September 9th, 2011
03:17 PM GMT
Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) Many here in Africa are still struggling to come to terms with the increasing realization that the Gadhafi regime is all but over.
South Africa recently recommitted itself to the African Union’s “roadmap” as a way to resolve the crisis in Libya. For South Africa, the solution involves an “interim government” in which “nobody must be left out,” according to a government spokesperson.
It is unclear just how inclusive South Africa would like this ideal Libyan government to be. Do they suggest Gadhafi or just Gadhafi loyalists share power with the rebel leaders?
This vision of a negotiated settlement, where enemies and friends hammer out a political compromise over a table, not a desert battle field, is a model South Africa has championed across the continent.
Zimbabwe and Kenya, for example, are both laboring under “governments of national unity.” For critics, this kind of government allows the loser or incumbent to hold onto power while giving the opposition a place in the seat of government.
Each of these examples is a special case and has their own unique context, but there is criticism that South Africa prefers a one-size-fits-all approach to any conflict or crisis on the continent.
The reason for South Africa’s dogmatic insistence on “negotiated settlements” is, they say, based on the historic agreement that saw the creation of a democratic South Africa in 1994.
This came after years of talking and compromise between the apartheid government and the liberation movements. South Africa believes its “miracle” of a peaceful political transition should be replicated and encouraged where possible.
Cynics like to helpfully remind the apparently idealistic South Africans that in the prelude to negotiations there were decades of violence in apartheid South Africa; even the now-ruling ANC committed itself to an “armed struggle” that was only rescinded just before the first democratic elections.
However, based on their own moral victory at the negotiating table and their standing in the continent, South Africans like to see themselves as punching above their weight in the United Nations and other multilateral institutions.
They believe they deserve a seat on the U.N. Security Council and suggest the country’s recent admission to the developing club of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations is another example of South Africa’s soft power on the international stage.
However, just how realistic is this foreign policy? As South Africa digs its heels in regarding Libya’s future, many worry that the country’s stubborn refusal to see beyond a framework of negotiations and interim governments is harming the Southern African nation’s reputation.
One news report suggested “South Africa’s out-of-sync foreign policy may cost it dearly.” Another newspaper suggested that South Africa’s policy towards Libya has been “inconsistent and arguably naïve.”
There will be many who agree with South Africa’s so-called “principled” stance towards Libya – even though they voted for the initial U.N. resolution on humanitarian grounds President Zuma has repeatedly said the NATO bombing campaign is being misused to push for “regime change.”
Since it emerged as a democratic nation, South Africa’s diplomats have sought to align themselves with the developing world or the “South.”
They have steadfastly refuse to abandon old liberation friends, such as Gadhafi, and have consistently become more aggressively anti-Western in their outlook.
This approach earns traction from Africans who feel mistreated or misunderstood by the “North.” Others suggest the policy is based on an “us-versus-them” attitude, which is not helpful to any of the role players.
As the last days of Gadhafi appear to draw to a close, is this type of policy a morally principled stand or just confused and naïve wishful thinking?
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