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Chris Landsberg and Francis Kornegay

Centre for Policy Studies (South Africa)


Since the inception of South Africa’s embryonic democracy, the country’s foreign policy in general and Africa policy in particular has evoked much scrutiny. For much of this period, there was a widely held perception -- both inside and outside government -- that the new ANC-led governing elite has little conception of South Africa’s vital national interests in Africa (). Without this conception, many contended, it is impossible for South Africa to implement a coherent foreign policy that will pay huge dividends in terms of what is seen as the country’s main principles, notably a commitment to the continent.

So pronounced did the criticisms and attacks become that, three years after liberation, the country is now starting to seriously sort out its foreign policy priorities. These include a commitment to human rights, democratisation, arms control and disarmament and above all, a dedication to Africa. But, this new-found commitment notwithstanding, Pretoria remain torn between what its deputy-president Thabo Mbeki sees as "africanisation" and a western-orientation.

For example, South Africa remains the international "flavour of the year" in many western quarters. It enjoys significant standing in Washington, London, Bonn, Paris and Stockholm due to the stature of the Mahatma-like aura of its president, Nelson Mandela (). Another cause for celebration in the western capitals is the Republic's successful -- albeit bumpy -- consolidation of its infant democracy. Western leaders typically want to be seen to be close to Pretoria; South Africa is often regarded as their foremost ally in Africa.

Pretoria in turn is favourably disposed towards the western powers. Given the ANC government's fundamental foreign policy objective -- of securing foreign investment in, and market access for, South Africa abroad -- the government understandably wants to align itself with the western world. It is this orientation in particular that came in for serious scrutiny over the past three years. Now there are signs that Pretoria's foreign policy architects is starting to take Africa seriously. But what triggered this tilt towards Africa?

In the aftermath of assuming the South African Development Community (SADC) presidency, Pretoria started to shed its image of " reluctant African redeemer " (). In recent months it went out in search of scoring points in African peace diplomacy. It played a bridge-building role in Angola; it pursued the role of facilitator in Burundi; it reversed a decision to sell arms to volatile Rwanda -- a request that came from Uganda’s Yoweri Maseveni. Above all, President Mandela’s deputy -- and heir-apparent -- Thabo Mbeki demonstrated South Africa’s new-found commitment to Africa by playing a peacemaker role in war-torn Zaire. In the process South Africa upstaged its African "rival" when Zairean rebels accepted South African leadership in peace negotiations while declining a competing Nigerian offer. While the Zairean peace talks taxed the skills of Pretoria’s negotiators heavily, Pretoria rose to the occasion; it saw involvement in troubled Zaire as a golden opportunity to assert a South African presence in Africa.

The decision to engage Zaire highlighted the fact that South Africa's foreign policy process is a highly personalised, bureaucratic and oligarchic affair. Thabo Mbeki typically dominates the foreign policy machinery (). He is now ready to become "Mr Africa" himself (). As future president, he is in the throws of working out an ambitious African policy. The thrust of the new African policy avows that "the African Renaissance is upon us". Says Mbeki: The African experience of many decades which teaches us, as Africans, that what we tried did not work, that the one-party states and the military governments will not work."

South Africa’s Zairean excursion was the desire, wishes and decisions of deputy president Thabo Mbeki, fully endorsed by president Nelson Mandela. He has long called the strings of South Africa’s foreign policy and external diplomatic manoeuvres. For Mbeki, Africa presents both and end per-se, and a means to an end.

In virtually all western capitals, Thabo Mbeki is regarded as a "doer" rather than a "talker"(). Westerners envy his ability to show a combination of diplomacy as well as ruthless commitment to a vision. He is decision oriented man; an organisation man par excellence () Mbeki is often likened to Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, the central African power broker. Both these African stalwarts believe ultimately that Africa’s awakening will happen along democratic and capitalist lines. Mbeki’s approach to Africa is a fascination combination of the stick - armed support to central Africa, and the carrot - brokering peace deals in Africa ().

Thabo Mbeki is particularly sensitive about a "Big Brother" syndrome (). Instead, he wants to portray an image of Pan-Africanism, hence the steady emphasis on a "Renaissance Africa". But there is a danger that "Renaissance Africa" could verge on a Pax Pretoriana, that is to say making Africa safe for South Africa's foreign policy goals without due regard for the sensitivities. Mbeki's run the risk of becoming a Pan Africanism that verges on a southern African exceptionalism.

Mbeki is also keen to balance an "Africanist" posture with a broader western orientation. For example, in 1995 and 1996, South Africa played a dominant role in concluding the controversial permanent extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (). Pretoria was instrumental in bolstering the African nuclear weapons-free zone of Pelindaba (). But as with many other foreign policy issues, South Africa’s diplomacy still face major challenges on this score. Debates about nuclear proliferation are far from resolved. The question remains as to whether consensus on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is still achievable. It will be interesting to see how South Africa bolsters African support this time around.

Early indications are that South Africa does hope that in conjunction with other non-aligned players, it could exert pressure on the nuclear weapon states. The objective behind such pressure is to compel the nuclear powers - the United States, France, Russia, Britain and China - to demonstrate their willingness to de-emphasise the possession of nuclear weapons as a currency of global diplomacy (). It remains to be seen whether South Africa does have the stomach to follow up on its promises ().

South Africa’s presidency of the United Nations Congress on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is another avenue through which it hope to play the roles both of African reconciler and North-South bridge-builder. Specifically, the Republic sees this as a unique opportunity to promote fair trade as opposed to simply free trade as espoused by the World Trade Organisation (). It strongly emphasises the importance of benefits to Africa.

Staying with multi-lateral concerns, Pretoria is convinced the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation (IOR) will benefit the country’s trade relations. This envisaged grouping will not be constructed on the basis of preferential trade blocs. Instead, trade liberalisation will comply with WTO rules. The IOR will also focus on regional co-operation and trade facilitation. But it is not clear how the IOR will benefit the Southern African region. In all likelihood, South Africa's pursuit of the IOR -- just like its negotiations with the European Union over a free trade area (FTA) -- could strain relations between itself and its SADC partners. This is yet another torn in the flesh of an emerging `Renaissance Africa' policy.

If South Africa is to pursue a purposive Africa policy, it will have to learn some hard lessons from past foreign policy blunders. One of the more pertinent fiascos must surely be the Nigeria debacle (). Just like Renaissance Africa, Nigerian "quite diplomacy" was the brain-child of Mbeki. South Africa never clearly formulated whether it should engage Nigeria and Sani Abacha, let alone how to do so. Nor did South Africa enjoy any backing from its southern African partners. The end result was a stalled process and serious divisions on the continent (). A future Mbeki-administration will have to learn the art of managing the divisions on the continent and animosities toward the "big brother in the South". Pretoria will also have to take the challenge of consulting and winning over the confidence of Africa more seriously.

Beyond some obvious blunders, South Africa is particularly concerned about a "bully on the bloc" syndrome. Rather, it would like to be viewed as a true peacemaker, a constructive African power. In economic terms, however, it is often viewed as wanting to grab at every African market opportunity that comes its way, but show reluctance to enhance Africa’s capacities. These pitfalls notwithstanding, Pax Pretoriana is now being taken seriously in the west and in Africa. It is proving to be a huge public relations success story. The big question remains: will South Africa's future African diplomats be able to manage the policy on a divided African theatre?

It is for these reasons that South Africa’s diplomatic ventures in Zaire became so pronounced. Pretoria deliberately put its diplomatic credentials on the line. It wanted to restore its damage pride in Africa after the Nigerian fiasco; Pretoria set out to shed its image of reluctant redeemer. The most dramatic revelation of South Africa’s involvement in Zaire is the fact that it completely outstaged France who has long pursued a policy of " gardons l’Afrique "( .

South Africa's new bold African initiatives also suggests that the new elite in Pretoria is starting to subscribe to the notion of African inter-dependence. Specifically translated into Zairan terms it is the belief that a peaceful Zaire, which realises its economic and security potential, is in the interest not only of Africa, but South Africa itself. It is in this regard that president Mandela and his heir-apparent stress the importance of diplomacy and moral authority, rather than gunboat tactics. One thing seems clear, after Mandela's initial procrastination -- based on a reconciliation worldview -- South Africa has effectively shed its apologetic African posture. It has dawned on South African decision-makers that if the Republic is to assume its status as an African power, they will have to engage with the continent, not only economically but also politically and socially. But there are some dissenting voices back home, notably from a new brand of isolationists (). Many of these neo-isolationists complain that South Africa’s own pressing problems at home, notably its rising tide of violent crime, demands attention at home, not abroad. Needless to say, the Zairian anguish may finally imprint and bring home to these neo-isolationists that South Africa’s own security, prosperity and political space is heavily dependent on stability further north.

There are also dissenting voices from some African quarters under Nigeria vanguard, and including Zimbabwe, Kenya, and The Sudan. These states are increasingly becoming irritated by South Africa's flexing of its diplomatic muscle. They are also aggrieved that South Africa stole their thunder as roving giants of Africa.

Thus, the question is not whether South Africa is the hegemon of Africa. Instead, it is whether South Africa, under the leadership of Mbeki, will be able to manage the political divisions on the African continent. Also, will South Africa be skilful in managing its relations with France and America in the wake of an emerging `Cold Peace' between the two?


With the abrupt volte face in Zaire, there has been much attention paid to an apparent decline in France’s position in Africa. This is happening amid a perception of an almost desperate bid by Paris to maintain its African sphere-of-influence against what is seen as an anglophone ascendancy (). This emergence is aided and abetted by the US. On this score the ongoing quagmire in the Central African Great Lakes has brought the challenge facing French neo-colonialism into sharp relief. This was mainly caused by Paris’ positioning within the alignment of contending forces in this sub-regional conflict. In effect, the Great Lakes conflict is also a crisis for French-Africa policy. But the question remain: to what extent can Paris’ recent troubles be attributed to US policy, especially when Africa fails to register on the map of US foreign policy, with the exception of South Africa of course? Is Paris’ expression of anti-American sentiment, which strikes a cord among some African constituencies, a smokescreen obscuring other aims or problems?

In the wake of an episode of bad feeling regarding Paris’ comments critical of the US proposed African Crisis Response Force (ACRF), suggesting it to be an election-inspired proposal, French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette played down Franco-American tensions on Africa, saying that he totally reject the idea that there is a Franco-American confrontation in Africa; not even a competition. He believes that the two powers have converging interests in Africa: the stabilisation and development of Africa, the resolution of the crisis in the Great Lakes region. The French foreign minister also argued that there is no French or American private domain in Africa or anywhere else. But while such reassurances are comforting, recent episodes such as the verbal tit-for-tat over the ACRF suggest that there is no total harmony between Paris and Washington over Africa. But is the US the real source of France’s recent setbacks in Africa?

If not America, who than? The challenges to the Francophone status-quo may at least in part be attributable to the rise of the new South Africa. As an indigenous great power on the continent, South Africa's post-apartheid emergence gave great clout to the Southern African Development Community (SADC); France has acknowledged this new reality.

Both under former president Francois Mitterand and currently Jacque Chirac, Paris wanted to fashion a modus operandi with Pretoria under the rubric of complemetarite whereby it concedes South Africa’s sphere-of-influence in Southern Africa while France’s sphere-of-influence is acknowledged in the rest of Africa. However, this runs against the grain of South Africa’s pronounced anti-hegemonic posture vis-à-vis the rest of Africa. This is reinforced by an anti-neo-colonial impulse grounded in the governing ANC’s anti-imperialist legacy as a liberation movement. There is also a question of the sincerity of Paris in how it relates to Pretoria. There are indications that in the pursuit of its own national interests, France will even go against the interests of Southern Africa.

The politics surrounding the 1995 sweepstakes for the presidency of the African Development Bank(ADB) is a case in point. At a time when an emergent Southern Africa should have been allowed to have one of its own to head up the ADB and, indeed, had an excellent candidate in World Bank vice-president Tim Thahane of Lesotho -- now a Deputy Governor of the South African Reserve Bank. He was denied the post by an alliance of convenience between Nigeria and France, through its francophone African clients, to the benefit of Moroccan candidate in spite of Rabat’s non-membership in the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The broader context of this anti-South African alignment included South Africa’s campaign against the execution of celebrated Nigerian poet-activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and SADC’s failure to support Nigeria’s candidate for the ADB presidency ().

In addition, France was not alone among Western powers, who, in essence, allowed South Africa to go out on a limb by itself in lobbying for international sanctions against the Abacha regime in Abuja after the collapse of `quite diplomacy'. But what the Nigerian-French deal on the ADB presidency underlined was a shared perception by both Paris and Abuja of a common or convergent interest in checking the influence of South Africa and southern Africa in inter-African affairs.


Recent developments in the Zairian theatre of the Great Lakes saga, featuring the abrupt closure of the Mobutu chapter on that country’s hapless history, brings into sharper relief the role of South Africa and the US in supplanting what was, in essence, the strategic focal point of the French sphere-of-influence in Africa. The question that needs to be unpacked is whether or not these trends necessarily represent an anti-French coalition of forces? Do they constitute something more complex in the interaction of the US and South Africa with regard to the rest of Africa and the francophone sphere-of-influence?

Here, the US-South African relationship comes in for critical examination since all is not necessarily the smooth relationship that it appears to be on the surface notwithstanding the Mbeki-Gore Bi-National Commission (BNC). Consider for example the fracas over arms sales to Syria, relations with Iran and ties with Castro's Cuba ().

Among Western powers, burden shift to Pretoria is now popular. The US is not alone in perceiving a pre-eminent leadership role for South Africa in the affairs of the continent. However, America’s status as the sole remaining superpower singles it out for suspicion in the perception of many South Africans who perceive a US agenda that, among other things, calls for South Africa to play the role of a surrogate for US interests in Africa. The fact that there is a considerable degree of parallelism or convergence in South African and US interests in Africa may only reinforce this ‘surrogate’ notion while obscuring South Africa’s real interests. For example, anglophone East Africa from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, on down on to the east-central African heartland of SADC, forms a natural geo-political-cultural-economic zone linking South Africa to its neighbours to the north, countries with which the US has tended to have reasonably good relations.

What is new to this mix, with implications for French interests, are the incorporation of lusophone Mozambique into the British-inspired Commonwealth. This affiliation binds all other members of SADC, and the expansion of the anglophonic influence of Uganda into French-speaking Rwanda on the crest of the Museveni-backed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Both Rwanda and Uganda now serve as key sponsors of the Alliance of Democratic Forces of the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) which toppled the Hutu-aligned government of President Mobutu Sese Seko.



The US has had long-standing close relations with Museveni’s Uganda and other East African regimes. It has aligned itself with Uganda along with Ethiopia and Eritrea in an attempt to isolate and undermine the Islamic regime in the Sudan. This tends to reinforce the notion of an anglophone conspiracy since Paris has not only remained a close backer of Mobutu but was supportive of the RPF in Rwanda. None of these East African US and South African linkages represent a co-ordinated Pretoria-Washington strategy. Instead it was much more a coincidence of interests between the two. France has had the misfortune of, in effect outmanoeuvreing itself in the ethnic geopolitics of east-central Africa which ultimately saw it on the wrong side of the endgame in Zaire.

This self-marginalisation by France was compounded on the western flank by the emergence of MPLA-led Angola as a key sponsor of the ADFL Kabila forces in their relentless drive to power, from eastern Zaire through to the outskirts of Kinshasa. Mobutu has continued to serve as a rearguard mainstay of Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA forces in the diamond-rich areas of Angola controlled by Savimbi’s forces. Robert Mugabe'sZimbabwe also came out in favour of Kabila, further tilting the balance to his advantage.

Mobutu, backed by France, has remained an external factor undermining the stabilisation of Angola and, by extension, the stability of the SADC subregion. Mobutu, in effect, has played a central destabilising role in the heart of Africa, from Angola in the west to Rwanda in the east. And now, this has all finally backfired on him with serious fallout for French Africa policy. All that Paris would need now is for Angola to join with Mozambique in becoming a member of the Commonwealth with the possibility of a post-Mobutu Zaire joining as well. This trend was triggered by the new South Africa’s induction into the Commonwealth and the consolidation of SADC as a Commonwealth bastion. But if this pro-Commonwealth expansion is the ultimate outcome, France has only itself to blame for the extent to which it has gone. Paris was more interested in pursuing a cynical policy of realpolitik that has little to do with what is in the best interest of Africa. On the other hand, however, would a Commonwealth-based anglophone expansion necessarily constitute and expansion of US influence? Or, might it not foreshadow something more indigenous -- the expansion of a hegemonic SADC, a real possibility should a post-Zaire -- the newly-baptised Democratic Republic of Congo -- eventually become accepted as a member of the SADC.


Still, it is ironic that Paris and Washington would end up on opposite sides of the Zairian endgame. They were both Cold War strategic partners in backing Mobutu and, through Mobutu, the apartheid South African backed Savimbi forces in Angola. For many in South Africa, it appears as though the US policy switch on Zaire from backing Mobutu to pronouncing that "Mobutism has come to an end" constitutes an abrupt U-turn. On closer examination, this change in US policy toward the Mobutu regime in Zaire culminates in a lengthy evolution which points to major differences in the domestic politics of foreign policy in the US and France. As was the case with US policy toward South Africa, the policy change came "from below", emanating from the lobbying efforts of pro-Africa and human rights activist constituency groups bringing pressure to bear on Congress during the late 1980’s through the House and Senate Africa Subcommittees and the Democratic Party leadership ( ).

The resulting anti-Mobutuist pressures, through the Congressional appropriation process, led to a cut off of all US developmental aid and security supporting assistance save for humanitarian aid to Zaire. Even as the Reagan and Bush Administrations relied on Mobutu to advance their late Cold War-inspired policies in southern Africa they focused principally on Angola and South Africa. Thus, by the early 1990’s US policy toward Zaire had counterpoised by an increasingly anti-Mobutu policy in the legislative branch.

With the onset of the Clinton Administration which reflected the tendency of the Democratic party to sympathise with the positions of Africa and human rights activist constituency groups, the US began to distance itself from Mobutu. This became especially pronounced as pressures for `democratisation' began to increasingly dictate aid flows to Africa. The distancing from Mobutu was further accelerated by the end of the Cold War and the search for a negotiated political settlement to the civil war in Angola to accompany negotiated democratic transitions underway in South Africa and Mozambique. Thus, by the mid-1990’s, France had become Mobutu’s main ally which enabled him to successfully resist internal and external pressures for democratisation while stoking instability in neighbouring countries.

It is during this period, especially with the onset of the Clinton Administration in 1994, when US and French policy on Zaire began to radically diverge. To be sure the US policy shift was a low-key development overshadowed by the dominant US-Africa policy emphasis on supporting the transition to democracy in South Africa. However, in hindsight, this divergence between Washington and Paris on Zaire may have foreshadowed the realignment of forces in Central Africa in managing a Zairian/Great Lakes crisis that has effectively marginalised France.


Although France’s political elite and opinion makers tend to perceive of themselves as having a much deeper commitment to, and involvement in, Africa than the US, France does not have the same panorama of ethnically- and interest group-based foreign policy constituencies as is the case in the US. Policies at the level of the executive and legislative levels can be challenged and changed in bringing about corrective adjustments in regionally-targeted foreign policies that may result in the US becoming more compatibly aligned with regional actors.

French foreign policy is a comparatively an exclusively elitist process. In the case of its Africa policy, a process that has been characterised by a uniquely intimate neo-colonialist clientalism between successive French Presidents and the Quai d’Orsay and francophone African political leaders has tended to lock France more rigidly into commitments based on a geo-politics of cultivating and maintaining cultural spheres of influence. This was an overriding priority over other considerations like, for example, the promotion of democracy and human rights as opposed to what is generally considered the more ‘idealistic’ moralism of US foreign policy.

There has existed no domestic political constituency posing a serious challenge to this prevailing French-Africa policy, and francophone African leadership, a conservative force who maintained the francophone African policy status-quo. But this situation would never be tolerated by the non-governmental Africa policy framework. Moreover, France’s Africa lobby includes the francophone African leadership, a conservative force for maintaining the francophone African policy status-quo. Nor would this situation be tolerated by the non-governmental Africa policy/activist constituencies in the US. The extent of this intimately neo-colonial-based rigidity in France’s Africa policy is reflected most tellingly in what has been considered the Gaullist Africa policy of Sociality French President Francois Mitterand. Although there were early expectations of change that might see a distancing from regimes like Mobutu, and a less interventionist French role in Africa, Mitterand was seen as having bought into the vision of a francophone African project as the basis for ensuring France’s "middle-ranking" role on the world stage. Moreover, the increasing economic difficulties of francophone Africa argued for a closer francophone relationship between Paris and Africa as opposed to a loosening of neo-patrimonial ties. Under Mitterand, France remained militarily engaged in Africa while Franco-African summitry was expanded into a Commonwealth-like vehicle for France and its African clients.

When it came to South Africa, Mitterand adopted a more manifestly anti-apartheid policy reinforced by the activism of his wife, Danielle Mitterand, who played a key role in facilitating the first dialogues between the exiled ANC leadership and the Afrikaner Nationalist leadership. Yet, in the period of post-apartheid transition, France appeared to have largely failed in following up this anti-apartheid foundation. It failed to correctly read the sensitivities of he ANC-led government in not wanting to pursue French-style spheres of influence in southern Africa, the basis of the "complimentarite" advocated by Paris whereby South Africa’s spheres-of-influence would be recognised in Southern Africa in exchange for Pretoria recognising Paris’ sphere-of-influence in the rest of Africa as a basis of Franco-South African co-operation for the dominant anti-hegemonic tendencies driving the ANC-led South African approach to the rest of Africa than does Paris which still retains a Gaullist penchant for pursuing elitist spheres of influence and realpolitik dictates.

The difference in approach between Paris and Pretoria is perhaps best reflected in the earlier days of the Great Lakes crisis centering on the mounting pressures for international humanitarian intervention in the Rwandan refugee crisis in the eastern Zaire. France was in the forefront calling for international intervention in the eastern Zaire which many perceived as a self-serving posture to rectify its earlier role in creating the basis for the crisis and, in the process, contain what was then a fledgling ADFL military challenge to Mobutu. South Africa’s approach on the other hand was to involve itself in the sub-regional African diplomacy aimed at defusing the crisis as a supportive entity as opposed to a leading actor. This posture may have laid the basis for the central mediating role Pretoria has assumed in the search for a ‘soft-landing’ to the successful insurgency against Mobutu.



The begging question, however, is whether or not the South African-American mediation initiative between the Mobutu and the Kabila forces in Zaire represents the ascendancy of the monolithic anglophone hegemony that some in French policy circles fear. The concern itself is revealing since the division of continental African affairs into anglophone and francophone spheres of influence has tended to undermine African interests in a pan-African community transcending such linguistically-based and colonially-linked cultural divisions.

Moreover, such balanced divisions are particularly retrograde given the imperatives of economic globalisation that demands increasing regional integration of small markets into larger blocs facilitating trade and investment. That aside, however, the nature of the South and Southern African involvement in the Great Lakes crisis which focused now on the post-Mobutu transition in Zaire, may be indicative of an unfounded anglophone take-over of Central Africa centering on Zaire and the Sudan. Here, the focus must shift more towards South Africa and less to the US

Washington’s interest is largely geo-economic within the context of the Clinton Administration’s global trade and investment onslaught targeting emerging markets. This interest has become epitomised in the bipartisan US-Africa free trade initiative that both the Democratic White House and the Republican Congress are backing as a new deal in US-African relations (). However, Washington is largely dependent on Pretoria to take the lead in organising or reorganising African politics to accommodate greater market integration for such a trade and investment offensive (). Hence the suspicions concerning South Africa as a purportive American surrogate.

What is important to bear in mind, is that such an undertaking is even more in South Africa’s interests since South Africa, as an African power must live with the realities of an Africa that can either undermine its own prospects or further enhance them in the global economy. The US can walk away and preoccupy itself elsewhere. Nevertheless, the US is not the only global economic player with an interest in Africa’s economic potential. There is ample interest from the Asia/Indian Ocean region and signs of growing interest from the Latin America South Atlantic as well as from Europe -- including France. Thus, South and southern Africa may not be dependent on the US. But to benefit from this global economic interests in the potential of African emerging markets, the African political and security environment must be stabilised. Hence, the urgency of Deputy President Thabo Mbeki’s "African Renaissance" which is propelling Pretoria into a more activist foreign policy in Africa with the resolution of the Zairian conflict topping the agenda.

But South Africa cannot -- and will not -- stabilise post-Mobutu Zaire, and the Great Lakes region, alone. The extent of Pretoria’s engagement in the Zairian project is largely conditioned by SADC. And here is the rub:for although several SADC member states are individually involved in the Zairian/Great Lake crisis, from the military intervention of Angolan government troops on the side of the rebels -- triggering UNITA support on the side of Mobutu regime -- to reports of varying degrees of involvement by Zimbabwe, Zambia and, in case of Burundi, Tanzania, there is yet to emerge a co-ordinated SADC strategy on the Great Lakes. In other words, Pretoria’s mediation does not appear grounded in a strategy agreed to by the SADC Iran on Politics, Defence and Security chaired by Zimbabwe under the Chairmanship of Robert Mugabe. The fact that the SADC Organ has not been brought into the picture on the Great Lakes crisis may be indicative of the continuing pensions born of apparent jealousy that complicate relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa.


Zimbabwe has been notably shy to place certain pressing issues on the SADC Organ agenda such as the US proposed Africa Crisis Response Force, as well as actions that might be taken in the Great Lakes over the short-to-long-term. According to some South African diplomatic sources, there was a feeling that Zimbabwe would have liked to see South Africa fail in its diplomatic initiatives and reap embarrassment. Among other things, the SADC Organ might constitute the appropriate point-of-departure for SADC deciding on whether or not to eventually incorporate Zaire as a member of the Community, something that has been twice rejected under Mobutu’s reign. Linking Zaire into a regional co-optation arrangement via SADC or with the fledging East African Co-operation attempt to revive the defunct East African Community are options around which a stabilisation strategy for Zaire and the Great Lakes might be fashioned. Yet there is no sign that the consideration of such options are on the East and Southern African agenda. The question is whether or not Pretoria will force this issue or continue to acquiesce to Harare in order to avoid being seen as the "big bully".

Another sign of the lack of cohesion in the anglophone bloc is the continuing stalemate between SADC and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) over resolving their long rivalry. Thus far, this has played to the advantage of SADC. But the apparent championing of Comesa by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the main sponsor of the successful insurgencies in Rwanda and Zaire (as well as the Sudan along with Ethiopia and Eritrea)whose vision no doubt includes the forging of a greater east-central African community incorporating Zaire may warrant a rethink in Pretoria and Gaborone about the lack of political accommodation between SADC and COMESA. A SADC/COMESA accommodation could serve as an additional stabilising factor in the Great Lakes both economically and in terms of security. Yet the continuing rift between the two geo-economic co-operation bodies is virtually of the magnitude of the anglophone/francophone divisions with a potential for greatly retarding regional integration. Here again, South African leadership is a factor since -- until the notifications by Lesotho and Mozambique that they would withdraw from COMESA -- it is among the few SADC countries that has refused to join COMESA so as not to get entangled in extra-SADC African politics. But Pretoria’s involvement in mediating a transition in Zaire is indicative of the difficulty facing South Africa in remaining aloof from African affairs outside of SADC.


What is highlighted by the absence of a SADC strategy in the Great Lakes and the SADC-COMESA rivalry is the absence of an anglophone united front in Eastern and Southern Africa. This is in spite of the decline in French influence in Central Africa linked to the Great Lakes crisis. Furthermore, it may be that France can turn such adversity to its political and diplomatic advantage by championing a joint summit of SADC and Franco-African Summit leaders to establish a formal Contact Group on the Great Lakes under the auspices of the OAU. The mandate should work for the governments in this critical sub-region in devising a long-term stabilisation plan for the Great Lakes. This would offer France the opportunity of adjusting to a more positive pan-African strategy by encouraging francophone/anglophone dialogue on the stabilisation of one of the most critical of African sub-regions. but then this will require a further decolonisation of Franco - African relations with Paris sphere of influence.

At the end of the day France will have to do some serious introspection about its real politik posture towards Africa. There now is a groundswell of opinions emerging suggesting that, overall, in African France was a destructive not benign force.

In Paris, meanwhile, the French sphere of influence in Africa, is viewed as a remarkable success story. Together with the nuclear deterrent, and the permanent seat on the UN Security Council the African sphere of influence guaranteed the French the image of middle ranking global partner.

That was one of the rationales for maintaining such a high African profile over the years. Within the context of the European Union, the French tried to.....the development assistance debate. But under the rubric of a Franco-Afro "family tie", practice has permitted France and its ruling classes to avoid facing the realities of damage to African societies.

but in the end, France’s "hand holding" force the Gaullic power to cling to Mobutu Sese Seko for too long. Paris’ "commonwealth a la francaise" preached that it was "Mobutu or chaos". In the end, however, it was "Mobutu and chaos". The demise of Mobutu brought the French family to an ignominious end. The generation old Gaullist vision of post-colonial centrality proved ill-equipped to deal with modern African political challenges. This vision was a highly neo-patrimonial one. Aid grants and business grants tended to flow along the networks from Paris to African governments, which then kick back large sums to political parties in France. This was a well stitched game of influence buying and peddling.

But this old-style relationship of "balkanised independence" is unlikely to survive the challenges of post-cold war African international affairs. Unlike the traditional tenets of la francophone, modern trends of Anglo-Saxon politics quickly grasped the Mobutu autocracy. One cannot by argue that Paris is about to harvest the sour grapes of tolerating for far too long the rotten vineyard of Marshall Mobutu.

The African arena is a complex and changing terrain, one that needs constant re evaluation and analysis. divisions in future will not be confined only African vs outsiders, but between African themselves.