Mbeki’s foreign policy – once again – puzzles the international community

Confusion reigns, once again in the international community over South African President Thabo Mbeki's recent foreign policy stance, according to the US Council on Foreign Relations.

South Africa has sought to block passage of a United Nations General Assembly resolution on government-sponsored rape. A report in the New York Times quotes US officials criticising South Africa for claimiming its position to be Africa’s stance even as three African countries most affected by the issue – Burundi, Liberia and Congo – signed on as co-sponsors.

The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) says that this latest incident is “emblematic of the disappointment American and European policymakers express with post-Mandela South Africa, a state they hoped would play a more muscular role as an advocate of stability and human rights in Africa.”

Earlier this year the international community looked on in dismay as South African diplomats worked feverishly to prevent the UN Security Council taking strong action against repressive regimes in Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

South Africa also opposed sanctions against Iran, which is thought to be pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. The UK Economist magazine summed up European frustration: “From being a rate African beacon for human rights, it has become more like most other countries around the word – putting their own interests first before principle.”

But it is Mbeki’s stance on Zimbabwe that has invited the strongest condemnation from the internaitonal community for his policy of “quiet diplomacy” towards Zimbabwe, which hovers on the brink of economic collapse.

Speculating on the reasons for Mbeki’s stance towards Zimbabwe, the CFR suggests it is his lack of “respect” for the opposition, the MDC, in Zimbabwe, led by trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai, that has hampered any real progress towards a political solution. Least of all Mbeki does not want a union-led party to set a precedent in the region.

Mbeki’s admirers claim that he has done an enormous amount to create a pan-African ‘mood’ on the continent, helping create the African Union and NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Mbeki’s critics claim that while he has pursued a strong foreign policy agenda, particularly on the African continent, he has failed to address more pressing domestic demands. Unemployment stands anywhere between 40 percent and 60 percent and the matter of job creation remains a huge challenge that until now, 16 years into black rule, has failed to produce any tangible or real results.

Added to this, Mbeki is almost universally criticised for his refusal to accept global scientific consensus on HIV/Aids.

One commentator suggests that Mbeki’s strong global interests may be a way of deflecting attention from domestic problems. A new leader, it is anticipated, will certainly be expected to spend more time on domestic priorities. The current mood in the country would certainly indicate a strong pull in that direction.

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