Monday, December 23, 2013

Jacob Zuma's Anti-Populist Foreign Policy

The interventions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and subsequently the Central African Republic both illustrate the emergence of the alignment of the foreign policy of France, South Africa and the United States.

Jacob Zuma's foreign policy is obviously not the result of sudden inspiration, but is built on a long history since his involvement in, at least, the Burundi peace process. 

It's therefore quite surprising to see so many commentators claim that Zuma is focused less on human rights and more on economic interests. Dr Paul-Simon Handy in october:
'Africa’s foreign policy priorities are so weak under President Zuma as to be almost impossible to define.'
'SOUTH African foreign policy under the ANC government over the past years has not only been characterised by a moral decline, it has also failed to keep pace with the dynamic and rapidly evolving international environment.' 
France 24 journalist Ebba Kalondo makes similar claims in a recent video on South African foreign policy.

Is there a shift in South African foreign policy since Zuma. And if so, what is it? The debates on Zuma's involvement in Central Africa and Congo among South African journalists and opposition parties will not help us much, I'm affraid.

The July 2009 article 'A New Foreign Policy for Jacob Zuma's South Africa' by Xolela Mangcu on the other hand, has a lot of valuable information on what is really going on. For example he quotes Adekeya Adebajo who said this:
'South Africa spent a great deal of its time at the United Nations in “unnecessary spats” with the superpowers over Myanmar, Iran, North Korea etc which were of no direct concern to South Africa. Adebayo counsels that “South Africa can have only influence and respect abroad if its leadership is accepted on its own continent.'
Xolela Mangcu prediction in 2009 of a 're-orientation towards a more modest but focused role' seems confirmed in Zuma's engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

The endgame in the DRC against Rwanda/Uganda backed m23 in which Zuma played a central role should be placed in the context of Obama's Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006

Did Rwanda and Uganda underestimate Jacob Zuma's strategic insight?

October 14th, during Francois Hollande's visit, Jacob Zuma unveiled another cornerstone of  South Africa's modest and focused foreign policy when he said:
'foreign troops need to intervene urgently in the Central African Republic because security is deteriorating and the government isn’t prepared to hold elections on schedule.'

A pragmatic, anti-populist(!), approach aimed at solving problems instead of pointing fingers. This offcourse sends a very strong message towards the anti-French populists (mostly UK and German pundits) and the anti-west 'panafricanists'. The populist opposition against his foreign policy from the Democratic Alliance concerning the Central African intervention might well help Jacob Zuma attract segments of the former National Party vote.

Jacob Zuma's emerging anti-populist foreign policy has sofar been met with little enthousiasm. It's offcourse still in it's early stages, but the consequences of this shift away from populism will obviously have it's impact on countries like Zimbabwe as well. And Zuma seems to hesitate to shout this new anti-populist message from the rooftops as well. At least, that's how I interpret his absence at the summit in Paris.

But Francois Hollande has understood and I expect that it's only a matter of time and European leaders with less affinity with African politics, like Angela Merkel, will come around. Let's hope Germany's journalists will start to see beyond the usual stereotypes of French foreign involvement in Africa.

What surprises me at this point is the fierce hostility towards France among UK journalists, analysts and politicians. The UK has strong affinity with Africa and should know better. Disappointing.

At least the United States of America is picking up the positive signals and showing enthousiasm in working with both Zuma and Hollande in forging a way forward in Africa, away from the stereotypes and populisms of the past.

I wonder if John Kerry's French connection has anything to do with this postive American engagement.

All this puts the 2012 campaign for Dlamini-Zuma 'couched as a crusade against "French imperialism" in a rather akward light. Would she have won against Jean Ping if Jacob Zuma had been working this closely together with France at the time? Hard to say.

Jacob Zuma's 'balancing act' or two-step foreign policy might actually have been so good that it has fooled both his African partners and the West. This could explain his absence in Paris. He prefers to keep his cards close to his chest.

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