I have a new post up on UN Dispatch on South Africa’s Presidency of the UN Security Council this month. The piece calls upon South Africa to not waste its opportunity to show that it can be a strong leader on several issues, the main thrust of which is quoted here:
[Bringing Zimbabwe to the UNSC], or the burgeoning crisis in South Sudan, would reflect on South Africa’s desire to hold a permanent seat at Council by displaying a desire to engage with the Council, though each with different motives behind it. Despite its rapid return to a seat around the Horseshoe table, the regional rotation method practised by the African bloc in the General Assembly in no way guarantees that South Africa will be returning anytime soon or reflects international support. It most certainly won’t be in a position to wield the gavel as President again during its current term. This may well be South Africa’s last big chance for many years to prove that it has what it takes to keep and hold for continuity a seat in the Council’s chambers. Simply sleepwalking through the month of January isn’t an option; if South Africa really wants to earn its permanent seat, its time is now.
An avenue I didn’t explore in that article was the other end of the spectrum, away from the idea of further promotion of human rights and more towards the dog-eat-dog world of international politics. Were the Mission more Machiavellian, they could well seek to use their ability to set the agenda to cut off the hopes of another potential candidate. Nigeria, as has been talked about here, is in the middle of multiple problems that are compounding. Protests have been set off by the ending of fuel subsidies, Boko Haram is a threat to regional peace and security, and Nigeria’s government’s troubles are poised to spill across the borders. Or so South Africa could argue, as it places ‘The Situation in Nigeria’ on the Security Council’s agenda. Unlikely, but considering the mercurial nature of President Zuma’s foreign policy it could happen. The wisdom of actually pulling the trigger on such a tactic is questionable, but at least it would be doing something and potentially even helping solve the problem, an accomplishment South Africa has been lacking as of late.
A strong South Africa on the world stage has been the assumption for years, considering their high level of development in comparison to other states on the continent. But the country has been resting on its laurels for years, both under the presidencies of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. When it has tried to engage with the international community, it’s been a muddled and haphazard affair. Deferrence is still granted towards South Africa at the UN, as well it should be considering its potential. But if it really wants to join the most exclusive club as a Permanent Member, it needs to prove it.