Is Mbeki Africa’s peacemaker?

But rarely do these statesmen earn respect both in the continent and across the globe, and even more rarely is one country on the “dark continent” ever blessed enough to be able to produce two such individuals within the same era.

In Nelson Mandela and incumbent president Thabo Mbeki, South Africa appears to have produced two icons in the true tradition of the “noble statesman”.

While Mandela’s influence was deeply marginalised by the time he spent in prison, the legacy he has left his country in the spirit of unity and freedom can scarcely go unmentioned.

However it is the legacy that Madiba has left the continent in his successor that the world is slowly awakening to.

Throughout his presidency, Mbeki has endeavoured to expand the footprint of South Africa ‘s recognition across the globe. He has travelled the entire length and breadth of the globe spreading the Gospel of unity and peace, enhancing his country’s reputation as one of the African continent’s most democratic states in the process.

Now, with three years to go before he steps down from his presidency, analysts note that Mbeki appears to have set plans in motion to carry on the mantle of the continent’s peacemaker.

In a paper entitled Is Thabo Mbeki Africa’s Saviour? Gerrit Olivier suggests that Mbeki has a deep passion for foreign relations.

“Foreign relations are the main preoccupation of South African president, Thabo Mbeki. His role perception is dominated by a mission to improve the plight of Africa, and second to that, to act as the Third World’s ‘berdiplomat,” Olivier says.

More and more over the past two years Mbeki has consolidated his reputation as a diplomat in Africa . He has been actively involved in efforts to bring peace to Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and now the Ivory Coast.

South Africa invested heavily in the process towards a democratic election in the DRC and has recently begun efforts to resolve the fighting in the Ivory Coast.

Apart from his continental obligations, Mbeki has sought to strengthen relations with countries and institutions abroad.

After hosting UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on his first visit to South Africa earlier this year, Mbeki welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘ also on his first visit to the country.

He then set off on visits to Brazil (for a three-way summit with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Putin’s visit resulted in a multitude of agreements between South Africa and Russia and is expected to strengthen support for the southern African country as it assumes a post on the UN’s Security Council beginning in January next year.

“He’s definitely courting these guys to get their support for a permanent seat”,

“It’s part of an overall (project) to position South Africa as the leading spokesperson for the south,” Stellenbosch University International Affairs lecturer Janis van der Westhuizen said recently.

Analysts believe the Security Council seat will consolidate not only South Africa ‘s position, but the reputation and influence of the entire continent within the UN, which has been accused of “unequal partnerships” in its efforts to consolidate global international relations.

“There can be no doubt that Mbeki has invested a lot of effort in getting that seat, and the fact that he’s still pushing for a permanent seat means his sights are trained not only on the short term but on the long term future of the continent as well,” Wits University International Relations lecturer David Monyae said.

According to analysts, Mbeki is keen to ensure widespread backing for its ambitions to become a de facto spokesman not only for the poorest continent but the wider developing world.

South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) analyst Kurt Schillenger believes Mbeki’s focus on poverty and development has put him firmly on the road to achieving his ambition as the peacemaker of the developing world.

“For Mbeki the more pressing concern is on issues of poverty and development.

“The pursuit of a seat on the Security Council …is part of that broader effort to redefine global priorities and the distribution of global resources.

“We have seen this president try very hard to articulate different perspectives on the war on terror …to point out that he disagrees with priority the West places on global security,” Schillenger said.

His success in bringing about the development of the New Partnership for Africa ‘s Development (NEPAD) is a major point of note, and is believed by many to be his major international success so far.

But there are challenges. Observers are quick to point out his alleged “failure” to intercede in the contentious situation right next door to him in Zimbabwe.

They argue that Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” stance has done little to help the country’s economic challenges and the political standoff between that country’s ruling Zanu PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

“South Africa has strong ties with Zimbabwe and should be playing a more central role in negotiating the problems that happen there. But maybe because of his reputation as a respected diplomat people are expecting too much of Mbeki on Zimbabwe,” Dr Hassan Lamin says.

Whatever the future has to hold for Mbeki, there is widespread agreement that he has served his due as an African statesman and still has more to offer the world as an international diplomat.

October 2006
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