Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Russia – Ukraine war stress tests SADC’s non-alignment

There may be cracks in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as evidenced by Botswana’s recent vote at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) alongside other member states on February 23, the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

The UNGA vote occurred just seven months after SADC member states met twice – in August 2022 and January 2023 – and reaffirmed their ‘non-Alignment on conflicts outside the continent and the region at multilateral fora’.

In January this year, SADC held a summit which was chaired by President of Namibia, Dr. Hage G. Geingob, in his capacity as the Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation. A statement posted by the 16 member regional bloc on their website states: “Summit adopted the draft SADC Declaration on the USA proposed ‘Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act’ which shall be submitted to the African Union Commission for consideration and urged Member States to communicate SADC’s position and reaffirmed the stance of Non-Alignment on conflicts outside the continent and the region at multilateral fora.”

The summit was a follow-up to the 42nd Ordinary Summit of the SADC Heads of State and Government, which was convened in Kinshasa on August 17, 2022, and was attended by Vice President Slumber Tsogwane. A Communique of the August summit reaffirmed the principled position of Non-Alignment to any conflicts outside the Continent.

But the recent UNGA vote calling for Moscow to withdraw its forces and put an end to hostilities shows that South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola abstained from the vote. On the other hand, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Madagascar and Mauritius voted in favour of the resolution. Eswatini and Tanzania did not take part in the voting.

Yet therein lies the problem.

Does abstaining from the February 23 UNGA vote calling for the cessation of hostilities imply that you are “non-aligned,” that you have picked sides and are “aligned”, or that you are just implicit?

Does South Africa’s abstention from five UN resolutions on Ukraine imply that the nation is neutral and non-aligned, as they claim?

Is it possible for South Africa to be neutral while also having received assistance from Russia in the form of education, money, and weapons during their liberation fight against the apartheid regime?

Simply put, is it possible to be non-aligned in the midst of a conflict?

A professor of global politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Stephen Chan said the conflict in Ukraine has exposed how difficult it is for African countries to negotiate a foreign political system diplomatically. He continued by predicting that the continent would have a harder time effectively navigating among the three superpowers [U.S.A, China and Russia].

It is difficult to get a clear meaning of what non-alignment means from the corridors of power without encountering diplomatic jargon, which is often excessively complicated, cautious, or vague.

Given the geopolitical wrangling in the SADC region among the three superpowers, namely the United States, China, and Russia, attempts by SADC member states to advance a non-aligned stance appear hazy. Additionally, the actions by some SADC member states, which could be categorised as a clear attempt to provoke some of the super powers, cannot be considered as being ‘non-aligned’.

Without SADC having a clear foreign policy on the Ukraine war, one wouldn’t be blamed for sticking with foreign policy experts engaged in global policy leadership who say that “non-alignment” is entirely dependent on who you ask. In psychology, it is said that “doing nothing is doing something, especially if doing nothing supports your values.” Perhaps SADC could learn from this.


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