SA troubles: a drain on its international standing

2017-04-15 15:01

The recent political troubles that have emerged in South Africa following president Jacob Zuma's controversial Cabinet reshuffle have a bearing on both domestic politics and international standing. This is principally because post-1994, South Africa has depended significantly on domestic stability and international prestige to grow and maintain its advantages in a globalizing world.

Decisions of those vested with power to make critical decisions about the nation have a major bearing on the state of the nation and its standing in the world. It is common that well-chosen leaders armed with great expertise in taking effect decisions and making wise choices in the complex world of policy and politics leads to major progress in country's state of affairs.

We know that Paul Kagame, for all his many weaknesses, has put together a leadership that has build institutions, policies and programmes in place that have positively transformed the country that was reeling under the tragic cloud of a genocide in 1994 at the time when SOuth Africa was launching itself into the euphoria of post-apartheid. For Rwanda is was tragic; for South Africa it was a great time. Thanks to choices made, Rwanda has grown and unfortunately South Africa is experiencing deep problems including failure to transform the inherited colonial state and economy, runway corruption, deep political cleavages, high levels of poverty and inequality and other ills.

The Cabinet reshuffle must be seen as part of a series of developments that have culminated in the explosion of anger in some sections of the SA society, these include the scandal around the Nkandla construction, a series of corruption scandals including those of prominent ANC leaders like John Block, factional politics in the governing party that signals that the centre might not be holding, and growing upsurge of communities over service delivery issues. These feed into the air of concern at least, a sense of despair and anger in many cases.

These circumstances have deepened domestic instability and led to an adverse economic situation as manifest in the decision by two credit rating agencies downgrade the South African economy into a sub-investment status, sometimes called the junk status. In doing so, the agencies have referred to self-inflicted political uncertainty as a result of political tensions and conflict political messaging within South African governmental circles.

Rating agencies have many problems of their own, their judgement is not a good indicator of the true state of things because they measure perceptions rather than realities. Yet, they influence the decisions of external investors on where to invest and what to invest and when. They thus can affect the patterns of inward investment and their ratings are taken seriously by creditors as well resulting in higher than usual debt servicing costs.

These agencies generate discussions about the country that project the image of a country in trouble falling apart or heading for a deep crisis. For South Africa, international image and prestige are very important because the country is a relatively small economy in the world and has very limited other sources of hard power currency, therefore it's relied on the power of its story of transition, the iconography of Nelson Mandela and other figures, its agility on a number of front to punch above its weight. It has thus been able to earn more privileges that its real power weight justify.

Therefore, controversy of the nature the country has experienced in recent years bleeds its soft power account. It diminishes its image in the eyes, not just of investors, but of friends and admires the world over. It weakens its prestige and corrodes its image at the time when its reputation is a form of currency from which it earns trade, goodwill, and beneficial friendship.

In the world media, South Africa has featured repeatedly in the recent past for wrong reasons or over negative developments. The appointment of Trevor Noah to run a famous TV show in the US was offset by all the negative coverage of the Nkandla and other scandals. The positive story of SA artists performing on world stages is overshadowed by self-inflicted domestic political troubles.

Domestic actors have got to understand how their decisions, choices and activities affect in real ways the country's standing in the eyes of the world. They must consider how what they do affect the country where it needs most. They have to also understand that once harmed, this international standing will take long time and big effort to recover. It may never be recovered in fact. Not in our lifetime.

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