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Where do SA’s best interests lie globally? by Richard Calland

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Ukraine shouldn’t have worn such a short skirt. It invited trouble. It’s Ukraine’s fault that it got raped.

Some of the contextual and historical analysis of why the Russian invasion took place blames Ukraine. It shouldn’t have been so independent, so democratic — or, in some absurd accounts, so “neo-Nazi” — nor should it have aspired to Nato or European Union membership.

It’s a thin line between trying to explain why a war has broken out and what could and should have happened to prevent it, and blaming the victim for military aggression that is causing death and destruction to its people and its cities.

South Africa’s foreign policy, and its position at the United Nations, does not cross this line, despite the gnashing of teeth of certain Western diplomats and politicians. What irks them is a belief that Pretoria is appeasing Vladimir Putin or supports Russia.

This is neither accurate or fair, nor reasonable. To say that it does represents a failure to grasp South Africa’s place in the world and to understand what its diplomatic efforts have been trying to achieve.

But it was fuelled by South Africa’s position at the UN last week when two humanitarian resolutions were debated at the General Assembly. A fair analysis requires an understanding of what transpired and why.

As a first humanitarian resolution was drafted, the “pen-holders” were France and Mexico, whose aim was to achieve wide and diverse support. Most humanitarian resolutions are relatively uncontroversial and are dealt with by the UN Security Council. This one could not because it condemned the military action of one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which enjoys a veto right. So, it went to the General Assembly. South Africa, with the backing of other countries, wanted the resolution modified to maximise support.

Pretoria neither hoped nor expected to persuade Russia to support the resolution — it couldn’t since its proposed modified resolution also spoke to the need to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, as well as to refrain from destroying buildings and infrastructure — in line with Pretoria’s view that Russia is in breach of international law.

The department of international relations and cooperation had spelt this out to the ANC in a briefing days after the start of the invasion, asserting the view that Russia was violating international law by using force without the sanction of the Security Council or without there being a credible and imminent threat of the use of force by Ukraine.

South Africa’s ambassador, Mathu Joyini, was especially busy, encouraged by some EU diplomats to think that there was an opportunity to mould one resolution. Her view was that the best outcome would be a resolution that would attract maximum support and therefore make it harder for Russia to ignore a strong resolution calling for specific action on creating humanitarian corridors.

Pretoria gets that Putin is dangerous; it buys into the idea that Putin would use nuclear weapons if he is pushed into a corner, and recalls his chilling statement shortly after the invasion started that “Why do we need a world if Russia is not in it?” Which is why Pretoria is focusing so much attention on diplomacy that works, rather than grandstanding, and which might succeed in driving Putin towards a peaceful negotiation process rather than more and more dangerous bellicosity.

This may be misjudged, or naive, or may over-reach South Africa’s influence, but it is not ill-intended.

In the event, Ukraine closed the door on further revision of what by then had become its resolution. It wanted wording of condemnation of Russia. It won a clear majority, with 140 in favour, but with 38 abstentions, many of whom might have supported a single resolution that focused on the humanitarian issues rather than on condemning the Russian offensive.

What is harder to understand is why South Africa persisted with its resolution. One answer provided by the department of international relations’ diplomats is that since it had the support of a significant number of countries it was important to table it and have it voted on.

Was this a wise decision, given the blow-back that Pretoria has faced since? Was the harm to its global reputation worth risking?

Probably not, since the argument on the resolution was already lost. It was poor decision-making, perhaps, but not “bending over backwards to serve Russian masters” as some have suggested, and certainly not deserving of any “Mampara” award.

Joyini, along with colleagues such as Ambassador Ndumiso Ntshinga and Zaheer Laher back at HQ, who lead on the UN side, are seasoned diplomats, people of professional integrity.

I wonder how many of those who have passed judgment have looked at the precise wording of the two resolutions, still less troubled to speak to the people at the diplomatic coal-face.

The non-alignment position is consistent with the past two decades of South African foreign policy — with the exception of former president Jacob Zuma’s ex-spook strong-man bromance with Putin. Ramaphosa is still trying to reverse out of the dubious “obligations” that Putin’s embezzlement of Zuma in relation to the unlawful nuclear power procurement process created, and that may have some influence on how Ramaphosa deals with Putin.

But again, I can find no direct link with Pretoria’s UN stance on Ukraine.

It is a question of a difference of worldview, as well as a different set of interests, and it is surprising that so many Western diplomats and commentators cannot recognise this.

It is unreasonable of Western capitals and diplomats, who tend to see Ukraine in binary moral absolutist terms, to expect a country of the Global South, such as South Africa, with a long track record of non-alignment, to jump into line in support of Western unity.

The one time Pretoria did depart from its non-aligned approach in the case of Libya in 2011, it ended in tears when South Africa’s planned abstention on the no-fly zone UN resolution, which led to Western military intervention and the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, was overridden at the last minute by Zuma, putting South Africa on the wrong side of that history. There is scar tissue from that incident, which may also explain Pretoria’s trenchant non-alignment.

Ramaphosa’s instinct is to try to preserve good economic and diplomatic relations with a diverse range of global players — the US, the EU and the United Kingdom; but also Russia, India and China.

Fair enough. But, early in his presidency, in 2018, he went to Saudi Arabia to raise much-needed investment and returned with a $2-billion commitment in his back pocket, along with the memo on Saudi human rights violations in Yemen that the department of international relations and cooperation had prepared for him but which apparently he chose not to open and raise with Riyadh.

Economic diplomacy prevailed. Since then, International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor has returned to Riyadh and has subsequently welcomed her opposite number to Pretoria. This puts the country on thinner ice. South Africa needs jobs and inward investment, hence the interest in a good relationship with the Saudis.

But it weakens Pretoria’s criticism of the West for lack of consistency in the application of international law. Far harder to complain that “European lives matter more” than Yemenite ones when you yourself are doing business with war criminals.

The geopolitical landscape is shaking. Big questions are still to be answered, such as whether Putin will survive, the US will emerge stronger or weaker, Nato’s relevance will be fully restored and renewed or further questioned, and whether a new post-globalisation era of trading blocs built on the back of new strategic political and military alliances will form.

Regardless, the world order will not be the same again, with profound implications for everyone, including South Africa.

Where, thereafter, and in the longer-term, do South Africa’s best interests lie — not in a narrow trading or development aid perspective, but in relation to what sort of global human society it is desirable to have? One in which autocratic bullies have power and dictate the terms of global security, regimes that behead people and barely recognise women’s rights, control the price of fuel, and nationalist fascists undermine multilateral attempts to address the climate emergency?

It may be simplistic to cast the next era as a battle between liberalism and illiberalism, but South Africa needs to think much harder about where its interests really lie and position itself accordingly.

A new, multipolar world order may seem appealing, but governments  must be careful what they wish for.

Strictly Personal

UK-Rwanda relocation plan for asylum seekers is a hot potato by Charles Onyango-Obbo

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In 2019, Rwanda agreed to take in hundreds of African immigrants held in horrid conditions in detention centres in Libya under an agreement with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the African Union.

There was applause.

In August 2021, as America’s 20-year-old military and state-building campaign in Afghanistan unravelled into chaos, in Africa —Rwanda and Uganda — agreed to take in Afghanistan refugees.

Among the Afghans who relocated to Rwanda, escaping the Taliban’s well-known hostility toward education for women, were all 250 students of the famed Afghanistan Leadership School (SOLA), Afghanistan’s only boarding school for girls.

There were cheers and extravagant praise for Rwanda and Uganda. Today, Rwanda hosts nearly 140,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Uganda, on the other hand, hosts 1.5 million refugees, making it the top refugee-hosting country in Africa.

In April this year, hell broke loose. The UK announced that it had a plan to send illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda, where they would either stay or move on to other countries.

The Boris Johnson government insists the programme is aimed at disrupting people-smuggling networks and deterring migrants from making the dangerous sea journey across the English Channel to England from France.

Critics have come out swinging with fury, calling the plan immoral, racist, and several arguing it is risky because several of the human rights found in liberal democracies are absent in Rwanda. This new “democracy test” for resettlement, has opened up a tricky window into the protection business.

The UK asylum affair, meanwhile, has muscled its way into the headlines about the Commonwealth Heads of Government (Chogm) meeting being held in Kigali.

The high emotions the UK-Rwanda asylum plan has kicked up, are a pointer to how complicated, immigration and refugee have come. There are several contradictory things that are both true at the same time.

If Donald Trump’s election victory in the US in 2016, and his turbulent racist-fuelled term tell us anything, it is that the western world has reached “peak” migration.

Uncomfortable to confront, but it is probably no longer sustainable for, especially, people from the south to continue emigrating and fleeing to the West in large numbers. Domestically, the fear of people of colour “replacing” white communities is reaching a fever pitch, and fuelling extreme right-wing politics.

We’ve to grant it. The demographic make-up of the West is changing, and by the end of this century, white people will be minorities in nearly all the major European countries. Not too many people will take their disappearance with great fortitude.

For the western left and progressives, migration and the diverse nations it makes possible is where they see the future of their play in politics. For businesses, migrants provide a new pool of cheap labour, ensuring their profit in a world where China is eating their lunch. Things like the UK-Rwandan plan, do have long-term political and economic consequences.

Yet, that doesn’t explain why the resettlements of immigrants from Libya and Afghanistan in Africa weren’t attacked. The difference could be because Libya’s and Afghanistan’s crises are partly outcomes of western — NATO and the US — interventions that went horribly wrong. The repatriations are a much-needed clean-up of the mess — and there is some consensus of the western left and right on that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

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Tanko Muhammad, Ekweremadu and health of Nigeria by Suyi Ayodele

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What happened to the Nigerian judiciary under the now retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, is a symptom of an ailing nation. We must all come to admit that Nigeria is a country that needs moral transplant. Who will be the donor is what we don’t know. That the aeroplane-driving CJN retired after his “brother justices” accused him of misconduct is never news to celebrate. The resignation itself is never a part of the diagnosis of what ails the country. And I sincerely do hope that the General Muhammadu Buhari administration will not because of the belated retirement  roll out the drums to celebrate his tough stance on the fight against corruption!  The judiciary is expected to be the healthiest of the three arms of government. Its chronic illness under Tanko is a pointer to the general well being of the government in power. The undertakers should not be far away as their services may be required soon.

In Africa’s worldview, a healthy man is a wealthy man. The saying, “health is wealth,” underscores the importance human beings attach to sound health. Without sound health, man becomes useless. This is why sane countries of the world don’t play with their healthcare delivery. But it is not so in Nigeria, a country which prides itself as the “Giant of Africa”. By that sobriquet, one would expect that Nigeria would tower above other African countries in all ramifications of life. If you are wondering why we are this low in all aspects of life as a nation, just take a look at our health care delivery system. If Nigeria’s health is failing, or has failed, the citizenry cannot be healthy. For those who care to know, Nigeria is not just ill, it is terminally ill.

Some two years ago or so, I had the misfortune of rushing an ailing church member to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH. At the close of service that fateful Sunday, a friend and I had planned to go out with our spouses. We drove out of the church premises and saw the ailing woman being aided to the road to get a taxi to the hospital. We picked her up in my friend’s car while I joined him and asked the women to use my own car. By Ehaekpen Road, the woman gave up the ghost in the car. But we continued the journey to the UBTH. At the Accident and Emergency section of the hospital, she was confirmed as BID (Brought In Dead). That was where our ordeal began. The relation in the car contacted other family members and agreed that the remains of the woman be deposited at the hospital’s morgue. To our utter embarrassment, UBTH had no BID form to take the woman’s profile and have her corpse deposited in the morgue. For over two hours, the corpse was left in our car. I had to ask one of the hospital attendants in charge to copy the information of a used BID form at the back of another used form and fill in for the dead woman. I knew then that we had bigger problems than anyone could imagine. If a teaching hospital, as big as the UBTH, had no ordinary BID form, one can imagine the state of the General Hospital at Afrikpo, or Balewa Village or at Itawure!

This is why, at the slightest discomfort of headache, the locust masquerading as our leaders jet out of Nigeria to seek medical help abroad. From personnel to equipment, infrastructure to medications, hospitals in Nigeria are killing fields. In his 2017 article titled: ‘Africa’s presidents keep going abroad for medical treatment rather than fixing healthcare at home,’ published in Qartz Africa, an online publication, Yomi Kazeem has this to say: “The preference for an international doctor’s appointment is steeped in irony as these leaders often make promises about improving local healthcare a central part of their campaigns while seeking office. But by looking beyond the continent for medical solutions, African leaders maintain a vicious cycle which keeps faith in public healthcare low while channeling substantial state resources to hospitals abroad rather than plug local healthcare gaps. In many African countries, this reality is all too apparent. According to the World Health Organisation estimates, with a shortage of 4.2 million health workers, Africa is the region with the world’s second-worst health worker shortage”. Zeroing down on Nigeria, Kazeem  quoted WHO as saying that: “In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, the shortage  will be less severe if the health system could call on the services of the up to 15,000 Nigerian doctors estimated to be working outside the country. But there’s little motivation for doctors practising abroad to return home with crumbling infrastructure, lack of drugs and poor compensation.” If in 2017, we had 15,000 Nigerian medical doctors working outside the shores of the country, your guess is as good as mine on what the figure will be now.

Nothing, in recent time speaks to the parlous state of our healthcare delivery system more than last Thursday’s arrest of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice, by the Metropolitan Police in far away United Kingdom. According to the reports of the arrest, the former deputy senate president was accused of trafficking a child to the UK for organ harvest and slavery. A statement issued by the Met police says “Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu, 55 (10.9.66) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting. Ike Ekweremadu, 60 (12.05.62) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting. They have both been remanded in custody and will appear at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court later today. A child has been safeguarded and we are working closely with partners on continued support. As criminal proceedings are now under way we will not be providing further details”. Ever since, the senator’s team has responded to state that the alleged “organ harvest victim” is not a 15-year-old street lad, but a 22-year old adult who volunteered to donate one of his organs for Ekweremadu’s daughter, Sonia, who is having challenges with her kidney. My thrust here is not to probe into the veracity or otherwise of the claims that the supposed organ donor, David Nwamini Ukpo, was shipped to the UK legally. I would also not bother to interrogate whether Ukpo is on his own an opportunist, who, according to claims, when he realised that he would be shipped back to Nigeria after his organ failed to match that of Sonia,  decided to raise false alarms of abuse and what have you. No, my focus is why, in the first instance, Ekweremadu had to depend on a UK hospital for an organ transplant operation for his darling daughter.

The problem with the Enugu-born senator is the problem with all our political leaders in Nigeria. Like the saying goes: “all are thieves but he who is caught is the barawo”. For crying out loud, Ekweremadu has been in the corridors of power since the time lizards were few. He is a confirmed “omo ijoba” (government child). Two years before the advent of the current political disaster we call democratic governance, he was elected chairman of Aniri Local Government Area of Enugu State on the platform of the defunct United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP. He was elected into the Senate in 2003 and was deputy Senate president for 12 years, beginning with the era of David Mark, through to Bukola Saraki. In his 19-year stay in the Senate, like his other political leeches feeding fat on our patrimony without a whim of concern for the common good, Ekweremadu did not see any reason why Nigeria should have well -equipped hospitals where ailments like organ failure of any shade could be treated. Unfortunately, Ekweremadu is not the only culprit in the league of Nigerian leaders engaged in medical tourism. The league, as we all know, is led by General Muhammadu Buhari, who holds the life trophy of spending 104 days at a stretch on a London hospital bed at our expense, with the presidential jet parked at Heathrow Airport, accumulating demurrage! When we add the BTA of his personal aides who accompanied him to the UK, Buhari will go down in history as the man who spent what could have built for the nation a decent hospital for the use of the people on a single medical trip abroad. So, when news of the arrest of Ike and Beatrice Ekweremadu filtered in, what easily came to my mind is the saying that when the head is rotten, the tail will be home for maggots! Cumulatively, an August 5, 2021 report by the Premium Times of Nigeria, puts the number of days General Buhari had spent on medical tourism to the UK at 200. You may wish to ask: did Buhari not talk about the parlous state of the nation’s health institution while seeking our votes in 2014? Did he not assure us that he would not go abroad for medical attention? Kazeem, quoted earlier, answers the posers.

That done, as humans, we may also wish to look at the desperation of the father-figure Ekweremadu presents as he seeks a medical solution to his ailing daughter’s health. There is a deep prayer among my people which says: “ki Oluwa ma fi ina omo jo wa” (May God not allow us to be scorched by the death of our child). This is where I believe that our thoughts should be with Miss Ekweremadu as she battles for survival at this critical moment. It is even more important for us to spare a moment of prayer for Sonia, now that the most important caregivers of her life, the parents, are in detention. The thought that her parents are locked up in cells in the UK because of her is devastating enough for the poor girl. While we have the assurance that, unlike what we have in Nigeria, the UK Government would not allow Sonia to be left unattended to, we cannot overemphasise the importance of the presence of her parents at this crucial  time. Again, that the Ekweremadus were picked up on their way to Turkey is an indication of how desperate they were to bring their daughter back to sound health. We may frown at the method employed to achieve that. We may interrogate why the replacement for the failing organ was not sourced within the family circles. In all that, we must have it at the back of our minds that every mother hen uses her back to shield her chicks from the ravenous hawk. We therefore call on the Almighty God, our Healer, to stretch His healing hands on Sonia and make this storm to pass. We pray that she surmounts this mountain before her and becomes useful to Nigerian society and humanity in general. We also pray that after this, every Ekweremadu in leadership in Nigeria will see the need to build up our health institutions and other decayed infrastructure in the country as doing so is also in their own interest. May Sonia live!

 

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