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South Africa’s Stance on Goma not Surprising

Today, the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation released a statement indicating that it “condemns, in strongest terms, the attack on the town of Goma” and remains “deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact…”

picture courtesy of Mail & Guardian, UK

Such a statement is hardly shocking or surprising…but sometimes in these things it is important to note what has NOT been said as much as what IS said.  In this statement, despite the deep concern about the humanitarian impact, no mention is made of taking action to help the DRC government .  No mention is made to exploring intervention through SADC or AU mechanisms to protect human rights…or even raising the issue at the United Nations Security Council.

picture courtesy of UN News Centre

This is surprising given that South Africa is part of the international system that is meant to put into action the Right to Protect Doctrine (R2P)…a philosophical mechanism that argues for intervention to prevent human rights abuses.  Indeed, South Africa has been an active member of the United Nations Security Council, until recently when it finished its second term, often adopting language in this body that reflected the R2P Doctrine.  This was best epitomized when South Africa voted for UN Resolution 1973 regarding establishing a no fly zone over Libya.

But upon closer interrogation – South Africa will often speak the language of R2P but is a reluctant implementor of this approach in Africa.  This is in part out of economic reality, the costs of armed intervention and peacekeeping are significant, but also out of sensitivity to historical legacies (Flemes, 2009).[1]  Such reluctance has elicited frustrated responses from nations such as Canada, particularly over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe crises, but fail to recognize the precarious balance that South Africa needs to play in African politics (Cooper and Taylor, 2001).[2]

South Africa is a leader on the continent and on the broader international stage.  It agrees to international principles but struggles to balance these with historical legacies and regional arrangements that make it difficult to implement such doctrines such as the R2P.  It seems oft forgotten amongst western nations that the continent still suffers from a preoccupation over colonialism.  As such, African states appear hyper sensitive to anything that encroaches upon their sovereignty.  The African Union’s (AU) Common Defence and Security Policy appears to embody this sensitivity through privileging the respect for sovereignty and regime security (AU, 2004).[3]  Whilst colonialism is past, the threat of neo-colonialism and the chance to use Africa as a proxy for geo-political struggles, such as those emerging between China, the US and the EU, remains on the mind of many African leaders, particularly those of the ANC government that come from Marxist traditions.

As well, for South Africa, there is an additional sense of loyalty that is apparent to those who took them in and trained them during the anti-Apartheid struggle.  It is with this in mind that a recent e-book publication edited by a colleague of mine, Dr Malte Brosig,  sought to explore the use and employment of R2P in Africa.  There is a compelling and rather critical chapter considering South Africa’s role in African security which argues that this regional hegemon often prefers to uphold sovereignty and regime security but speaks the language of human security (Aboagye, 2012).[4]

South Africa has struggled in this respect since 1994 and is even evident in the moment when Canada sought South Africa’s support in intervening in the “Zaire” crisis of 1996.  Cooper and Taylor (2001) note how South Africa was conciliatory towards Canada’s desire to intervene in the crisis but were unwilling to send South African troops.  Additionally, Aboagye (2012) argues that South Africa has vacillated between advocating international norms around the promotion for human rights, democracy, justice, and international law in its role on the UNSC, but has defaulted to upholding sovereignty and regime security as per the AU’s Solemn Declaration on a Common African Defence and Security Policy.[5]   Cote D’Ivoire and Libya are cases where South Africa found difficulty in balancing its position on the UNSC with that of the regional pressure to respect sovereignty and support regime security (Aboagye, 2012).  As such, South Africa often prefers mediation over physical intervention.

This approach to continental security suggests that South Africa seeks to maintain a careful balance between respecting and reinforcing its continental allies and the expectations as espoused by the international community.  This is why the statement by the Department of International Relations is not surprising in what it does and doesn’t say.  South Africa…the constrained hegemon.

[1] Flemes, D (2009). “Regional power South Africa: Co-operative hegemony constrained by historical legacies.” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 27 no.2:135-157.

[2] Cooper, A., and I. Taylor. (2001). “‘Made in Africa’ versus ‘Out of Africa’: Comparing South Africa’s Non-Leadership with Canada Leadership with the 1996 Crisis in Zaire.” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 39(1): 23-41.

[3] African Union. Solemn Declaration on a Common African Defence and Security Policy.  Adopted Febrary 28, 2004. Available from http://www.au.int/pages/sites/default/files/Solemn_Declaration_on_CADSP_0.pdf

[4] Aboagye, F. “South Africa and R2P: More State Sovereignty and Regime Security than Human Security?” in Malte Brosig (Ed). The Responsibility to Protect: From Evasive to Reluctant Action?  HSF, ISS, KAS and SAIIA. 2012. pp.29-48.

[5] Human Security as defined by the AU’s Common African Defence and Security Policy, 2004 is available online at http://www.au.int/pages/sites/default/files/Solemn_Declaration_on_CADSP_0.pdf


ANC Government “Monitoring” of DA is Shocking!

(image courtesy of http://www.ziyawamag.com)

Yesterday the City Press reported that the DA (Democratic Alliance) is being investigated by national authority’s over its ties to the UK.  The story cited the authorities as having three main reasons to justify this.  First, they are monitoring the DA because, supposedly, the DA Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, in a meeting with UK officials, including the UK High Commissioner, requested the UK invest 10% of all its economic activities in South Africa in the Western Cape.  Second,  on a trip to drum up business and tourism in London, the Premier suggested that the ANC will break apart in 7 years.  Third, a former aide to Helen Zille has now taken up a position as an aide to UK Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

Is it just me or does this whole thing sound a little ridiculous?

If these are the three big reasons to investigate/monitor/scrutinize/whatever the DA more closely, then I am surprised more South African’s aren’t outraged.

Helen Zille is the Premier of the Western Cape.  A crucial aspect of her portfolio is to increase trade and investment within her province.  Attracting Foreign Direct Investment is well with the prerogative of the Premier.  If she wasn’t doing that – I would be super concerned about her viability as a leader of a political party and ability to be Premier.  Nothing out of the ordinary there, I would think.

As the Leader of the the DA, Zille is a partisan.  It is her job to suggest that the governing party is not fit to govern.  By suggesting that the tripartite alliance will dissolve in the near future is hardly a shocker.  Cracks have been emerging for the last little while now.  Actually, I think it would be really healthy for the alliance to end.  South Africa, as a democracy, has evolved and stabilized since 1994.  Part of any mature/healthy democracy is to have a multiparty electoral system.   So – what’s the big deal with such a comment?

The assumption that political parties operate in a vacuum is rather naive.  In Canada, I used to work for Liberal cabinet minister.  It was not out of the ordinary for other members of my party to communicate, share information on electoral strategies etc…with other like minded parties from different countries.  It was a way to ensure ideas stayed fresh and strategies were au courrant. The practice continues into today.  The Conservative government has ties with the Liberal Party in Australia.  The fact that a former DA aide is now working for Nick Clegg should hardly be viewed as suspicious rather as a compliment to a South African’s abilities.  As well, let’s be honest there are many South African’s who hold dual citizenship.  It is there right to work and make a life wherever they please.

So – it is based on this logic that I find the whole investigation/monitoring/scrutinizing/whatever more closely of the DA highly problematic.

Why would the government…the ANC government…be so concerned?  Why, if there is a legitimate issue, would they threaten national security by making public that they are watching the DA?  What is the interest of this wing of the government to confirm reports that they are monitoring a political party in South Africa, that happens to be the main opposition to the government (albeit extraordinarily small and hardly effectual)?

Could it be that the DA continues to hold power in the Western Cape, the ONLY province where the ANC is relegated to the opposition benches? Does the fact that the DA seems to rising in the polls have anything to do with this “monitoring”?

With election posters popping up in and around Johannesburg, I think there is some convenient timing here.

South African’s should be outraged.  If there really is an issue – let’s not put forward spurious claims that are hardly a problem or abnormal behaviour comparatively speaking.  Tell us what’s really going on…otherwise, I think South African’s should demand that their democratically elected government act with integrity rather than appear to use state resources for crass politics.

First Annual International Economic Law Update

Dear All,

The Mandela Institute at the School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand, in conjunction with the World Trade Institute and Swiss Economic and Cooperation  Development (SECO) will be holding the First Annual International Economic Law Update at the University on Thursday 1 November 2012, 08h00 – 16h00.

Confirmed speakers include Xavier Carim, Deputy Director-General for International Trade and Economic Development, the dti, Olano Makhubela, Chief Director for Financial Investments and Savings at the National Treasury, Cas Coovadia, Managing Director, The Banking Association of South Africa, Axel Pougin de la Maisonneuve, Head of Politics, Economics and Trade, EU Delegation, David Unterhalter SC,  Senior Counsel at the Johannesburg Bar and a member of the WTO Appellate Body and Professor Stephen Gelb, University of Johannesburg. International presenters are Professor Thomas Cottier, Director of the World Trade Institute, Switzerland and Professor Laurence Boulle, Bond University, Australia. Speakers from the Chamber of Mines, BUSA and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are to be confirmed.

Workshop topics include:

*The current state of multilateralism

* Update on trade negotiations and bilateral investment treaties

*The impact of BRICS membership on economic development in South Africa

*Important cases and disputes in trade


*Trends and flows in foreign direct investment

* European investments in South Africa

* A perspective from the National Treasury

*Critical challenges for the banking sector in South Africa


Cost: R950 per delegate.  A 30% discount is available for Wits University staff.

Limited scholarships are available to cover registration, travel and accommodation, for people attending from SADC countries.

A motivation for a scholarship should be sent by 19 October 2012.


Registration: By 22 October 2012. Please email Ms Julie Dunsford for a copy of the programme and registration form at Julie.Dunsford@wits.ac.za

Why Negotiating Trade with the EU is Problematic

I am currently enjoying a Visiting Fellowship at the World Trade Institute at the University of Bern in Switzerland.  It is a great opportunity for me to come and work with and learn from senior trade scholars. Indeed, some of the “big names” in trade politics, law and economics are associated with this institute, so I am rather enthusiastic about being here in Bern.  As well, how can one not be enthusiastic about missing Johannesburg winter.  Especially this one!

I digress.

On the second day of being here, I attended the WTI’s yearly conference on its research projects. To kick off the event, a senior European Commission official in DG Trade joined us to give a presentation on the state of European trade.  Clearly, an element of this was how the EU was pursuing free trade agreements/economic partnerships/multilateral trade talks.  One thing that was said struck me…and let me paraphrase here:

“The EU is happy to negotiate trade agreements with other countries, particularly developing countries.  But we are not willing to negotiate away from the rules.  The rules are the rules and they must be obeyed.”

I was struck by this comment because it suggested that in fact the EU was not willing to negotiate at all.  IF the rules are the rules and they must be obeyed…then where is the negotiating space?  In any free trade talks the focus and application of the rules are always what are negotiated.  What the senior official was saying was that the EU is happy to enter into free trade agreements if their version of the rules are applied.

What a bizarre position to maintain.

It is bizarre for a couple of reasons: first, for anyone interested in trade the Doha Development Agenda negotiations have been deadlocked for a number of years now.  This is because there exists a general dissatisfaction amongst emerging and developing economies with how the trade rules are currently applied.  For example, emerging and developing countries are not permitted to maintain subsidies for their agriculture industries, but the US and EU are.  So, they (developing countries) are taking a stand and saying ‘no’ to completing Doha until the US and EU budge on this issue.

Second, it is pretty common knowledge that those countries holding up Doha (India and Brazil, in particular) are the emerging economies of tomorrow.  The BRICS countries are where it is at, in economic terms, and all are really unhappy with the way the current international trade architecture favours the global North, the developed world. Indeed, one of the main reasons for the founding of BRICS was to create a global south-south partnership that could challenge the current structure of international governance.  So the fact that the EU is walking around with such bravado is quite frankly, confounding.

It seems apparent to me and inevitable that if emerging economies are dissatisfied with the system, and all the other developing countries are too, and that BRICS countries offer so much potential for economic growth, that the writing might be on the wall: the rules are gonna change!

In such a context, the EU might benefit from being a little more open to actually negotiating free trade agreements.

For in a political world, rules and laws only have traction in so far as there are people and states willing to follow them.  If the grumbling and shifting is starting now – wouldn’t it be in Europe’s interest to actually work with these countries to renegotiate the rules in advance of them just being ignored?  Surely, it is better to be part of shaping a new international order than not.

Just a thought.

My Canada Includes Student Refugees.

As Canada celebrates 145 years since Confederation the time is ripe to acknowledge our achievements, to reflect on the state of our society and to consider what it means to be Canadian.  For many Canada is a caring country, a place where people traditionally embrace multiculturalism, aspire to be inclusive, and maintain a humanitarian spirit.  As a result, Canada is a place where people give. This is supported by information compiled by Statistics Canada which notes that 84% of Canadians over the age of 15 donated to a charitable and nonprofit organization in 2010 totaling over $10.6 billion. When we look also to volunteerism, 47% of Canadians volunteered over 156 hours of their time in 2010 to a charity or a charitable cause, which is worth approximately $2.1 billion in economic terms.  This is just incredible for a country of just over 30 million people and something that we should be proud of and celebrate.

The notion of philanthropy, which I consider to encompass both charitable giving and volunteerism, is something that I think is engrained in the Canadian social fabric.  The way our governmental system is structured and the values that it is based upon are about improving lives and promoting equal access to opportunity.  We have universal healthcare, a pension plan for everyone, and free primary and secondary education.  I acknowledge there are flaws in each of these and they could be better but the point remains, we have them. These demonstrate an inherent giving spirit that Canadian’s maintain; a principled belief that we should all contribute to making each others lives better. That said the notion of philanthropy is something that Canadians should constantly reflect upon.

Canada has much to be proud of in this respect but it is interesting to note that not much has changed in terms of philanthropic percentages since 2004, in fact they are less.  In 2004, 85% of Canadians donated and volunteered an average of 168 hours of their time.  The changes aren’t huge or significant, no need for alarm bells but they are less then they were in 2004.  So on this day of our confederation it’s necessary for us to consider what we can do to make a difference and to reinforce an integral Canadian trait – giving.

To get us thinking in this vein, I want to highlight a really worthy program that Canadians of all walks should consider engaging with as it really connects into the values that our society is based upon.

The Student Refugee Program run by World University Service of Canada (WUSC) represents Canadian values of inclusiveness, multiculturalism and humanitarianism.

courtesy of WUSC

Established in 1978 with the aim of providing refugees the opportunity to pursue post secondary education in Canada, the Student Refugee Program (SRP) has helped over 1000 refugees in attaining an education and a home where they are safe and free.

The SRP is the only program in Canada that links resettlement with post-secondary/tertiary education.  This results in refugees coming to Canada where they develop skills and make incredible contributions to Canada and to their home countries.

I think it goes without saying how life changing the opportunity to leave the refugee camp and to pursue post-secondary education can be.  Just think about it – typically, refugee camps house hundreds of thousands of people that are confined to a small space with little education, little access to opportunity, reliant on UN food programmes.  In effect they are cities of displaced peoples who have had to flee their homeland because they and their families were/are under threat. Refugee camps are desolate places at the best of times.  Besides physical security there is really not much else going on.  Anyone who has visited a refugee camp or has met a refugee can attest that these living conditions are bleak.

The SRP provides hope to youth in refugee camps.

This is why the work of WUSC is so important.  It is changing the context for a marginalized group of people that want to contribute to society and have the opportunity to be successful.  WUSC works in refugee camps in Kenya, Malawi and Thailand providing basic education with the potential for students to get the opportunity to live and attend university or college in Canada.

courtesy of WUSC

The SRP operates on donations from people like you and me.

Typically 87% of the funds needed to support a student refugee are raised by Canadian students working on WUSC local committees.  These committees are located at Canadian university and college campuses and act as important hubs for promoting philanthropy as well as engagement in international development.

But more needs to be done to make the program sustainable.  WUSC needs our support.

So as Canada Day winds down let us reflect on what it is to be Canadian.  My Canada is inclusive, multicultural and humane.  It is about caring and providing access to opportunities to people who have few options.  It is about offering hope and a chance to make a better life…in a precise way, it is about supporting student refugees.

How about yours?

Frayed Canada-SA Relations

Today the Colloquium I organized on Canada-South Africa Relations was featured in the Globe and Mail – one of Canada’s national newspapers.  Really thoughtful piece by @geoffreyyork on the state of the relationship.  It is nicely summarized by the quote of my friend – Dr Oscar Van Heerden:

“It’s not that South Africa wants to be there with a begging bowl, but we’ve worked together before, we’ve got a success story – why are you not coming to the party any longer?”

Check it out.

A Right Presidential Flop

Yesterday kicked off the African Presidential Roundtable organized and run by the African Presidential Center at Boston University.  The aims of the event are noble –the roundtable brings together former African leaders, experts, university academics, student, and some private corporations to discuss pressing issues facing Africa.  For the past two years, that theme has been Energy.  The former President’s of South Africa, Benin, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Mauritius, and Cape Verde have come to discuss how Africa can ensure a sustainable energy supply that will promote investment and development.  This is no simple task and the debate needs to happen.  But it is too bad that this event consistently falls short of achieving anything of substance.

The event is generously funded by USAID as part of their education outreach.  This suggests that it is really meant to have an education focus and indeed, many of the participants are from institutions of higher education in Africa and in the US. Typically, this two day talk shop takes place in an African city and is affiliated with an African university.  This year, it happens to be my institution Wits that is hosting.

I can’t really claim much credit for any of the organization as this was something that was taken on by the Vice-Chancellor’s Office due to the high profile nature of the event.  Indeed, much logistical consideration needs to be put into hosting this number of former African leaders.  However, I think that more effort is required to put this event together than what is achieved or returned.

This is largely because where the APARC event excels in creating the opportunity to really dig deep into important questions facing the continent, it falls flat on substance and impact.  Where the APARC event provides opportunities for American and African youth to interact with former African Heads of State and learn from these impressive characters, the event often results in little interaction between these figures and the leaders of tomorrow.  Where the event creates the chance for building cross cultural understanding between a diverse grouping of African and American citizens, it often takes on a paternalistic tone where our American friends laud their return to the “motherland” and seem to think they can save Africa from itself.

All of this comes screaming across in almost every aspect of the proceedings.  For example, a colleague from Boston University came all the way to Johannesburg to tell us that higher education is important to invest in to build engineering capacity which brings energy capacity.  Correct..an established fact that I think Africans well understand.  When asked to perhaps discuss what was happening on the continent and how continental initiatives such as the African Union’s Second Decade for Education help or are working – the speaker was stumped and resorted to standard lines about improving gender balances and promoting intra-African institutional cooperation.   These are not unique issues to Africa and don’t really get to the core of the problem – which ultimately is infrastructure and availability of financial capital.

When we all sat down this morning to begin the “substantive” part of the discussions… a majority of the academics and students were shunted off into a separate room to watch the proceedings via closed circuit television. Including those of us from the host institution.  This act in and of itself is really shocking given that academics and students are meant to play a central role. How are we, the ones who are supposed to be important contributors to the debate, meant to participate?  Where is the space for critical discussion?

I don’t mean to be all negative about this exercise – the chance for students to meet and partake in such an event is incredibly valuable.  Often, it results in traveling to an African country (I have taken students to Tanzania and Mauritius for APARC events) which then brings in the whole notion of internationalization. As well, it is a clear chance for business to connect with influential African leaders that works to promote debate. Indeed, this seems to have become a central focus for APRAC meetings  For this, USAID and APARC need to be congratulated given the issues of accessing financial capital that I just metnioend.  But more thought could be placed into how to maximize this chance to interact in a substantive, respectful, and inclusive way.  Otherwise, the event is simply nothing more than a right presidential flop.

Lecturer in International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. International Politics Junkie and Canadian living in South Africa