South Africa to join UN Security Council. Will it take lead on Africa conflicts?
South Africa is one of five countries elected by the United Nations on Tuesday to serve on the Security Council for two-year terms, beginning Jan. 1.
(Page 2 of 2)
South Africa wants equal footing
In past years, when Western colonial powers and cold war rivals took a much more controlling approach to Africa, continental conflicts were treated as a matter of mere muscle. African despots were either tolerated, or treated like misbehaving children, but rarely treated as equal partners.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Recent efforts to enforce international laws on human rights – such as arresting former Liberian President Charles Taylor and charging Mr. Bashir war crimes and genocide – are often seen by African leaders in this same paternalistic light. After all, Mr. Habib notes, the United States itself has exempted itself and its commanders from the same war-crimes laws that African leaders must abide by.
To persuade strongman leaders like Bashir or Mr. Mugabe, South Africa has tended to be more accommodating, but Habib says that doesn’t have to mean South Africa would get nothing in return.
In Sudan, for instance, where South Africa’s former President Thabo Mbeki has been assigned a leading mediation role by the African Union, South Africa can devote significant diplomatic energy to ensure that the referendum passes off peacefully, and to ensure that Bashir and his generals see it in their personal interest and in the national interest to accept the results.
South Africa's pragmatic path
It’s all very well to urge the international community to arrest Bashir for war crimes, but when the Sudanese leader still has the power to rule a country, and to send his troops into war, Habib argues that the better path is pragmatism.
In Sudan, and also in Zimbabwe, this means that South Africa would cut a deal with Bashir or Mugabe, to moderate their behavior in exchange for peace.
“Whether we like it or not, Mugabe is a thug, but he is a thug with guns, so then you must engage him,” says Habib. “So how do you force him to come honestly to the table?”
The key, he says, is to give Mugabe assurances that giving away power will not necessarily mean a ticket to a war crimes trial in The Hague. “ 'As a trade, you and your generals don’t have to go to the ICC, but in exchange, you have to guarantee peace,' " Habib says South Africa will say to African despots. "And that debate has to be put on the agenda of the Security Council, by South Africa.”