SA’s leadership on continent on the line

2011-08-13 14:43

South Africa’s leadership in Africa is threatened by other countries with aspirations for regional influence and leadership, a recently released white paper on South Africa’s foreign policy says.

The white paper was approved by Cabinet this week and shows South Africa is aware that its position as leader on the continent is not uncontested.

“The rapid development of a growing number of developing countries is likely to result in increased competition among states to position themselves in order to maximise their international profiles and visibility,” the white paper says.

Recent statistics show Nigeria, one of South Africa’s biggest rivals on the continent, will have a bigger economy than South Africa in 2025.

According to Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, director at the South African Institute of International Affairs, South Africa needs to be innovative about policy and introduce new and useful ideas in the global arena to remain relevant.

“We have to be acutely aware that we cannot assume that we will be here (a regional leader) in 10 years’ time.

“South Africa is where it is because we have the biggest, most sophisticated economy in Africa and we have a global vision,” she said.

“Countries look to us to represent African views. But in order to stay relevant we need to constantly come up with new ideas which are useful for the problems the world faces today.”

The white paper warns that the cohesion of the countries in the global South is under threat due to “key developing countries’ progress towards becoming developed countries”, the document says.

Some countries develop faster than others and this creates a “capacity gap” between these countries and the rest of the developing world, it says.

The white paper is critical of the way the developed world invariably focuses on peace and security while Africa and the global South want to prioritise poverty.

“A continued overemphasis by the developed world on issues of peace and security undermine efforts to deal with the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment,” it finds.

The white paper warns that South Africa should not look to China as the answer to prayers for bigger trade opportunities.

“Asian markets are characterised by severe competition and proliferation of free trade agreements. South Africa therefore runs the risk of marginalisation and exclusion from supply networks.

(South Africa must) pursue a comprehensive trade strategy to improve South Africa’s competitiveness and anchor it in Asian markets.”

But all is not lost for South Africa in the vastness of Asian markets.

“South Africa should not lose sight of the fact that there are also many middle powers in Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam that are both partners and competitors.

“South Africa will leverage the fact that these countries share similar views on reform of global governance, solidarity and economic justice.”

Keeping in mind South Africa’s heavily criticised United Nations decision about Burma (also known as Myanmar), the white paper says South Africa should “closely monitor unresolved issues in Asia such as territorial disputes, domestic political instability, as well as religous and ethnic extremism, as these pose challenges for South Africa’s core values of democracy and human rights”.

Sidiropolous warns that the international co-operation and relations department may not have the capacity to implement the “aspirational and idealistic” white paper.

“The department is stretched in terms of skills and numbers, making it important to identify and decide which countries and issues will be prioritised above others.”


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