Africa Watch

South Africa’s no-show at AU fails the continent


Pre-occupied by internal strife and domestic problem, South Africa’s political leadership is absent from a critical AU summit, that will do its image on the continent no good.

With Africa confronted with a massive cut in international funding of peacekeeping operations, South Africa’s absence, in contravention of AU rules, could hardly have come at a worst time. 

Regarding the current AU summit, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) wrote, “Now, more than ever, Africa needs the help of the African Union (AU) and its partners in tackling security threats and other ongoing crises…”

In another article on the AU summit, the ISS  warn that “Africa’s crises are not abating – and at a time when it’s needed the most, major funders such as the United States (US) are expected to reduce their support of peace operations on the continent. For this reason, predictable funding, and more specifically the Peace Fund, will top the African Union’s agenda at its 29th summit on 3 and 4 July.”

Cut in peacekeeping budget

On the same day this article was published, it was announced that the United Nations (UN), under pressure from particularly the US, will cut its peacekeeping budget by US$ 600 million.

Providing 28.5% of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, the US is the biggest contributor to the world body’s peacekeeping efforts.

The Trump administration is in fact demanding a cut of US$ 1 billion to the UN’s peacekeeping budget, and in reaction to the announced cut the US ambassador at the UN   responded that, "just five months into our time here, we've already been able to cut over half a billion dollars from the UN peacekeeping budget and, we're only getting started."

Hardest hit by the cut will be the UN peacekeeping missions in Africa, particularly Sudan's troubled region of Darfur and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the two costliest operations with budgets exceeding US$1 billion.

This is bad news particularly against the background of escalating unrest in the DRC.

Critical summit

The ISS article continues that, “The summit is a critical opportunity for AU member states to show their commitment to peace and security in Africa,“ and, “… it’s a chance for assembled heads of state and governments to take stock of their commitments in the past year regarding funding and reforms, and to demonstrate their future commitment to the AU’s peace support operations.”

The issue raised by the ISS is crucial for the future of peace on the continent, more so after the announcement that the UN is to cut funding for such operations.

Under pressure from the US the UN might in future be forced to cut funding even more, leaving the AU with no other alternative but to find new ways to secure own funding for peacekeeping operations on the continent.

The record to date is not inspiring. History has shown that all such attempts in the past have failed, or had only limited success. To date, all peacekeeping operations,  past and present, were mainly externally financed.

New sponsors

There are some expectations that the growing Africa involvement by countries with little or no past interest or involvement in the continent, such as Germany, Turkey, Brazil, Japan and lately Israel, might be persuaded to render some support and assistance to help cover peacekeeping shortfalls.

But, there is no guarantee that this kind of support would be forthcoming or would be sustainable in the longer run. This is evident from Tony Blair’s the failed Commission for Africa project, which was destined to ‘make poverty history’.

South Africa’s astounding failure

With so much at stake at a critical AU summit and, with South Africa’s flagging image on the continent it is astounding that both the president and deputy president decided to shun the heads of state meeting scheduled for 3-4 July.

Their non-show is not only a contravention of new AU rules, which demands that member countries be represented by either the head of state, prime minister or a deputy president but will, according to some analysts, further diminish South Africa’s standing on the continent.

South Africa will be represented by the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, but she lacks gravitas and especially credibility after her “hole-in-the-head” interview and other often  incomprehensible public gaffes.

It is obviously an awkward situation for both Zuma and Ramaphosa. For both, their presence at the ANC’s policy conference, overlapping with AU’s summit, is very important.

Not only is the ANC as a party fighting for its survival as the ruling party, but so are senior party office bearers. For Zuma, his presence at the conference is crucial, fighting to save and protect his corrupt presidency and those associated with him.

Ramaphosa, on the other hand, is on the campaign trail to become the next president, and must use every opportunity to improve his chances.

The choice here is, however, is one between own interest and statesmanship, placing the country’s interests first - both is found wanting on the latter.

by Garth Cilliers

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