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South Africa & The World 2019: The UNSC

unscIn January 2019, South Africa returns for a third time to the UN Security Council. And this, after being yellow carded by US President Donald J. Trump’s UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley on the basis of South Africa’s voting record in the UN. There should be a sense of urgency attached to South Africa’s Security Council return, for complications await it. Notwithstanding the maliciously imperialist posturing of the US regarding those voting against Washington at the UN on matters such as Israel-Palestine, Tshwane will continue disappointing Washington given the Trump administration’s ‘in your face’ belligerently isolationist foreign policy. South Africa and Nigeria, throughout Tshwane’s Security Council tenure, could find themselves at loggerheads regarding the direction of the African Union (AU) agenda if they do not coordinate their positions and strategic interests better, especially given Nigeria’s seat in the AU Peace and Security Council. This is where South Africa’s Africa strategy will be in for a stress test in the two years of its tenure.

Regarding African peace and security, Tshwane will have to assertively confront the destabilizing partitioning of the continent; this is between northern Africa’s volatile geopolitics, within what is generally referred to as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, extending to the Horn of Africa, and the continuing instabilities in and around the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. In this regard, the changeover in administration from the non-strategic transactionalism of the Jacob Zuma government to the more economic diplomacy motivations of Cyril Ramaphosa could not be better timed; this is especially inasmuch as the new incumbent at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, has clearly articulated how much she wants to return South Africa to an international standing exemplary of Nelson Mandela.

Let’s start out surveying northern Africa, from the Maghreb to the Horn. For it is throughout Africa’s northern tier that the AU’s cohesion faces its greatest challenge. Apart from post-Qaddafi turmoil in a Libya defying pacification, the crux of regional instability revolves around the Western Sahara and Morocco’s unrelenting opposition to implementing UN-mandated self-determination in this territory. Besides doubling down on a diplomacy of resolute support for Sahrawi independence, South Africa must strengthen the self-determination case by linking it to the urgency of operationalizing the functioning of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) and expanding its remit into the northwestern Sudano-Sahelian border regions extending into Chad Lake Basin instabilities. Given that Morocco currently sits in the AU Peace and Security Council, it will however not be straightforward to garner solid support from the African bloc given the manner in which South Africa has been somewhat caught flat footed by Moroccan diplomatic efforts on the continent in recent years. At a time when South Africa needs all the leverage it can muster on Western Sahara and other African strategic priorities, the country will have to consider carefully the implications of doubling down on the less-strategic priority of downgrading its embassy in Israel, especially when South Africa has already taken one of the hardest stances on Israel following the recent massacre of Palestinians during the controversial opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

Rather, with Germany also coming onto the UNSC, this means undertaking a no-holds barred security dialogue with the European Union at a time when the EU itself is undergoing its own stress test on a variety of fronts, including on trans-Mediterranean migration from Africa. This is why resolving the Western Sahara conundrum is so urgent, yet growing more complicated: Morocco is now closely aligning itself with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel by accusing Iran of intervening in supporting Polisaro. This situation could even become more complicated if Nigeria follows suit in joining these Sunni-Shia anti-Iran follies at the expense of resolving the Western Sahara standoff and operationalizing UMA, the missing pillar of the AU – with negative implications for an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Morocco’s decision to bandwagon against Iran with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel extends the penetration of fractious Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) geopolitics throughout the entire northern tier of Africa, from where the turmoil between the Saudi-UAE alliance against Qatar spills over across the Red Sea into Northeast Africa. Here, South Africa could explore how it might make use of Ethiopia’s recent willingness to implement the UN settlement of its Badme border dispute with Eritrea into navigating an AU common position on disengaging the Horn of Africa from the Persian Gulf civil war between Saudi-UAE versus Qatar as a proxy in Saudi-Iranian sectarian geopolitical interregional destabilization. An Ethio-Eritrean rapprochement is key to unravelling Persian Gulf militarization of the Horn. But this still leaves out other interrelated issues: Nile River Basin tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan with Egypt and ongoing peace and security diplomacy Tshwane is involved in with the UNSC in South Sudan. Given the priority Ramaphosa affords the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and its eastern and southern African dimension in the Cape to Cairo Tripartite FTA, South Africa must confront these preconditional peace and security challenges in greater eastern Africa.

Finally, coming to terms with the DRC’s endemic instability via the UNSC is also critical. Here, an AU-orchestrated intervention by SADC, the East African Community and  Economic Community of Central African States is important in finding a lasting solution. A balance between centralist and federalist approaches in the Congo that embed the country in the three regional economic communities will thus be important.  All in all, South Africa’s third go-round on the Security Council may turn out as a ‘beware what you wish for’ gift of pan-African challenges awaiting Sisulu’s presumptive revival of Mandela’s foreign policy legacy. Meanwhile, to be determined is where South Africa’s strategic priority lies: African Unity or the Middle East.

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and a past fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.

Ticking Obligatory Boxes? South Africa’s Chairship of SADC 2017-2018

SADCSouth Africa is headed for the conclusion of its chairship of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in August 2018. President Cyril Ramaphosa made an inaugural tour of the region following his ascendancy into the Presidency after the resignation of President Jacob Zuma on 14 February 2018. The three stops of the working visit to Angola, Namibia, and Botswana allowed Ramaphosa to rekindle friendships and reintroduce himself for the first time as the President of South Africa and chairperson of the regional body, with South Africa having assumed chairship of SADC in August 2017. The seamless transition, handover, and continuity from Mr Jacob Zuma his predecessor in the presidency of the republic was lauded both at home in South Africa as well as across the continent. The seasoned politician and statesman was already familiar within the region as a former SADC facilitator to the beleaguered Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

South Africa’s chairship of SADC continues where Swaziland left-off in August 2017, further attempting to implement the regional body’s main policy instruments under the theme “Partnering with the Private Sector in Developing Industry and Regional Value Chains”. Industrialisation has long been identified as a priority for the region and the symbiotic relationship between infrastructure development and the former cannot be overstated. Moreover, the interdependence and success between the two programmes hinges on the involvement of a vigorous and hands-on private sector hence a special mention of business in the current theme. Despite registered progress at programmatic level in areas such as infrastructure, many of the overarching SADC milestones remain either delayed or totally missed. Three of the most notable delays include failure in achieving a Common Market (2015), Monetary Union (2016), as well as a Single-currency/Economic Union (2018).  

Nevertheless, South Africa has been entrusted with the duty of entrenching the two main objectives of; Institutionalisation of the Relationship between Government and the Private Sector, and the Operationalisation of the SADC adopted Industrialisation Policy as well as its costed action plan. Three areas of focus have been identified within the Regional Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap (RISR), namely; agro-processing, mineral beneficiation, and manufacturing. Whilst there are numerous projects within the regional structure, a few on the infrastructure front stand out. The Lesotho Water Transfer Scheme under the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) has seen the ratification of the agreement for this water sharing project by Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. The project aims at sourcing water from the Lesotho Highlands to Botswana. The passage of the water logically goes through South Africa since Botswana does not share any borders with Lesotho. There are indications that the pipeline for the project will launch from Johannesburg, joining existing water infrastructure and not connect directly with the Lesotho Highlands. Funding for the project has been secured via the African Development Bank (AfDB). The private sector is also involved in the project with De Beers in Botswana having facilitated some of the earliest meetings on the project. The second important project to note is the Inter-state Natural Gas Committee that aims at facilitating for the gas exploitation regime to contribute towards the broader regional energy mix. The AfDB is providing technical assistance for the project. It is also hoped that these developments will pave way for the establishment of a Regional Development Fund (RDF), which will steer the regional bloc away from borrowing funds from international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Meanwhile President Ramaphosa announced during South Africa’s State of the Nation Address in February (SONA) that the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement (TFTA) has been ratified by 26 countries. This brings together SADC, Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the East African Community (EAC).  A total of 625 million people and a $1 trillion combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) form the aggregate from this agreement. The linkage between the TFTA and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is readily discernable. On 21 March 2018, at a gathering in Kigali, Rwanda, 44 of the 55 members of the African Union signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).  The objectives of the AfCFTA entail, inter alia, creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African Customs Union. This new development is planned to expand intra African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation regimes and instruments across Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and across Africa in general. This accelerated integration would resolve a number of challenges including multiple and overlapping memberships. 

Parallel initiatives in the front of peace building and conflict resolution continue earnestly with talks for holding the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) elections being fast-tracked. The delayed election and continued instability in the eastern DRC continue to be a cause for concern. Some within the community have argued that the DRC has received preferential treatment following the country’s failure to hold elections in December 2016 after the end of President Kabila’s final two-term mandate. As of June 2018, no elections have been held in the massive central African country. Questions arise as to why SADC has not expedited the suspension of the DRC. It is worth recalling that SADC was swift to suspend Madagascar in 2009 based on the latter’s alleged unconstitutional change of government. However, any observer of politics of the region would agree that the story of the DRC is not a simple one as it involves a number of regional and international players who seem to have an interest in the on-going instability in this African country. At the moment it remains daunting to imagine a post-Kabila DRC and the restoration of order in the country seems larger than SADC’s remit. The country is nominally a unitary state with the central government not in full charge of the polity in its entirety. On the other hand, work is still in progress regarding implementation of the SADC recommendations after the 2017 general election in Lesotho. On the latter, the priority is putting Lesotho on a peaceful and stable footing, which includes reforms on the constitution and the security sector. One idea that has not yet been broached and explored from a security perspective is that of dissolving the Lesotho military force permanently and ceding the country’s safety and defence responsibilities to SADC. Most accounts point at the jostling for control of the Lesotho military as the fundamentally disruptive factor that has led to elusive peace and stability in the Mountain Kingdom. Lastly, it is still unclear as to how far the process of admitting Burundi as a member of SADC is, this is work in progress. If domestic instability is the major issue delaying admission of Burundi into the regional body then this factor makes the latter indistinguishable from the DRC. The next SADC’s Summit of Heads of State then needs to revisit the regional body’s position on Burundi, at the moment it remains unclear as to what the outstanding issues are. 

As South Africa relinquishes the chairship in two months-time, questions on the implementation of the regional body’s priorities before handing over the chairship to Namibia this coming August remain. The pressing question remains that of unmet targets and deadlines. Most SADC members appear to be preoccupied with their own domestic politics, which robs the regional body of focus and undivided attention from leaders. The discrepancies in political, cultural, and economic development amongst members become impediments to the realisation of advanced regional integration. Without tangible material transformation and change for the people on the ground, SADC engagements merely become an exercise of ticking boxes for politicians. However, it stands indisputable that delivery on the infrastructure and industrialisation combination will fundamentally transform the region and this requires vibrant and resolute leadership from the part of governments and the private sector. 


Dr Mabutho Shangase is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD) and a Lecturer in the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.


globalorderinunstabletransitionContext: A version of this commentary will eventually appear in the Russian publication, Global Affairs, from which a request was made to respond in 300-400 words to a need to understand current international dynamics beyond tendencies to see them reflective of a New Cold War; rather, to evaluate the current shape of world affairs in terms of “reasons for conflicts and turbulence (political, economical, social, cultural etc.) and what does it mean for the next phase of international development.”


The international system is undergoing a dangerously unstable transition. While not constituting a New Cold War, it reflects in part, the asymmetrical cold war endgame, with what was already a shifting in the center of gravity of the global economy from West to East. In objective terms, global economic integration defines the world’s interdependent and interconnected geopolitical economy. However, this eastward shift left in its wake a deindustrializing dynamic within the northern post-industrial economies of the West, that to varying degrees, has destabilized their postwar social and political compacts.

In the process, this has layed bare historical faultlines of socioracial, ethnic and cultural class contradictions that, given the emergence of information technology as weaponized instruments in geopolitical power-struggles, adds a new and sinister dimension to the global transition underway. A nation’s internal domestic divisions are exploited by external adversaries aiming to shift the targeted nation’s domestic politics along a path of populist destabilization in the hope of shaping favorable geopolitical outcomes at the international level.

The deliberate targeting of African-Americans (among other groups) for voter suppression by Russian interference in the 2016 US election aimed at fuelling the white nationalist-populist alt-right mood in the US. Given that this may be repeated in the upcoming mid-term elections, this is emblematic of the dangerous new ‘hybrid warfare’ trend in international politics. All the more so as this trend, in the service of reactionary anti-progressive conservative internationalism, in its cynical illiberalism, lends itself to obligatory ‘deniability.’ Deniability is the essence of informational hybrid warfare which has its more ‘soft power’ dimensions as well. In any case, the 2016 US electoral outcome contributed to what amounts to an international right wing conspiracy of strongmanism as a throw-back to the yesteryear of Great Power politics that gave us two world wars and the rise of fascism. With the likes of Putin, Trump, Xi, Netanyahu, Erdogan, Salman, Modi, and Duterte among the more notable, the strongmen era certainly seems to be upon us.

The question outstanding is whether or not the regionalizing of multipolarity in the emergence of regional economic communities will evolve toward a deepening of institutionalized global governance reigning in Great Power geopolitical strongmanism in the eventual restabilizing of the international system. This would be one where an amended liberal internationalism reflects a more democratically plural world order: Pluralist Internationalism with a reformed and strengthened United Nations at its core.


Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.

SHARPEVILLE IN GAZA? Israel-Palestinian Twilight Zone

SharpvilleInGazaThe juxtaposition of the Donald Trump administration moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the massacre of Palestinians at the Gaza-Israel ‘border’ placed in sharp relief the moral and political bankruptcy of the US-Israeli alliance, one reinforced by their alliance with Wahabist Saudi Arabia. For all intents and purposes, the Palestinians have been cut adrift by Israel’s new found Sunni Arab allies. This is amid Israeli-American rightwing unity in what emerges as a joint Apartheid project in Palestinian subjugation. It mocks liberal Zionism’s inspirational birth of Israel. If Israel and supporters can justify the massacre that happened, including thousands injured, by propagandizing it as having been orchestrated by Hamas, this is tantamount to dismissively justifying the Sharpeville Massacre as caused by the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania.

The Gaza confrontations amid Trump-Netanyahu provocations serve as a backdrop for what is very real agonizing underway within Israel and its Jewish diaspora on ‘where to from here.’ What has passed for many decades as a ‘two-state solution’ aka ‘Peace Process’ entered a cul-de-sac under Barack Obama. The rupture is total under Trump. It is well known how skittish US politicians are to venture even mild criticisms of Israel, fearing reprisals from the Israel Lobby.

But this is changing as harsh criticism of Israel gathers momentum from within American Jewry and Israel alike. This was evident in one of the most read articles in the Washington Post calling Israel a ‘savage, unrepairable society’. The fact that this reticence has been broken by Jewish former Democratic Party presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, points to an increasingly urgent Jewish and Israeli debate underway in search of a pathway out of the dead-end that US-supported impunity and intransigence in Tel-Aviv has rendered. This debate was on display in Johannesburg at the beginning of 2018.

On February 5th 2018, the Liliesleaf Museum and Estate (where Rivonia trialists were nabbed by apartheid security police on 11 July 1963) hosted an insightful dialogue on “Israel and Palestine: What lies ahead?” It featured some of the most intensely sobering and extended exchanges to be witnessed on this seminal issue between three heavyweights. Featured was former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel, once a senior advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Liel squared off with renowned liberal journalist Benjamin Pogrund and the head of the Afro-Middle Eastern Centre, Naéem Jeenah.

Most notable about the event was how it could have been witnessed as an intimate ‘hearts and minds’ debate among Israelis and Jews between Alon and Pogrund, with Palestinians and Arabs in the background. Perhaps under current circumstances, this is as it would have to be. Gross US-backed power asymmetries between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and its Arab neighbors amid the fraught regional geopolitical landscape leaves little of consequence to discuss. Hence, Naéem was never really in the dialogue.

Indeed the Palestinian position on what should lie ahead for Israelis and Palestinians currently has no power in the equation, less in fact than what black South Africans had when confronting Afrikaner nationalism. On top of that, internal Palestinian power-struggles add yet another layer to the Israel-Palestinian equation. Hence, Israel’s exploitation of these dynamics in the Gaza massacre with the Trump administration chimming in amid unanimous international condemnation. But this digresses from internal Jewish-Israeli agonizing over the future. 

What was most interesting on the night of the 5th February 2018 in Rivonia was the point-counterpoint between an Israeli senior diplomat on the one hand and a respected Jewish liberal senior journalist on the other. At dialogue’s end, one thing was clear: Alon and Pogrund both converged into a consensus that Israel can in no way, shape or form be considered a democracy. Considering, between them, how significant a swath of Jewish and Israeli opinion the two of them may represent, this emerging consensus puts paid to the notion of an Israel as simultaneously democratic and Jewish. This convergence strikes at the very heart of what must be the anguish of soul searching burdening Israeli and diaspora Jewish ambivalence about ‘where to from here’ for Israel.

For the democratically socialist project of Zion has hit a wall, a wall of ultra-intolerant, extremist fanaticism in the service of settler-annexationism. Israel, ‘the Home of the Jews’ is no longer democratic, let alone liberal: an illiberal democracy perhaps? Moreover, the no longer hidden corruption cloud hovering over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further erodes the very credibility of an Israel in rightwing lockstep with the equally scandolous Republican administration of Donald Trump, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Ambassador Alon and Pogrund could not arrive at common ground on either one or two states. Pogrund latched onto two states as if to a security blanket while Alon had no illusions about its realistic prospects.

Where Alon may be headed in his own thinking and where Israelis of his mind-set may need to nurture their diaspora brethren is somewhere in the vicinity of where veteran Israeli commentator Bernard Avishai pointed: toward “Confederation: The one possible Israel-Palestine solution,” in New York Review of Books. He states that: “A confederal system modeled on greater Jerusalem, but without the repression mobilized by Likud governments” would, in effect, constitute ‘one state’ while accommodating two interdependent but autonomous polities, something of a halfway house between one and two states. Moreover, Avishai’s plan could conceivably even include federating with Jordan as well. Perhaps, in the end, much depends on a new American-Israeli coalition of forces taking shape to place on the table a new security and policy framework that offsets the overwhelming power asymmetry between Israel and Palestinians to force changes in the strategic calculus in Tel-Aviv much as changed Afrikanerdom’s reality in the South Africa of the late 1980s.

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.


scopingSAForPol2018On the 22nd of February the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with the University of South Africa teamed up with the Human Sciences Research Council to convene a roundtable on South Africa’s crowded foreign policy agenda in 2018. Never had there occurred such a jam-packed diplomatic agenda in the country’s recent post-apartheid history and at such a critical juncture in the nation’s domestic politics centered within the governing party. The convergence between South Africa’s heavy diplomatic agenda and the change-over, first within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and then in the Presidency itself, from the scandal-ridden Jacob Zuma administration to that of his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa could not have been a more dramatic statement of the post-apartheid cross-road the country had arrived at.

When factoring in how Tshwane (Pretoria) had regionally assumed the rotating chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at a time when  neighbouring Zimbabwe was also to experience the post-Mugabe transition within its ruling liberation movement ruling party, it began to dawn on many that the country reputed to ‘punch above its weight’ was facing a cascading ‘cup runneth over’ of other responsibilities it had to navigate and juggle while the incoming Ramaphosa administration was finding its footing.

At the end of 2017, Tshwane had assumed the two year rotating chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) at a time when, in 2018 it would also be taking on the Presidency of BRICS (to take place in July) while offloading later in the year, the chair of SADC and the rotating co-chair of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). South Africa, as Africa’s only member of the G20 would also have to preparing for its summit, set for the first time in a global South country, this time, in Argentina (not to mention the current Commonwealth summit that was not factored into our discussion which President Ramaphosa is currently attending in London). Then, one cannot leave out Tshwane’s continental agenda within the African Union (AU) family of nations. And here, one can begin discerning Ramaphosa’s strategic sense of direction in how his foreign policy is to take shape: Economic Diplomacy.

It was no accident that in a State of the Nation Address (SONA) almost devoid of foreign policy content, Ramaphosa specifically targeted for mention the eastern and southern Africa ‘Cape to Cairo’ mega-Tripartite Free Trade Area and the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) for which he was recently present at its Kigale Declaration launch in Rwanda. These will be major priorities on an African agenda likely to be focused heavily on Africa’s regional and continental integration linked to Ramaphosa’s Number One concern: South Africa’s post-Zuma economic recovery involving trade and foreign investment promotion as in the team he led to the World Economic Forum at the beginning of the year and his just launched heavyweight team of envoys including former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel. Within SADC itself, he has already made the rounds in the region with courtesy stops in Angola, Namibia (which is to succeed in chairing SADC) and Botswana where SADC is headquartered.

It is against this fast unfolding backdrop that the IGD/Unisa-HSRC roundtable took place, the proceedings of which are available on the IGD website: https://www.igd.org.za/. Besides IGD panelists, roundtable participants included former South African deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad, IGD’s founding executive director, Dr. Garth L le Pere and Dr. Gilbert Khadiagala, former Wits University International Relations Head of Department, currently heading up the newly launched African Center on the Study of the United States. HSRC’s director of Democracy and Governance, Dr. Narnia Bohler-Muller who is in charge of the IORA Research Group during South Africa’s IORA tenure, and who arrange the roundtable was also among the panelists.  As chair of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation consultative review body, the South African Council on International Relations (SACOIR), former deputy minister Aziz’s lead-off helped set the tone of reflections. He noted “we had reached a very difficult period in the global world order and therefore our discussions cannot be business as usual” especially in terms of global trends affecting Africa and how Africa must respond.

Follow-up observations to Aziz’s opening re-emphasized the economic diplomacy thrust of the incoming Ramaphosa presidency with its emphasis on strengthening international economic engagement. This was seen as a departure from foreign policy references from previous SONAs where emphasis was more on mapping out external political landscapes South Africa would have to contend with. Noting that South Africa was politically stable and returning to policy certainty, with international markets receiving Ramaphosa’s pronouncement positively, it was time for analysts to begin exploring the nature of the country’s strategic vision that should be forthcoming over the next year, moving into the 2019 national elections. Into this calculus was introduced the VUCA effect as South African diplomacy will have to navigate Vola internationtility-Uncertainty-Complexity-Ambiguity.

This suggested that the global order had become highly fragmented compounded by a series of serious global challenges. In this environment, South Africa would have to re-design and rethink its post-Zuma posture. Agnostically, a more sceptical perspective on BRICS was in order with the world entering what was seen as a post-BRICS era of emerging markets as Ramaphosa charts economic diplomacy. Indeed, BRICS countries would have to contend with geopolitical fluidity and possible realignments that might complicate the BRICS agenda. Moreover, Africa was being sucked into the vortex of these VUCA challenges with particular concern raised about the dynamics of instability in such critically strategic members of the ‘Cape to Cairo’ mega Tripartite FTA, Ethiopia and Kenya. Although not elaborated on, challenges in these countries implicate how much momentum will/can be generated along Africa’s Indian Ocean littoral and extended hinterland in contributing the potential of an Indian Ocean economy. To this is to be added the DRC turmoil.

Taken all together, this fraught landscape was seen as presenting a challenging inter-African peace, security and stabilization agenda on top of South Africa’s more developmental-oriented SADC chair priorities elaborated on. This cooperation agenda, in turn, overlapped into Tshwane’s co-chairing with China of FOCAC. This is to conclude in 2018 in what South Africa had launched two years ago as the 2016-18 Johannesburg Plan of Action in Sino-African relations alongside its broader G20 co-chairing of the G20 developmental working and advisory group on the Compact with Africa. Meanwhile, it was also pointed out that South Africa’s chairing of IORA over the next two years is considered strategic given IORA’s Blue Economy emphasis and Tshwane’s domestic Blue Economy initiative launched by former President Zuma as Operation Phakisa. However, apart from the domestic utility of IORA in terms of Phakisa, there is little indication of a broader South African Indian Ocean vision in consonence with the eastern and southern African mega-trade calculus. Meanwhile, South Africa’s South Atlantic agenda viz-a-viz Latin America is similarly underdeveloped apart from the focus directed toward Argentina’s hosting of the G8.

In the final analysis, the discussion and exchanges generated wide-ranging speculation on the prospects facing South African diplomacy in the months ahead, on into 2019. The purpose of this roundtable kicking off IGD’s 2018 agenda was to set the stage for assessing where this journey has taken South Africa by the end of the year when we reassemble to revisit the terrain covered. By year’s end, the Ramaphosa era in South Africa’s diplomacy may emerge more sharply into focus as the ANC seeks a new electoral mandate in 2019.  


This article was first published by Journal of the Indian Ocean Region


Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.




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