Opinions: ANC woolly and chaotic on foreign policy

As the ruling African National Congress (ANC) prepares for its policy conference this week, it is worth assessing the discussion document from its National Executive Committee’s International Relations sub-committee titled “The ANC in An Unpredictable and Uncertain World.” South Africa is Africa’s most industrialised country, and the only African strategic partner of the European Union (EU), as well as the only African country in the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) grouping and the Group of 20 (G20). But South Africa is also one of the world’s most unequal societies, and the expectation was that this document would outline clear strategies on how to link the pursuit of foreign policy to alleviating poverty at home – writes Professor Adekeye Adebajo, Director: Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) at UJ.

However, it is not only the world that is unpredictable and uncertain, but this poorly crafted and analytically weak document which is devoid of a clear understanding of the world and South Africa’s place in it. The introductory section talks of the decline of “imperialism” and the “unjust nature of global capitalism”, without explaining these terms. It highlights emerging economies registering higher growth rates than the rich world without seeming to recognise the decline of these growth rates in Africa, built largely on Chinese purchase of commodities rather than increased production. The document also fails to acknowledge the recent slowing growth of India and Brazil, nor does it engage with the fact that the BRICS are more status quo powers seeking more influence in Western-dominated institutions of global governance – the United Nations (UN), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – rather than acting as revisionist powers seeking to overturn an unjust system.

The document uses undefined terms like “national interest” as well as woolly phrases such as “Ubuntu Diplomacy” and “progressive internationalism”, as if phraseology can be a substitute for concrete strategy. It adopts a Manichean view of the world in which unnamed “progressive” forces are battling invisible “reactionary” global imperialists, patriarchy, and neo-colonialism. It calls quixotically for a “just, equitable, non-racial, non-patriarchal, diverse, democratic and equal world system” without telling us how we might get there. It sloganeers about a “new imperialism under the leadership of the US” as if the advent of Donald Trump has suddenly changed six decades of American behaviour in the world. It condemns a “swing to the right in the global North” without recognising the recent defeat of extreme parties in France and the Netherlands.

In the section on South Africa’s role in Africa, there is euphoric talk of eradicating poverty in one generation, using institutions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), without assessing the performance of these donor-dependent organisations over the last two decades and proposing ways in which they might be strengthened. The AU’s alchemic 50-year vision, Agenda 2063, is enthusiastically embraced without saying how it can be implemented in ways that are complementary with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are no reflections on the implications of South Africa withdrawing its 800 peacekeepers from Sudan’s Darfur region last year or declining to play a prominent peacemaking role in Burundi. Nothing is said about the negative consequences of recurring xenophobic attacks on African citizens. Bizarrely, late Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddafi’s rejected ideas of an African Union Government and transforming the AU Commission into an Authority are embraced.

In the discussion on South Africa’s global role, the document correctly advocates the reform of institutions of global governance such as the UN Security Council, the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO. But there is no real analysis of how these institutions operate in unjust ways and how to force the powerful states that dominate them to reform bodies from which they benefit. The document’s North-South view of the world is also somewhat anachronistic in failing to recognise that traditionally “Southern” countries like China, Brazil, India, and Singapore sometimes pursue policies supportive of Northern interests.

It is disappointing that one of the world’s most successful liberation movements that relied enormously on international solidarity and a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the world – under the redoubtable Oliver Tambo – could produce such an analytically shallow and intellectually weak document. Surely, Comrades deserve to debate a more thoughtful document at this week’s conference, given the importance of South Africa’s foreign policy to transforming its domestic economy.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo is Director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg.

*The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author and not necessarily reflect those of the University of Johannesburg. This article was first published in Business Day on 26 June 2017.

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