South Africa's regional influence

2011-09-20 00:00

DEVELOPMENTS last week suggest that South Africa is increasing its influence in Africa. But whether this will be sustained is debatable. The trends over the long term do not give much hope that SA will be consistent in exercising robust leadership. Yet, there are new factors to bear in mind before we make that call.

Last week, President Jacob Zuma hosted the AU Ad-Hoc Committee on Libya to reflect on recent developments and work out an AU response to the evolving situation in Libya. Zuma’s move signalled an intention to switch from merely lamenting Nato’s abuse of UN Resolution 1973 to catalysing regional leadership of an African issue. This was important following the meeting of Nato and allies in Paris earlier. Africa needs to regain leadership in Libya.

About a month ago, the AU, through its Peace and Security Council, decided not to recognise the National Transitional Council because it is not an inclusive transitional authority desired for the rebuilding of Libya and because the AU is opposed to unconstitutional change of power.

The AU is divided with about 20 out of 54 countries in favour of recognising the Libyan rebels. We can assume that most of the 34 member states are opposed to recognition. This is a significant division of a continental body that is already weakened by various factors; principally, public perception, weak finances, technical incompetence and marginalisation by global power. Among the 34 are countries like South Africa whose real position is only to recognise the council on the basis of serious and verifiable undertakings to form an inclusive transitional authority. So, the no vote in the AU meeting does not reflect this nuance.

Zuma’s move was strategic in that it helped the AU remain visibly and positively focused on Libya’s future, but also because it was to nuance the AU position in the manner described below. Indeed, after discussions the AU Committee requested the AU Commission chair to report on developments towards establishing an inclusive government in Libya “to enable the latter to authorise the all-inclusive transitional government soon to be formed by the current authorities to occupy the seat of Libya in the AU, as soon as it is established”. This opens the way for formal recognition of the transitional authority, provided it fulfils political undertakings it has made already.

It went on to say: “Such a decision should be based on the exceptional circumstances in … Libya, and without prejudice to the relevant instruments of the AU, particularly those on unconstitutional changes of governments.” This removes the constitutional hurdle by making Libya an exceptional case in the injunction against unconstitutional change of power.

The second development is to do with Madagascar. The SADC summit in Angola in August revised its earlier decision to adopt a roadmap developed by former president Joachim Chissano because the roadmap expressly excluded ousted president Marc Ravalomanana from returning to Madagascar until after elections. This violated the principle of all-inclusive transitions that SA promotes in conflict resolution. Yet, according to statements reportedly issued by the SADC general secretary, Tomaz Salamao, the SADC is said to have approved the first roadmap.

SA seems to have used its new power as the head of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation to return SADC to its Angola position using the SADC ministerial mission that visited Madagscar for political support last week. On return from Madagascar, the ministerial team affirmed the newer SADC position and corrected Salamao by insisting that the new roadmap include Ravalomanana in the political processes. This means that as Madagascar prepares for a transition to democracy, an inclusive political process will be the route to be taken.

While we should not oversimplify complex politics of continental and regional decision-making, both these cases show that SA has the ability to influence decision-making in the best interests of the region.

But when it does not lobby others to support its views, its position is drowned out by absolute consensus. When SA realises that its ability to influence decisions can be used for common good, it will help the continent develop a strategic posture on constantly changing international issues. The region needs such influence to fast-track trade integration and fight poverty.

But to do so well, SA must institutionalise its leadership.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue. He writes in his personal capacity.

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