Zuma’s In­trigu­ing Visit to Rus­sia

Diplomat East Africa - - Global Stage -

What was the ‘real’ pur­pose of the trip? In seek­ing to an­swer this ques­tion, the me­dia re­sorted to spec­u­la­tion and ‘read­ing be­tween the lines’; The log­i­cal and ob­vi­ous ques­tions re­gard­ing the pres­i­den­tial trip be­came: ‘why now and why Rus­sia?’ JAMES N. KAR­IUKI re­ports

At the end of Au­gust, South Africa’s Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma em­barked upon what was called a ‘work­ing visit’ to Rus­sia. Of­fi­cially, Zuma’s ob­jec­tives in Moscow in­cluded dis­cussing trade en­hance­ment be­tween the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion and South Africa, search­ing for in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and for the South African pres­i­dent to get some rest. But, given their propen­sity for cu­rios­ity, the news me­dia im­me­di­ately won­dered aloud why the de­tails of an of­fi­cial pres­i­den­tial visit seemed to be shrouded by a veil of se­crecy in both South Africa and Rus­sia.

The ‘rest­ing’ claim for Zuma was un­con­vinc­ing. It is true that the Pres­i­dent may have needed some rest given his gru­el­ing elec­tion cam­paign ear­lier in the year, his gen­er­ally ques­tion­able health con­di­tion and the tur­bu­lent events of the first three months of his sec­ond term. But, since the trip co­in­cided with the be­gin­ning of one of Rus­sia’s no­to­ri­ously bru­tal win­ters, weather alone vir­tu­ally ruled it out as a va­ca­tion­ing des­ti­na­tion of choice for an ag­ing African leader.

On the other hand, if Zuma went to Moscow to pro­mote bi­lat­eral trade co­op­er­a­tion and in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, why is it that his del­e­ga­tion did not in­clude per­son­nel from the rel- evant Depart­ment of Trade and In­dus­try or from the cab­i­net’s eco­nomic clus­ter? Oddly, the pres­i­dent’s se­nior of­fi­cial en­tourage was com­posed of only the State Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter and the In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions Deputy Min­is­ter. To con­sum­mate the in­trigue, Zuma was not ac­com­pa­nied by a sin­gle of­fi­cial jour­nal­ist.

What was the ‘real’ pur­pose of the trip? In try­ing to find the an­swer to this ques­tion, it was nat­u­ral and per­haps in­evitable that the news me­dia re­sorted to spec­u­la­tion and read­ing be­tween the lines. In this re­gard, the log­i­cal and ob­vi­ous ques­tions re­gard­ing the pres­i­den­tial trip be­came: ‘why now and why Rus­sia?’

In the process of the much spec­u­la­tion that fol­lowed, an­a­lysts re­minded all that Zuma’s pres­i­dency has al­ways been dogged by con­tro­versy. But in late Au­gust 2014, just prior to the Rus­sian trip, that same pres­i­dency be­came truly em­bat­tled. At that time two po­lit­i­cal crises con­verged and seemed to es­ca­late to a crescendo.

Chal­lenges posed by th­ese crises were in­deed daunt­ing, suf­fi­ciently un­set­tling to prompt ob­servers to liken them to the in­fa­mous US Water­gate scan­dal of the early 1970s. It was that po­lit­i­cal scan­dal that pushed Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon to his his­toric res­ig­na­tion of 1974 and in­fected the Amer­i­can body politic forev-

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