[in] focus

Zimbabwe’s New Draft Constitution in Limbo

The Zimbabwean democracy has been thrown into uncertainty again, following ZANU-PF’s rejection of the proposed draft constitution released on 19 July 2012. The much anticipated document was drafted by the Select Committee of Parliament on the New Constitution (COPAC) of Zimbabwe, a process that was delayed by three years and cost the taxpayer some US$50 million. The draft, if effective and implemented, will conclude the four year transitional Inclusive Government (IG) and hopefully pave way for smooth elections in 2013.

In brief, the IG, also known as the Government of Unity, was formed in 2008 following the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It is a government shared between the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Thus, the executive includes President Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara. They had agreed to end violence, share power through a transitional government and accelerate economic restoration .In addition, the parties to the GPA pledged to restore the rule of law, draft a new constitution, pursue land reform and promote nation healing, while hoping that the West will remove sanctions. This brought an end to 38 years of single party rule by the ZANU-PF and gave the MDC factions an opportunity to gain experience in government.

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Annan out; in Ibrahimi: African envoys in Syria and the power chess

The appointment of another African, the former Foreign Minister of Algeria, Al-Akhdar Al-Ibrahimi, as the new UN and Arab League special envoy on Syria comes after Kofi Annan announced his intention not to renew his contract when it expires at the end of August. Ibrahimi’s mission has been greeted with excitement only amongst those in favour of peace and with subtle disdain amongst those dead-set to bring about a regime change by military means.

For this reason, he has an unenviable job and he will most likely quit in exasperation, not because of lack of ability, but because there is no adequate appetite for a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis amongst key UN Security Council members and other powerful states.

Kofi Annan was appointed in February this year as a joint UN-Arab League special envoy to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis when the conflict was already just about a year old. While some including those for whom a military solution was the way Annan’s mission came a little too late in Syria, while others thought the drawn-out military stalemate signified that the situation was actually ripe for a political solution. The appointment had the backing of the most democratically constituted organ of the UN, the 193-member General Assembly, through its resolution on 16 February where it called on the Syrian government and rebels to cease hostilities in order to give a UN-Arab League process a chance to lead them towards lasting peace.

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The Olympics, International Geo-politics and Soft Power

Politics is everywhere, sport being no exception. Even before the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics there have been a number of diplomatic faux pas. South Africa was on the receiving end of a blunder that saw the apartheid-period national anthem played at the start of the women’s hockey match between SA and Britain.

A later incident saw the football (soccer) match between North Korea and Colombia delayed following the displaying of the South Korean flag alongside the players of the North Korean team. A similar bungle saw the weightlifting teams from North and South Korea allocated the same time and venue for their respective training sessions. Although these may be unintended logistical errors, they create political embarrassment for the host country.

These mega sporting events provide a challenge for both the host and participating countries, not only in displaying athletic competence, but in the ability of states to navigate the complex world of international geo-politics.

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China Occupies Disputed Island: Repercussions for Maritime Rights in the South China Sea

Recently, China made a move to occupy one of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, a decision that has been highly criticised by the United States and some South Asian nations. The decision is viewed as irresponsible and having the potential to exacerbate already existing tension in the South China Sea.

For decades now, diplomatic relations between the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) and China have been clouded by controversy over the maritime rights on the South China Sea. The South China Sea supports one-third of the world’s traffic in the shipping trade. Half of the world’s oil and gas is transported through it. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines all have overlapping territorial claims over a seabed that has proven oil reserves and natural gas.

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South Africa got it right this time in the UN Security Council

In the midst of escalating violence in Syria, the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 19 July 2012 failed to reach consensus on an appropriate international response to contain the crisis. A draft resolution tabled by the United Kingdom (UK), with the support of other western countries in the Council, failed to gain the endorsement of the UNSC after Russia and China predictably vetoed it. 

The draft resolution was affirmed by 11 of the Council’s members, while South Africa joined Pakistan in abstaining from the vote. While Pretoria’s voting decisions in the Council have in recent times been questionable, its decision not to vote on a text that would have threatened sanctions against the Syrian government can hardly be faulted and demonstrates that it can take independent and rational positions without the influence of the permanent members of the Council (P5 – US, UK, France, Russia and China).

One of the negative externalities of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for South Africa is the bad publicity generated around the country’s foreign policy decisions, given that the events coincided with its return to the Security Council. South Africa’s voting behaviour in the UNSC on crises stemming from the so-called Arab Spring has been the subject of intense controversy both within and outside the country. 

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