Lawson Mabhena News & Politics Editor
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa was on fire last week when he took over as the chair of the African Union (AU) during the 33rd Session of the AU Assembly.
Known for its “quiet diplomacy” stance, few expected South Africa to be so blunt on issues close to the hearts of Africans, chief among them foreign interference in African affairs.
Other pertinent issues include trade imbalance and dumping of substandard products in Africa, freedom for the people of Western Sahara and Palestine, and the mess that was left in Libya by Western powers.
On foreign interference, the AU was clear in its call for the United States (US) to remove Sudan from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism, as this designation has rendered the North African country ineligible for debt relief and financing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB).
Lack of financing from the IMF and WB, the AU insists, only perpetuates war as the people of Sudan continue to fight for scarce resources.
President Ramaphosa’s warning that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) should never be used in the interest of “economic colonialism and imperialism” probably hit a nerve, not only at Western, but even in some Eastern nations.
“We must all ensure that the AFCFTA does not become a conduit for products with minimal African value addition to enter and penetrate our local markets under the guise of continental integration. There must be a reasonable standard set for what constitutes a product made in Africa,” he said.
“The era of economic colonialism and imperialism under which Africa is a pit-stop in the global assembly line, has passed.”
The highlight of President Ramaphosa’s acceptance speech after taking over from President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt, was his likening of the US-sponsored proposal for a peace plan to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the Apartheid regime’s Bantustan policy.
The Bantustans or homelands, established by the racist Apartheid government of South Africa, were areas where the black majority were “dumped” to prevent them from living in the urban areas and participating in the political system.
US President Donald Trump’s controversial Middle East peace plan, which on one hand calls for a two-State solution, but on the other awards the entire Jerusalem to Israel, is like a Bantustan.
It serves to alienate the Palestinian people from their culture, heritage and religion.
Their exclusion from the drafting of the 80-page plan announced by President Trump at the White House together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is apartheid in nature.
In forging a two-State solution, stands one challenge, both Palestinians and Israelis consider Jerusalem their capital.
The contested Jerusalem is home to some of the holiest sites to both Jews and Palestinians.
It is the site where Judaism’s two central temples once stood and the site where it is claimed Prophet Mohammed ascended to Heaven.
It, therefore, makes sense for both cultures and religions to found their states on land that is connected to their religions. The impact of religious teachings cannot be understated, Palestinians and Israelis grow up being taught that Jerusalem is their home.
Jerusalem, for both sides, is worth fighting for.
National interest is worth fighting for. Where, for example, territorial integrity is threatened, a nation must be willing to go to war.
The ability to defend a territory is part of the many qualities of a State. Palestine and Israel are a complex case in that they are both claiming the same territory, and are to a large extent, both entitled to the same.
The Trump administration is simply taking sides, and Africa has said, “No!”
On the contentious issue of Libya, President Ramaphosa said the AU will “deal with countries outside our continent that are fighting proxy wars”.
The AU was very clear that militant groups ravaging Libya and South Sudan are being sponsored by outsiders.
The AU theme for the year: “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development,” is an attempt to deal with one of the real issues affecting the continent.
Outside forces are sponsoring war because it works to their advantage.
A conflict-riddled Africa works well for economic colonialists and imperialists as they continue to milk the vast resources in the continent.
In May, South Africa will host the Extraordinary Summit of Silencing of the Guns to look at the implementation of the AU Master Roadmap, and respond to emerging circumstances on the African peace and security landscape.
We can only hope that this Summit and other concerted efforts in ending conflict in Africa will finally yield fruit.
President Ramaphosa has a lot of ground to cover before handing over to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda next year.
It is still early days, but so far, he has been equal to the task.