Webinar on African multilateralism at the United Nations

Ambassador Adonia Ayebare
Ambassador Baso Sangqu
Ms Luanda Mpongose

On 9 September, a week before the start of the 75th UN General Assembly (UNGA) — the first to be held online — CACS and the UJ Library convened a webinar on ‘African Common Positions as a Tool for Multilateralism: Focus on the UN General Assembly’.

The presenters were Amb. Baso Sangqu, a former South African permanent representative at the UN, and Amb. Adonia Ayebare, his current Ugandan counterpart. The webinar was moderated by Luanda Mpungose, Programme Officer for African Governance and Diplomacy at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA).

Amb. Sangqu highlighted the historical and legal backdrop to the pursuit of a pan-African diplomatic approach to key international issues. This, he argued, is enabled by Article 52 of the UN Charter, which paves the way for regional solutions to regional issues. Since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the continent has sought to maximise its numerical advantage of more than 50 states into a one-state-one-vote platform in the UNGA and other international governmental organisations, while also seeking to put forward an agreed list of candidates (or even a single candidate) for key positions, as well as seats in the UN Security Council. The evolution from the OAU to the African Union (AU), effected in 2002, greatly broadened the continental body’s mandate.

The AU’s Agenda 2063 projects Africa as a unified global partner, with African countries acting in unison in terms of principles of solidarity. However, this raises the question: ‘How common are common African positions?’, with experience until now suggesting that they may not be entirely embraced by all African countries.

A next question would be: ‘How African are common African positions?’ Thus far, they have led to mixed results, with coordination mainly seen on issues of general global importance but not on Africa-centric goals such as Security Council reform. As is typical of politics everywhere, there are issues of conflicting interests, with some countries breaking with the consensus and posting their own candidates, or inserting their own agenda items and characterising these as common positions.

In closing, Amb. Sangqu noted that COVID-19 will be a major test for the continent’s collaboration and pursuit of common priorities at the UN and other global institutions, as vaccine nationalism is a major possibility.

Amb. Ayebare honed in on the issue of vaccine nationalism as a key concern for the continent’s agenda at this year’s UNGA session. It will be important to refine a common African position on the search for and eventual dissemination of a vaccine. However, the continent’s coordination – which peaked during the struggle for independence but has since declined – needs to be comprehensive, and inclusive of Brussels (the European Union) and Geneva (the site of many international organisations).

Many other countries are hostile to common African positions, as ‘54 countries united are a nightmare for powerful countries’. Given this, seemingly harmless labels of so-called anglophone and francophone African countries are used to promote the divisive agendas of the most powerful countries in an asymmetrical world order.

The question and answer session raised a number of key issues, including the impossibility of true collaboration among 54 countries with seemingly divergent agendas; Africa’s stance on events in Libya in 2011; and the continent’s apparent complacency about human rights issues.

Dr Khabele Matlosa, Director for Political Affairs at the AU Commission, who joined the webinar from Addis Ababa, argued that the lack of effectiveness of common African positions stemmed from the forces of globalism and sovereignty, with the former (led by world hegemons) creating the false impression that certain positions are common African positions when this is not the case.

Dr David Monyae, CACS executive director, thanked the presenters, the moderator, participants in the question and answer session, and the UJ Library.

Webinar on ‘Gearing Africa for the 4th Industrial Revolution’

On 21 July 2020, the CACS, in collaboration with the UJ Library, hosted a diverse and expert-driven webinar entitled ‘Gearing Africa for the 4IR: Prospects, Trends and Challenges’.

Speakers included representatives of the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Huawei Technologies, and the Youth Bridge Trust (YBT). The audience included people from numerous African countries as well as China, France, and Switzerland.

The session was opened by Dr David Monyae, co-director of the CACS, who introduced the concept of the 4IR as a developmental issue for African countries, with some paradigm-shifting features.

In a keynote address, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, emphasised that, in order to avoid renewed inequalities in the course of the 4IR, African countries and their educational and other relevant institutions needed to cooperate with advanced international partners while also fostering domestic innovation. He added: ‘Academic institutions ranging from schools to universities to technical and vocational education and training colleges need to review their curriculums with a focus on promoting digital literacy.’

Ms Gitanjali Sah, Strategy and Policy Coordinator for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), focused on prospects for technological development in Africa and its potential to help realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Digitals skills could play a vital role in many African regions, and rapidly needed to be improved.

Edward Zhou, Vice-President for Global Public Affairs of Huawei, spoke on 5G and its key role in the 4IR. He noted that Huawei was the first research and development organisation to develop and deploy 5G, the next generation of wireless technology, a crucial infrastructure component of the 4IR. ‘So far, Huawei South Africa has launched free 5G training for ICT university students,’ he asserted.

The company was also actively collaborating with the South African government through its Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies. Among other things, it had launched training programmes in places where digital skills were urgently needed, including Mthatha, Butterworth and East London.

Thang Nguyen-Quoc, economist for the Africa Unit of the OECD Development Centre, focused on technological cooperation between the OECD and African countries in respect of infrastructure. Multiple studies conducted in partnership with African governments and organisations had demonstrated that resources for development in Africa had not kept up with population growth.

Seth Mulli, Executive Director of the YBT, spoke about 4IR and Africa’s youth. Observing that by 2030 Africa will have the youngest population in the world, he highlighted the role played by the YBT in fostering grassroots education and entrepreneurship. Its work was aimed at realising the youth dividend that the convergence of these factors promised to bring about. He added: ‘We are seeking to play a catalytic role in Africa by scaling up our programmes to reach more youths in different geographic locations.’

Prof Peng Yi, co-director of the CACS, thanked the speakers and the audience for their participation, and the staff of the various institutions involved for the role in organising the event. They had all contributed to its success.

Webinar on Nelson Mandela’s Soccer Diplomacy

On 12 July 2020, CACS and the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA), in collaboration with the UJ Library, hosted a zoom webinar on ‘Nelson Mandela’s Soccer Diplomacy’. The keynote speaker was the Hon. Mr. Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture.

The other speakers were Dr Danny Jordaan, President of the South African Football Association (SAFA); Neil Tovey, former captain of Bafana Bafana; the African soccer journalist Coudjoe Amankwaa; Gary Rathbone, General Manager of SABC Sport; and the researcher David Maimela. The webinar was hosted by Mpho Tsedu of the IFA.

Against the background of Mandela Month, and the tenth anniversary of South Africa’s successful hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Minister and leading figures in South African soccer examined the role  of the ‘beautiful game’ in South African foreign policy.

To watch the video of this event, click here.

Kerry Brown addresses webinar on China’s global relations

Prof Kerry Brown.

On Wednesday 24 June 2020, CACS, in collaboration with the UJ Library, presented a Zoom video webinar on ‘China’s Global Diplomatic Relations: COVID-19 and Beyond’. The main speaker was Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute in King’s College, London, and Associate Fellow of the Asia Pacific Programme at Chatham House, London.

Background notes

The rise of China is widely regarded as one of the most important shifts in current world politics. If present trends continue, China will soon become the largest economy in the world. It has already played an increasingly significant role as an emerging power. The issue now is what role it will play in the future, and what a Chinese-dominated world would look like. This webinar will be conducted by a leading scholar on Chinese politics and foreign policy with a special interest in the implications of the rise of China for African countries. Among other things, he will map out a range of scenarios of equal interest to scholars, policy-makers and planners – including the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Sino-African relations.

To watch the video of this event, click here.

Minister calls for unity in addressing African challenges

The Hon. Dr Naledi Pandor

On Saturday 30 May 2020, the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) and CACS, in collabortion with the UJ LIbrary, hosted a virtual summit on South Africa’s foreign policy amid the coronavirus pandemic which was broadcast live by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The summit also served as a platform for launching the IFA.

The event was moderated by Mr Mpho Tsedu, CEO of the IFA. The keynote speaker was the Hon. Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, and the other speakers were Dr Sithembile Mbete, a senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria, and Ms Sophie Mokoena, Foreign Editor of the SABC.

Opening the proceedings, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, stressed the importance of foreign policy and international relations for any nation, and the potentially disrupting impact of COVID-19.

In her presentation, Dr Pandor recalled South Africa’s foreign policy commitments following its transition to democracy – notably, to play an active role globally in promoting democracy and human rights. Given that the success of these commitments depended on peace and stability, South Africa had made significant contributions to United Nations peace missions. Currently, South Africa was the 17th biggest contributor to peacekeeping forces in the world. Its contributions have been made even outside the continent, to Syria and Venezuela, for example.

Minister Pandor also noted that South Africa’s 2020 incumbency of the Chair of the African Union (AU) had brought with it a range of responsibilities. Deputy President David Mabuza had been working closely with the South Sudanese government, and it was heartening to note that at the beginning of 2020 the South Sudanese government was reconfigured to include leaders of the opposition, thus lessening the tensions that had destabilised the country since 2013.

Another upside to South Africa’s foreign policy activity in peacekeeping missions was the attention it had paid to gender sensitivity, i.e. the inclusion of women. Africa could never fully develop until it incorporated all its stakeholders in the mainstream development agenda. Including women in the continent’s quest for peace and development was not only important but necessary.

According to Dr Pandor, the continent was beset with challenges. Ongoing conflict in Libya between the UN-acknowledged Government of National Accord and the rebel movement of Khalifa Haftar was a blight on the continent. This instability undermined efforts to quell the human smuggling and perilous immigration taking place in Libya. Apart from security concerns, the Minister talked about the troubling disillusionment that the West seemed to have with multilateralism.

The coronavirus underscored the importance of global synergy in tackling common challenges. In this respect, she noted that Africa had asked for its debt to be deferred for at least two years. The continent would need all the resources it could muster in order to bolster its health facilities, and deal with the after-effects of the coronavirus. Isolationism could harm prospects for surmounting these challenges. For this reason, Dr Pandor highlighted the importance of working in concert.

Dr Mbete highlighted three important South African responsibilities in the foreign policy arena. The first, in tandem with one of the minister’s points, was the inclusion of women in the search for peace and security under the framework of silencing the guns. COVID-19 had underlined the indispensability of women in Africa because most of the essential work that had to continue amid COVID-19-imposed lockdowns was being done by women.

South Africa’s second responsibility emanated from its non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The two foremost economies in the world, the United States and the People’s Republic of China, were engaged in polarising hostility and interminable trade disagreements that had global implications. Both were also permanent members of the UN Security Council, and their conduct in the Council demonstrated the fissures between the West and the East. South Africa could thus play a leading role in keeping the balance between these two extremes.

Minister Pandor concurred with this point, and made the case for level-headed diplomacy in what she described as a ‘titanic battle’ between the two superpowers. She argued that leaders of the United States and China should be given a ‘gentle whisper’, counselling them against the harmful effects of Sino-American tensions on Africa and other world regions. South Africa had to emphasise the fact that the UN remained a guarantor of human rights and security, but the escalating tension between the USA and China could deal a body blow to this mandate.

The third responsibility mentioned by Dr Mbete was youth empowerment. Sixty percent Africans today were below the age of 25 years, and Africa’s median age was 19.7 years. Africa was thus a repository of the future, but the prosperity of that future depended on harnessing the talent of the continent’s youth. Alienating the youth from Africa’s development was counterproductive, because alienated youth were susceptible to conscription by extremist movements. South Africa’s contribution to peacekeeping in Africa was imperative because infrastructure development and economic progress could only take place and be sustained in conditions of peace and stability. Even the ideals and aspirations of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) could only be fully realised if Africa established enduring peace and sustainability.

Ms Sophie Mokoena started her presentation by referring to the peripheral role that Africa had played since the First World War. She argued that this had continued to this day, and historically powerful international actors continued to dictate to Africa. She advocated the reform of the UN Security Council in accordance with the challenges of peace and security currently confronting the world. She argued that Africa was rife with conflicts, yet the continent did not have permanent representation at the Security Council which was a premium body for mapping out conflict resolution programmes. She urged that Africa should emphasise inclusivity, even in intra-African affairs. For this reason, the African Union should acknowledge and welcome the insights and roles of ordinary Africans in building peace on the continent. She referred to the ‘]nothing about us without us’ exhortation as a clarion call for including ordinary Africans.

Ms Mokoena also argued that peace and stability could only be achieved if the basic material needs of Africans are met. Once poverty had been silenced, stability and the silencing of guns would follow. Currently, South Africa and Africa at large would struggle to meet the challenges confronting the continent because the coronavirus had imposed unbidden and unforeseen challenges.

The continent found itself in an unfortunate position because it was dangerously vulnerable to the state of non-African and more powerful economies. The effects of COVID-19 demonstrated how Africa’s lack of economic independence made political independence largely rhetorical. The AfCFTA was aimed at remedying Africa’s economic vulnerability to non-African economies.

Dr Pandor lamented the fact that COVID-19 had forced the AU to postpone important discussions about the implementation of the AfCFTA. Some of the groundwork had already been done, and a Secretary General, Wamkele Mene from South Africa, had already been appointed.

Dr Pandor agreed with Ms Mokoena’s argument for reforming the UN Security Council. She also reiterated the importance of economic self-sufficiency. She referred to the uncomfortable fact that Africa was relying on non-African countries for masks and ventilators that were needed to stave off the spread of the coronavirus. In response to Dr Mbete, Minister Pandor noted that youth empowerment in Africa was essential for the future of Africa and the world. She was encouraged by the fact that the youth had been involved in data gathering amid the coronavirus.

Mr Tsedu asked Dr Pandor about the possible role that non-state actors could play in foreign policy. Responding , she drew attention to the admirable and effective role played by non-state actors in the struggle against apartheid, including bolstering international ant-apartheid campaigns. The same determination should be invested in areas such as the Palestinian question where people were still deprived of land and basic human rights. African civil society also played an essential role in exposing human rights violations. For this reason, institutes such as the IFA and CACS had an important role to play in contributing to African and global peace, stability and development.

Dr David Monyae, Director of CACS, thanked the presenters, the SABC and the staff of the UJ Library. He added that CACS and IFA should establish channels of collaboration with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).

To watch the video of this event, click here.

ZOOM seminar on people-to-people relations during COVID-19

Prof Siphamandla Zondi
Prof Qin Shengyong
Dr Ying Cheng

On 20 May 2020, CACS hosted a virtual seminar on people-to-people relations in the time of COVID-19 with a specific focus on Africa and China. Cases of alleged racial discrimination in China against people of colour made the seminar a necessary and timely initiative. This was underlined by the participation – about 80 people, some from as far afield as Nigeria, China, France and the United Kingdom, joined the seminar online.

The seminar was hosted by the CACS Research Director, Bhaso Ndzendze, and chaired by its Executive Director, Dr David Monyae. The speakers were Dr Siphamandla Zondi, Professor of Political Science at Pretoria University, and Chairperson of the South African BRICS Think Tank; Prof Qin Shengyong, Director of the International Office of the Zhongshan School of Medicine and a Senior Research Fellow at the One Belt One Road Institute at Sun Yatsen University; and Dr Cheng Ying, Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian and African Languages and Cultures at Peking University.

Prof Zondi provided the background to current Africa-China relations by noting the pioneering work done by scholars such as Ian Taylor and Garth Shelton. He then outlined political frameworks such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), and how this intersected with the the American-led Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Increased interaction

According to Prof Zondi, political and economic synergy had fostered increased interaction among non-political actors from Africa and China, and the two parties had to be candid about the challenges that came with such interaction. Provocatively, he noted that many Africans infected by the coronavirus did not contract it from China, but rather from European countries, and asked what this signified about people-to-people interactions between Africa and China.

Dr Cheng suggested concrete ways of deepening Sino-African understanding and coexistence at the people-to-people level. Initiatives such as cultural exchanges and presentations could play significant role. Culture straddled a gamut of components from art, religion, music and poetry. Language also played a key role in gaining insight into another culture, and breaking through the boundaries of misunderstanding.

Professor Qin offered reassurances about the Chinese government and the high value it placed on its relationship with Africa.

Chat panel

Throughout the presentations, participants posted questions on the chat panel. Several centred on allegations that Africans in China are encountering discrimination, and that some have been prohibited from pursuing their professional activities, such as teaching. Others centred on the political dimension of what COVID-19 entails for future Africa-China relations.

The seminar underlined that the people-to-people component of Africa-China relations is still in its infancy, and that some uncomfortable realities should not be ignored. Specifically, the racial tensions that occasionally sully Sino-African synergy can only be resolved if their existence is acknowledged. Another caveat to emerge was that Africans in China and Chinese citizens in Africa have to adhere to the legislation of their host countries.

To conclude, the seminar outlined not only how far Africa-China relations have come, but how much still needs to be done to build a relationship that will help to shape both Africa’s and China’s futures.

China at 70: Policy, Institutions and Development

On 9 October 2019, the CACS, in collaboration with the UJ Library, held a seminar on ‘The People’s Republic of China at 70 Years: Policy, Institutions and Development’. The speakers were Prof Martin Jacques, author of the global best-seller When China Rules the World: the End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, and Ms Hannah Ryder, CEO of Development Reimagined. The event was chaired by Dr David Monyae, Co-Director of the CACS. To view a video of the seminar, click on the link above.

ZOOM seminar about Thandika Mkandawire

On 29 April 2020, the CACS, in collaboration with the UJ LIbrary, staged a ZOOM seminar on ‘the INtellectual Work and Legacy of Thandika Mkandawire’. The speakers were Prof GIlbert Khadiagala of the African Centre for the Study of the United States at Wits University, and Dr Ibbo Mandaza of the Southern African Political Economy Series Trust. The seminar was chaired by Elinor Sisulu, human rights activist and author. To view a video of the seminar, click on the link above.

Seminar on Iran-US crisis

From left to right are Mr Naeem Jeenah, an Iranian Embassy official, Ambassador Ghomi, Dr David Monyae, Professor Suzy Graham and Mr Bhaso Ndzendze.

On Monday 17 February 2020, CACS, in collaboration with the UJ Library, hosted a public seminar on ‘The Iran-US Crisis: Implications for Iran-SA Relations’. The main speaker was H.E. Mr Mohsen Movahhedi Ghomi, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to South Africa.

It was chaired by Prof Suzy Graham of the Department of Politics and International Relations at UJ.  The discussant was Mr Naeem Jeenah, Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre.

Attended by about 130 people, including present and former government officials, business people, representatives of civil society, academics and students, the event successfully highlighted the Centre’s Pan-African and Pan-Asian outlook.

Ambasador Ghomi first explained why the US-Iran crisis has worsened since the start of 2020, and then gave a summary of Iran-South Africa relations, their evolution over time, and how they had matured after the 1994 transition to democacy.

The US-Iran crisis

On 3 January this year, Amb. Ghomi said, General Qasem Soleimani of Iran was killed in an air strike while on an official visit to Iraq. US President Donald Trump had accused Soleimani of being a terrorist who had killed US troops in the Middle East. However, in his view the reasons advanced by the US to justify the assassination were invalid.

‘The US sees its hegemony in danger with the rise of China and India. For the US to guarantee this, it needs to control vital energies in the Middle East. And if they want to do that, they need to control Iran as well.’

He was convinced the US was simply trying to destabilise Iran and the Middle East in order to promote its imperialist ambitions, but had come up against a ‘revolutionary and anti-imperialist Iran’.

Iran-South Africa relations

Ambassador Ghomi mentioned key areas of partnership between Iran and South Africa. For instance, he revealed that Iran was the second most profitable market for MTN, the South African mobile network company. He noted that South Africa could benefit from Iranian expertise in water management, energy, mining equipment, and the exploitation of gas resources.

Naeem Jeenah, who had recently attended General Soleimani’s funeral in Iran, said US-Iran relations had been strained since 1953. Since 1979, the situation had been complicated by the fact that the US had a strategic interest in Iranian oil, but continued to protect Israel, to which Iran was hostile. In contrast with earlier remarks by the Ambassador, he said Iran aspired to becoming a superpower in the Middle East.

He also added nuance to the Ambassador’s depiction of Iran-South Africa relations by raising some diplomatic obstacles between the two countries. Among other things, due to US sanctions, South Africa had not officially imported oil from Iran for the past five or six years. Mr Jeenah concluded by criticizing the use of the terms ‘anti-imperialism’ and ‘terrorism’ as they could be used to mobilise support by dictators or autocratic regimes.

Discussion

During the question and answer session, members of the audience expressed their concern about the global implications of the Iran-US crisis, the role of constitutional values in South African foreign policy, and South Africa’s role in the UN Security Council in which it sits until later this year. Responding, Ambassador Ghomi emphasised that all countries were interconnected, and needed to collaborate. Dr David Monyae, co-director of the UJCI, thanked everyone for attending.