SA’s ubuntu falls to DRC water deal

2011-12-10 10:32

It is with curiosity and bemusement that we reflect on President Jacob ­Zuma’s acceptance and ratification of the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a ­success.

The mineral-rich country sits on the brink of post-election violence that will undoubtedly test Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders’ commitment to upholding the democratic process.

Amid reports of fighting and protests against what the opposition is contesting as a fraudulent electoral outcome, Zuma applauded “the people of the DRC for having shown their determination and will to consolidate peace, enhance national reconciliation, boost the democratic process and lay the foundation for lasting peace as well as economic and social development”.

But what substance do these words carry when reports from the country indicate that nationals are fleeing into neighbouring Republic of Congo in fear of renewed ­violence if Joseph ­Kabila is re-elected as president.

South African observers are being accused by Congolese nationals of turning a blind eye to the fraudulent electoral activities.

This belief of complicity actually raises two significant issues regarding South Africa’s involvement in the DRC electoral process.

The first is that in the weeks preceding the election, opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi travelled to South Africa. The purpose of the visit was unclear? But one cannot ignore the timing.

As Tshisekedi flew out of the country, the Zuma presidency signed a new deal with the Kabila government on the Grand Inga Dam project.

This poses questions that pertain to Pretoria’s real African agenda, as viewed by the continent and regional powers such as Nigeria.

If, indeed, South Africa has been hedging its bets in the DRC electoral process on the Grand Inga Dam, it must be asked if there is merit to Jason Stearns’ blog that “some analysts . . . suggested the South Africans were using Tshisekedi as leverage to squeeze a deal out of the Congolese”.

This then leads to the second issue namely how one interprets South Africa’s largesse for “building and strengthening democracy on the continent”.

Is it about ubuntu and South Africa’s responsibility towards consolidating stability and development in Africa? Or is it about South Africa’s strategic interests related to the dam in question and the need for our own domestic water security?

Where this leaves Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy for the position of African Union commissioner becomes another contested debate.

Still the impact of a renewed conflict within the DRC would not bode well for SADC’s prospects of consolidating its regional integration project.

» Dawood is executive director of the Open ­Society Foundation for South Africa and Naidu is a senior researcher of the South African Foreign Policy Initiative based within the foundation 

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