National Chairman’s Annual Statement – 2006

Image: Flickr, Biblioteca Nacional de España
Image: Flickr, Biblioteca Nacional de España

Annual Statement of the National Chairman, Mr Fred T. Phaswana to the National Council of The South African Institute of International Affairs.

The world today stands at the threshold of great changes. We are witnessing the slow but unmistakeable transformation of the international system to a new balance of power and new global alliances. Change always ushers in uncertainty; it creates new winners and losers and necessitates new ways of engaging and operating.

In the last year the undermining of the nuclear weapons regime, most notable in the Iranian insistence on the continuation of its uranium enrichment programme, and the ongoing attempts in the six-nation talks to bring North Korea into the non-proliferation fold, has highlighted global vulnerability to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Gone is the certainty of bipolar deterrence. Since 9/11 the world has become much less secure, although for many in the developing world this has simply meant an increase in existing insecurity.

Geopolitically and geo-economically, power is shifting. The new emerging powers are from the developing South. Economically, with their still large numbers of impoverished citizens, they are yet no match for the triad of the US, the EU and Japan. However, their rise has signalled a change in the dynamics of global politics. China, India and Brazil are flexing their muscles in international forums on the need for global institutions to reflect new dynamics and circumstances. The companies of these emergent powers are becoming commercially competitive, tackling the Western multinationals head-on, not only in the developing world but also on their home turf. These new powers are also exerting more influence in their own neighbourhoods and forcing traditional powers to re-examine their operations and strategic economic and political priorities in the Pacific, in Latin America, in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Their rise is also creating opportunities for states to coalesce around these ’emerging hegemons’, as they play off the old against the new.

All these developments have the effect of creating tensions in the international system, between established and emerging powers; between these and other developing states; and old and new forms of multilateral engagement.

What do these shifts mean for Africa? For poverty and underdevelopment? For radicalism and growing insecurity?

Half way through the first decade of the 21st century, poverty remains the biggest obstacle to humane civilisation and its value system, and radicalism the biggest threat to strengthening the liberties of man. Poverty and radicalism are often linked in the discourse, although neither is a necessary condition of the other. But the elimination of poverty is also the unleashing of the innovative spirit of societies. To quote Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen,

Development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states. [p.3]

The world still has a long way to go on all these counts, but more so in Africa. In no other continent are the challenges of poverty, underdevelopment and radicalism more pressing than on our own. Writing over a decade ago, Paul Kennedy of Yale University, noted that

the greatest test for human society as it confronts the twenty-first century is how to use “the power of technology” to meet the demands thrown up by the “power of population”; that is, how to find effective global solutions in order to free the poorer three-quarters of humankind from the growing Malthusian trap of malnutrition, starvation, resource depletion, unrest, enforced migration, and armed conflict – developments that will also endanger the richer nations, if less directly. [p.12]

China has made great leaps in the last three decades because of its ability to recognise how to take advantage of these opportunities, without the straitjacket of ideology or externally funded and devised initiatives. China’s trajectory highlights how being flexible, innovative and proactive creates real winners. Technological progress has opened up tremendous opportunities for countries and societies, but these don’t come easy. More than anything else, the success of countries such as India and China, but also Vietnam, lies in their adoption of growth-generating domestic reforms.

These are the important lessons for African countries. External assistance and market access alone are not sufficient drivers of the kind of growth that reduces poverty and develops the society in a sustainable manner.

Hence, although it was significant for Africa that 2005 was dedicated to it in many international forums, in the aftermath of the hype it’s important to explore what African states should be doing to devise an agenda for growth and development of their economies. What are the low-hanging fruit that if picked can start making a difference to the lives of their citizens and the ability of these countries to leave the fringes of the global economy?

When one sees the ongoing violence in Darfur or in Cote d’Ivoire, one can be excused for fearing that peace and development continue to elude Africa. The truth is though, that the last half-decade has seen much which is positive. The Africa focus in 2005 is partly the harvest of these developments. Africa defies slogans, as it defies one-dimensional interpretations and analyses. In an increasingly complex world, Africa’s challenges and opportunities are not simpler; nor are they the same for its different regions.

I would group these challenges into four main categories.

First, geopolitical shifts. The geopolitical shifts outlined above provide unique opportunities for African states to take advantage of the leverage they may have in their engagement with the major powers. The voracious resource appetite of new powers unavoidably draws focus on the continent with the largest diversity of resources. This leverage should be put to considered use, whether it is providing concessions on railways to Chinese companies, entering into partnerships with Western multinationals on oil or gas, or on negotiating skills transfers. African states must think strategically about how they will play this game of courting between the US, the EU, China, India and other suitors. It necessitates asking questions about strategic partnerships with different countries, and the underlying value of these partnerships to the core objectives of development and wealth creation for citizens.

Second, changing mindsets. Africa has become more assertive in many of its interactions both within the continent and globally. But it is important for African leaders to work on a variety of tracks, which take into account both what can be achieved through external support, but also what can be expedited by making hard policy choices on domestic reforms. The case of the central European states is instructive in this regard. Their remarkable economic and political progress since 1990 was the result of deep structural reforms focusing on both institutions and the policy and regulatory environment. EU accession was the incentive. This did not make the process easier; governments had to take hard decisions.

Third, Maximising the advantages of good performers. As with any region of the world, Africa has stars and laggards. It is important to recognise and capitalise on the role that Africa’s key states can play in development and economic growth. Good performers’ ability to attract investment and skills creates regional pivots, which can have spin-offs for the whole region.

Fourth, Rebuilding weak states. While eradication of radicalism worldwide is a huge undertaking that requires a far more nuanced response than global policy makers are adopting, Africa’s institutional and structural weaknesses, as well as poverty and underdevelopment, provide fertile ground for radical and organised criminal networks to flourish. Rebuilding failed or weak states will be a key test of the continent’s renaissance. To pass the test we may also need to think of solutions and alternatives that go beyond platitudes and accepted wisdom.

South Africa: Playing the global game

The challenges outlined above have to be taken to heart by continental structures but also by countries individually. Illustrative of South Africa’s multi-pronged view of the global game is the fact that these issues form important elements of its foreign engagement.

South Africa continues to play a constructive role in continental and global affairs. South Africa can indeed be proud of the progress made in the Great Lakes over the last year – the holding of the referendum on the constitution in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the elections in Burundi after the transitional arrangements South Africa worked so hard with the parties to bring to fruition. The efforts of the African Union in Sudan, together with South Africa’s chairing of the reconstruction committee for the South are equally commendable, although the ongoing crisis in Darfur and the eastern regions requires the continent to show bold and decisive leadership.

Along with the ongoing difficulties in Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire’s political developments are also uncertain. South Africa has invested substantial effort in the process but as our own transition teaches us, it is the willingness of the internal actors to arrive at a settlement that determines success.

South Africa’s willingness to make a contribution to the resolving of other conflicts outside our continent, such as engaging with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, are important not because we have the power to single-handedly bring the parties together, but rather because our process of political negotiations in the early 1990s does have a bearing on any attempt at conflict resolution. Sharing of experiences to identify useful lessons should be viewed as invaluable opportunities. When Gerry Adams visited South Africa in October 2005 and spoke at the Institute he said that in ‘South Africa you got rid of apartheid, and showed us that it can be done.’ South Africa’s model of negotiations and transitional arrangements, remain important examples of how change can be effected.

South Africa’s long-term national interests lie in a politically stable and economically prosperous neighbourhood and continent. The continent’s future lies in the ability of key anchor states such as South Africa and Nigeria to remain on an upward trajectory. They are also vital for pushing forward the agenda of good governance and accountability. For South Africa this means cultivating a ‘Team South Africa’ mentality and approach to our political and commercial diplomacy. Such an approach allows us to optimise the opportunities and outcomes through the synergy of government, business, trade unions and other elements of broader society working together for a common purpose. It helps to develop a more coherent and unitary understanding of what is in South Africa’s common interest. After all, the electorate wants to see how South Africa’s active foreign policy agenda reps benefits for South African citizens. It thus plays a crucial role in positioning the country internationally and strategically to gain maximum benefit for the development of our economy.

However, South Africa’s ability to continue playing a high-profile role in Africa and global affairs is premised on the assumption of the success of our own economic and political experiment. It is our achievements to date that have secured the platform. Our prudent economic management has provide tools to give teeth to our foreign policy rhetoric, through the deployment of troops in the DRC, Burundi and Sudan, as well as through our efforts at reconstruction in strife-torn areas and the expanding investments of our private sector in Africa.

One of the biggest difficulties in our foreign policy is the ongoing downward spiral of Zimbabwe. That country’s decline is all the more tragic because of its developed socio-economic infrastructure and institutions. In less than a decade this society has deteriorated to one of dependency on humanitarian aid, remittances from workers in South Africa and elsewhere, and the black market (where a few reap huge profits, while the rest starve). The announcement in early 2006 that mining companies will be ‘nationalised’ confirms further the trend of state acquisition at the expense of production optimisation.

Unfortunately, the decline of the Zimbabwean economy has serious ramifications for the continental project of regeneration, not only because it continues to flout the principles upon which visions such as Nepad are constructed, but also because it removes a potentially important economic player in Africa from the field. Solutions to this and the other problems besetting our continent are not easily identified or implemented. Furthermore, durable solutions are only possible if the internal actors feel they own the process and have more to gain from its resolution than a continuation of the status quo. Yet, there is a clear role for external actors to play in creating favourable conditions for the domestic process to move forward.

SAIIA: Achieving analytical clarity from global complexity

In all this global complexity and uncertainty, the challenge of institutions such as SAIIA is to achieve analytical clarity and to do so with integrity. Clarity of analysis is an essential element of any decision-making, not only in government, but also in business, trade unions and other sectors of civil society.

Since the development of longer-term research programmes, the Institute’s research areas and expertise have grown to cover governance and democracy, trade and development, and security and terrorism. These programmes have generated research and analysis on South Africa’s and Africa’s relations with the world.

However, the generation of primary research based on extensive fieldwork, is but only the first phase of the work that SAIIA is about. The second and more challenging element of our work is to ensure that it reaches the right audience, the policy-makers, the government officials, the business community, trade unions, and international aid agencies.

SAIIA’s mission clearly sets out what we believe is critical in our engagement with South Africa’s and Africa’s place in the world:

  • To be at the cutting edge of new developments in the world, focusing particularly on how they affect South Africa and Africa.
  • To provide independent and authoritative analysis and solutions that are policy-based and motivated, always driven by the integrity of our research ethos.
  • To contribute to broadening and deepening knowledge and understanding in the public sphere, but ensuring in particular that key decision-makers (captains of industry, governments, trade unions, intergovernmental organisations) have access to, and engage with the findings of our research.
  • To seek a constructive relationship with governments, business, labour and other constituencies, but not a compromising one.

Today there are many organisations providing analysis and seeking to make input into policy. Some have very specific objectives and constituencies. Others have a broader mandate and constituency base. This plethora of institutions is to be welcomed. After all, policy formulation should be the aggregation of interests in society.

Ultimately, foreign policy and the conduct of international affairs are about addressing poverty and underdevelopment, poor governance, global security threats, and the cause of these plagues. Working towards the emergence of a global governance order based on equitable and just international regimes is a crucial aspect of this goal. In this sense, the work SAIIA does has a very real bearing on how the diversity of global actors address the scourges of the world, and the daily ‘bread and butter’ issues which not only many South Africans but also many Africans have to deal with.