In The News

Home Values, Foreign Interest

  • PublishedNovember 16, 2011

Foreign policy is a difficult balance between a country’s values and the interests it wants to protect. Many struggle to get the balance right. Recent happenings at the Security Council prove a case in point.

The divide between Nigerian and South African foreign policy has deepened with the recent Security Council vote for Syrian sanctions – with Nigeria again voting along with the Western camp and South Africa (SA) abstaining.

The abstention produced a wave of disgust at home, mainly from white South Africans. The former opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) leader, Tony Leon, even echoed US commentator Michael Gerson, who dubbed SA a “rogue democracy” based on its recent voting record. The “rogue democracy” comment is laughable, but domestically, it has emboldened those indulging in their own thinly veiled anti-ANC, anti-black narrative about South Africa beginning the slide into tyranny and chaos.

The uproar reached a crescendo over the non-issuance of a visa to the Dalai Lama to attend Bishop Tutu’s 80th birthday. It is easy to dismiss this sort of frothing at the mouth, but when you find yourself on the opposite side to Bishop Tutu on an issue, it is important to go back and re-examine what SA is trying to do with its foreign policy.

Foreign policy is a difficult balance between a country’s values and the interests it wants to protect. Many countries struggle to get the balance right. The United States and the UK have a range of values at home, which they have not only enshrined in their constitutions but try to live by. These values usually take a back seat when they come into collision with their interests abroad, especially over oil and their protection of dictatorial Arab regimes.

Since independence in 1994, SA has been trying to balance its values (enshrined in one of the most progressive constitutions) at home, with its interests abroad. How was this new nation to anchor itself in the global architecture? Firstly, unlike those who ran the country for the previous 300 years, for the ANC government their African identity was important, so reintegration into Africa would be key, encouraging peace, stability and economic prosperity first in the SADC region, then across the continent as part of an African Renaissance.

Secondly, ANC leaders fought the liberation war as part of a non-aligned and anti-imperialism family which had provided enthusiastic support, boycotts and arms. Their foreign policy would remember these old friends, many of whom, like AlGathafi, were not necessarily democrats. Thirdly, given their own experience of invasion, occupation and dispossession, support for principles of sovereignty, non-interference and “African solutions to African problems” would be high, sometimes trumping (as in Zimbabwe) their own constitutional values.

Fourth and perhaps most significant, was the independence agreement that land and wealth would not be radically redistributed. Gross inequalities between black and white would be overcome by expansion in the economy. Internally generated activity and increasing access to existing and new markets was thus essential for this growth. The most interesting and exciting new markets are the four BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – and Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has dubbed these countries the E7, or Emerging 7, and in January 2011 produced a report looking at their growth up to 2050. What emerges is mind-blowing. GDP in 2011 based on Purchasing Price Parity (PPP) puts these E7 countries’ combined GDP at $24 trillion compared to $30 trillion for the G7 countries. By 2050 PwC estimates the G7 combined GDP at $69 trillion while the E7’s will have risen to a whopping $134 trillion. Almost double the size. The EU lags 4 times behind with a GDP of $33 trillion.

On the basis of these figures one can begin to understand why China is already SA’s largest trading partner and the importance SA has attached to joining BRICs. It also partly explains why SA votes in the Security Council, closely mirror the votes of their fellow BRICs – most of whom were also members of the anti-imperialist, non-aligned movement.

Many white South Africans have yet to come to terms with this long-term fundamental realignment of SA foreign policy struggles. And we won.

Written By
Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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