Be­ware SA ex­cep­tion­al­ism

The Citizen (KZN) - - Opinion - Mukoni Rat­shi­tanga

Next week, South Africa will as­sume the po­si­tion of chair of the con­ti­nent’s premier body, the African Union (AU). It is an im­por­tant pass­ing of the ba­ton from one coun­try to an­other – this time from Egypt to South Africa – in Africa’s de­ter­mined re­lay race to shape her fu­ture for the bet­ter.

Un­der­scor­ing the enor­mity of the en­ter­prise is this year’s theme of the AU heads of state and gov­ern­ment sum­mit – the 33rd – cur­rently tak­ing place at the AU head­quar­ters in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia: “Si­lence the guns: cre­at­ing con­ducive con­di­tions for Africa’s de­vel­op­ment”.

An am­bi­tious ob­jec­tive agreed upon at the 21st sum­mit in May 2013, the AU had hoped to end all wars on the con­ti­nent by the end of this year. Not­with­stand­ing the in­stinc­tive ten­dency to write off the AU in dis­cur­sive spa­ces, es­pe­cially in this coun­try, the con­ti­nent’s in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal in­sti­tu­tion has been hard at work to­wards meet­ing this ob­jec­tive since 2013. For its mo­bil­is­ing and moral force, the ob­jec­tive surely can­not be ques­tioned.

Of course, one of the crit­i­cal ques­tions is whether the enor­mity and complexity of the con­ti­nent’s con­flict-pro­duc­ing fac­tors can be wiped out in so short a pe­riod. Con­sider, for in­stance, con­flict which is­sues from dis­tri­bu­tional in­jus­tices be­tween the cen­tre and the pe­riph­ery – many of which date back to the colo­nial pe­riod.

Find­ing last­ing so­lu­tions to such con­flicts un­doubt­edly re­quire more time than the 2013 dec­la­ra­tion to si­lence the guns per­mits.

This is all the more so in a world whose pre­dom­i­nant in­tel­lec­tual dis­course is largely am­biva­lent to di­a­logue on struc­tural poverty and so­cio-eco­nomic sys­tems and ap­proaches in­tended to con­front so­cial in­equal­ity.

And what of con­flicts such as the one in Libya and the Sa­hel re­gion which was im­posed from with­out the con­ti­nent by arty and overzeal­ous forces in­tent on a new form of colo­nial­ism un­der the neb­u­lous ca­nard of the re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect? Or other forms of re­lated vi­o­lence such as is meted out to African mi­grants that risk their lives in un­sym­pa­thetic oceans in search of a bet­ter life in a re­sent­ful Europe.

A rea­son­able es­ti­ma­tion is that the guns are more than likely to con­tinue to roar with hor­rific lethal­ity for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

The rea­sons are not nec­es­sar­ily a poor re­flec­tion on the in­sti­tu­tion of the AU.

There are a set of com­plex so­cio-eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal fac­tors embed­ded in the con­ti­nent’s his­tory and in­sub­or­di­nate po­si­tion in the or­der­ing of hu­man af­fairs. All these need un­tan­gling as si­mul­ta­ne­ously as the search for last­ing peace.

Af­ter all – and this of­ten es­capes many an Afro-pes­simist – the AU is but an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion which can only be ef­fec­tive to the ex­tent that its mem­ber state are ef­fec­tive.

Ac­cord­ing to Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa will pur­sue a set of six ob­jec­tives dur­ing its ten­ure as chair of the AU. These are:

“[the pro­mot]ion of South Africa’s values, in­ter­ests and con­ti­nen­tal and do­mes­tic ob­jec­tives;

“sup­port­ing in­te­gra­tion, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, trade and in­vest­ment in the con­ti­nent;

“driv­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Pres­i­den­tial In­fra­struc­ture Cham­pion Ini­tia­tive in sup­port of the African Con­ti­nen­tal Free Trade Area;

“ad­vanc­ing gen­der equal­ity and the em­pow­er­ment of women and com­bat­ting vi­o­lence against women and girls;

“strength­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the African Union and the United Na­tions, and;

“the pro­mo­tion of peace and se­cu­rity and ad­vanc­ing the ef­fort to si­lence the guns.”

But, a word of cau­tion. We would be well ad­vised to ex­er­cise

Rea­sons are not a poor re­flec­tion of the AU

cir­cum­spec­tion and hu­mil­ity in the con­duct of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. The ex­port of values onto the rest of the African con­ti­nent can­not be the ex­pressed ob­jec­tive of any of our 54 coun­tries by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion.

The propo­si­tion sug­gests ex­cep­tion­al­ism and su­pe­ri­or­ity we should re­sist the temp­ta­tion to pros­e­ly­tise be­cause we pos­sess nei­ther. The mind­set can lay fer­tile ground for the ven­ti­la­tion of all man­ner of un­palat­able forms of con­duct on our part, much as it is bound to court am­biva­lence.

The in­cli­na­tion to ex­port our values begs the ques­tion, which ones?

And what if some­one re­torted with a cat­a­logue of our well-pub­li­cised un­savoury habits and con­duct? It is not at all cer­tain that coun­tries that have the ex­port of values as one of their stated ob­jec­tives nec­es­sar­ily en­joy re­spect.

So, the pro­mo­tion of mu­tual learn­ing which would in turn stim­u­late co­op­er­a­tion with the rest of the con­ti­nent and the world is a much bet­ter and prof­itable ob­jec­tive than the ex­port of values.

The pur­suit of the in­ter­con­nected ob­jec­tives as stated by Ramaphosa au­gurs well for the so­cio-eco­nomic and over­all cul­tural de­vel­op­ment of the con­ti­nent while at the same time de­sen­si­tis­ing the re­sort to vi­o­lent con­flict as a medium of so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion.

Their im­mi­nent con­cern for the in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment of the con­ti­nent has been a key con­cern of the con­ti­nent for decades, ev­i­denced, among oth­ers, by the

Treaty Es­tab­lish­ing the African Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of 1991, pop­u­larly known as the Abuja Treaty.

South Africa’s chair­per­son­ship of the AU along­side the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, the African Peer Re­view Mech­a­nism and oth­ers, is mak­ing South Africa some­body again on the in­ter­na­tional front.

If this is the case as it ar­guably is, it should also re­sult in re­assert­ing Africa’s voice in the or­der­ing of hu­man af­fairs.

The op­por­tu­nity ex­ists for SA, to­gether with the rest of the con­ti­nent, to serve as an agent for the African agenda in global mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions on such is­sues that may in­clude the re­form of in­sti­tu­tions of global po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic gov­er­nance.

Over the years, the African voice on these is­sues with­ered on the vine. It is likely that the cur­rent wave of evolv­ing global agree­ments on is­sues such as cli­mate change, trade in the dig­i­tal and space economies may once again im­pose a one-size-fits-all regime to the detri­ment of the con­ti­nent. The con­ti­nent’s home-based in­tel­lec­tu­als, as well as other res­i­dents fur­ther afield, could be mo­bilised as foot sol­diers in this im­por­tant bat­tle.

Speak­ing of the con­ti­nent’s in­tel­lec­tu­als, there is no rea­son why SA can­not and should not at­tract them to work in our re­search and in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing to re­spond to the coun­try’s skills chal­lenge. Hope­fully, the new visa reg­u­la­tions will have this is­sue in sight.

Rat­shi­tanga is a con­sul­tant, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. ([email protected]­ter­

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