’s biggest achievement.

“The coup – if I can use an unfortunate word – of the summit is the admission by the Americans that they would rather fight in an African standby force than send in its own troops,” he said.

The African Union (AU) is planning to ­establish an African Standby Force (ASF), but so far efforts have been hamstrung by politics and a lack of resources.

President Jacob Zuma last year started advocating for an interim rapid-response force, the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises.

South Africa’s defence force will be on standby first, from October to December.

Obama made no specific mention about helping South Africa, but it is understood that the US Africa Command (Africom) could assist with equipment and transport.

Rasool said the ASF should not become a “proxy for Africom”, but rather be “the incarnation of the Mandelaesque way of resolving things with the back-up of the technology and the strategic intervention and the finances” that the US has to offer.

He said the US was in transition because “it does not have the resources for militarism as its default position any more”. The country is $16?trillion in debt.

He said South Africa would like to see the US move from “the usual militarism to the Mandelaesque management of conflict”, which drives “engagement, dialogue, negotiation, conflict resolution, etcetera”.

“I don’t think South Africans have realised how well poised we are to become a moral superpower.”

Rasool said the trend in the US was to “manage militarism without war” by establishing “culture-specific interventions”. The country was also trying to use technology, like drones, to fight war “without body bags”, he said.

Africom has been controversial because many African countries fear it will become a magnet for extremists. The command has been forced to establish its headquarters in Stuttgart, ­Germany, instead of on the continent.

Rasool, however, warned that the Africans would have to manage the relationship. “It is still going to be a chess game because the US would still want the ASF to be a fighting force, but as a proxy of Africom. I think Africa needs to say ‘we want an ASF, we want African solutions to African problems, but please ensure that the strategic backup is there for us’.”

Obama told journalists on Wednesday the US had no desire to create “a big footprint” in Africa, but would rather partner with countries to deal with problems.

“We will support the African Union’s efforts to strengthen its peacekeeping institutions,” Obama said. “We’re launching a new African peacekeeping rapid-response partnership with the goal of quickly deploying African peacekeepers in support of UN or AU missions,” he said.

He said the US would support countries like Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda, and would “invite countries beyond Africa to join us in this effort”.

Zuma on Monday said South Africa wanted to see “African-led solutions to African problems”. This was a change in ­emphasis from the “African solutions to African problems” he told African leaders to find last year at a meeting in Pretoria about the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises.

Zuma also said South Africa had “an example in our own experience that we can offer to do something” about the ­current conflict in Gaza.

He said: “We came from a conflict that nobody thought would ever be solved – institutionalised racism in South Africa.”

Following the summit, Obama announced $37?billion worth of investments in Africa from the US government, business and nongovernmental organisations. He also said he would urge his successor to continue hosting similar summits.

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