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Zuma´s Regional Drivers of Change May 4, 2009

Posted by mundoproject in Uncategorized.
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by Mathias de Alencastro

South Africa is having one of the hardest socioeconomic crises since the ANC came to power. Although the country is technologically advanced, it hasn’t been capable of sustaining his energetic needs. The Rand, underachiever currency of the year, lost 12% against the dollar in the past months. The growing inflation and the high interest rates slow down the foreign investments. Supposedly the model of Africa’s development, South Africa is recaptured by its own demons. Mbeki’s “Africa’s renaissance” doctrine is not convincing.

Photo by Fábio Zanini

Photo by Fábio Zanini

Jacob Zuma arrival to the head of the ANC and his election as president are taking place through an important transition period in Southern African politics. Presidential elections will be held in Angola and Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe is facing its deepest crisis. Apparently, Jacob Zuma found an external solution for the South Africa internal crisis. This approach might shatter the regional relations in Southern Africa

New Regional Partnership

Last year, Zuma’s presence in Angola for the 20th celebration of the Cuito Cuanavale battle is a triggering event. Relations between Angola and South Africa went through an interposed conflict during the Cold War to a tense diplomacy under Mbeki, on his attempt to raise South Africa as the only reliable interlocutor of the region.

During the event, Zuma declared that “We also took this opportunity to thank the Angolans for the support they gave us (the ANC) during the struggle against apartheid. It was unequalled”. This said Zuma ignores more than ten years of Mbeki’s foreign policy towards Angola.  To the detriment of his opponents, Zuma’s proves that, behind his populist promises regarding nationalisations, he can be a realist and skilled politician, capable of changing Thabo Mbeki’s “go it alone“ foreign policy.

By paying tribute to the Angolans soldiers, Zuma raises himself as the only legatee of ANC struggle under the Apartheid and as the upholder of the historical values of the Party, once alienated by Mbeki. Zuma’s declaration confirms his availability in heading straight for a new regional partnership and guarantees Angola’s support during the following decisive months. He made it clear saying that it was important for the ANC to play a “critical role in the socioeconomic and political development”[i] of Angola.

Bringing foreign investors back in

 Zuma presents himself as the slayer of South Africa’s way too long stasis. If this prospect of rupture is confirmed, foreign investor’s confidence might be restored in a short time.

I have in my mind Brazil’s situation on the verge of Lula’s election. Described as a left wing populist politician, analysts feared that foreign investors would pull out if he got elected. Lula proved that he was capable of matching social politics and economic growth. Brazil consolidated as a regional power, despite many of political scandals linked to corruption which also seems to be Zuma’s Achille’s heel.

 Opening the door to Angola

Behind the political issues, Angola can be a powerful support for South Africa’s struggle against the energy and economic crisis. Being the third producer of oil in Africa, Angola is going through an enormous economic growth. This healthy and wealthy market is capable of balancing South Africa’s lack of primary resources and raise exports. Nevertheless, a political rapprochement towards Angola is far from being consensual in South Africa.

This new partnership is an outstanding opportunity for Angola. It will explore its internal market, especially southern regions excluded from the benefits of oil revenues. On the diplomatic level, this alliance will raise Angola’s credibility in the eyes of foreign investors.

In fact, bedroom eyes between the two parties are not a hazard. The President of Angola, José Eduardo Dos Santos is also facing decisive elections in a few months. His regime is pointed as one of the most corrupted in the world. The political acknowledgment by Africa’s democratic model will be an excellent argument against international organisations criticism.

Moreover, South Africa would vouch for Angola’s ambitious foreign policy. On the one hand Angola is seeking for more influence in the oil politics, especially in the Gulf of Guinea. On the other hand, the country is emerging as an essential partner in the South Atlantic. Therefore, Angola seems to have the potential to become a political and economical hub of Sub-Saharan Africa. 

The alliance and the regional pariah: Zimbabwe

Finally, it is undeniable that this new partnership will affect the countries’ approach on Zimbabwe’s crisis. Mbeki’s nomination to mediate Zimbabwe’s crisis last year was not an accident[ii]. Firstly, Mbeki and Mugabe were facing rigorous opposition in their own party. Mbeki’s presence would help Mugabe restoring his credibility and alienate opposition’s foreign support. Secondly, Mbeki’s success would be seen as the definitive proof that he was capable of managing regional conflicts. However, these strategic manoeuvring weren’t successful. The opposition kept its credibility and Mugabe is now facing the hardest challenge of his political career, having to share power with his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai. The plan’s miscarriage affected Mbeki just before the ANC congress, while Jacob Zuma managed to maintain his hard-line against Mugabe.

Hence, Zimbabwe’s might become the thorny question of Zuma’s and Dos Santos’ brand new alliance. Angola’s is one of the last faithful supporters of Mugabe’s regime. They are still in business and Angola provided 2500 “Ninjas”, the country’s paramilitary pole, to help Mugabe containing growing violence in his country last year. In this perspective, we can now ask ourselves how far Zuma will go to find a solution for Zimbabwe. Will he accept to share South Africa’s influence in the region with Angola? What is sure is that regional cooperation is key for Zimbabwe’s crisis.

Mathias de Alencastro is currently completing his Master´s thesis on the relationship between Brazil and Angola. He was recently accepted to do a PhD in Oxford University, Department of Politics.

[i] Zuma declarations in his media briefing were taken from : Zuma Steps On Mbeki’s Toes With Angola Visit, Hajra Omajree, Business Day, 25 March 2008

[ii] Zimbabwe and the Jacob Zuma factor, Mutumwa D. Mawere, newszimbabwe.com, 5  February 2008


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