South Africa’s diminishing stature

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I have been nonchalantly following the tit for tat diplomacy between South Africa and Kenya and wondering how it will end.

South Africa recently moved to tighten its immigration rules and Kenya reciprocated by introducing a visa regime for South Africans.

I was quickly reminded of another episode, not quite similar, but nevertheless bordering on immigration rules, where Nigeria also deported a number of South Africans in retaliation to a similar move by South Africa.

While South Africa, and anyone else for that matter, has a right to protect its borders, I feel the country is increasingly losing its stature as the powerhouse it should be on the continent.

Instead of South Africa moving to consolidate its status as the continental powerhouse, hostility towards it has increased and with it the diminishing of the stature it once had.

Events of the past few years reinforce my belief that South Africa is no longer seen as powerful and dominant as it once was.

Recently, a number of Rwandan exiles, were killed in South Africa, by what authorities believe where Rwandan operatives. South Africa huffed and puffed, but Rwanda dismissively waved away way their concerns and that seemingly was the end of the story.

In the run up to elections in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe likened one of South Africa’s top diplomats to a “street woman”. In fairness Mugabe apologised, but the damage had already been done. South Africa’s response? Censuring the diplomat.

Then there was the farcical election of Nkosazana Dlaminin-Zuma to the chairpersonship of the African Union Chairmanship. South Africa celebrated her election, by all intents and purposes a pyrrhic victory, but that election had been tainted by South Africa’s lack of tact in its diplomacy.

South Africa should not have fielded such a high ranking official if it was not so sure of the outcome, or better still negotiated with all the countries involved, so that by the time there was an election, the result would have been a foregone conclusion. Dlamini-Zuma owes her position to mere technicalities rather than her being the most popular candidate and that speaks volumes of South Africa’s diminishing diplomacy and position on the continent.

As pointed above, South Africa has tightened its immigration laws, this is tragic as it is coming at a time when the continent is moving towards closer ties and regional integration. While regional integration is becoming the buzzword, South Africa has decided to close itself from the rest of the continent and become more inward looking.

But it has not always been like this, only a few years ago, South Africa nudged away a feeble challenge from Libya for the right to host the Pan African Parliament. South Africa was also an instrumental player in coming up with NEPAD, no matter how flawed this programme was, but South Africa was playing a leading role in Africa.

South Africa was also instrumental in the peace accords of Sudan and the then Zaire, but in recent years South Africa’s role on the continent has been somewhat negligible.

While most of the continent looked to South Africa for leadership in the period after the end of apartheid, within the present discourse most of the same countries may start looking elsewhere for that leadership and South Africa will be the biggest loser.

South Africa markets itself as the gateway to Africa, but if it continues on this path of self-obsessed inwardness then other countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania may also move in and stake a claim to that mantle.

Nigeria recently overtook South Africa as Africa’s biggest economy, I will not debate the merits and demerits of this, but I think it should serve as a warning to South Africa that this continent is on the move and will snap up all opportunities that are available.

Nigeria’s growth, hopefully will serve to awaken South Africa from its post-apartheid inebriation and realise that its lure to other Africans and the world is the strength of its economy and nothing else, without that South Africa will just be “another African” country.

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