Namibia should strategically define its interests in relation to South AfricaBy: Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari
NATIONAL interests in the conduct of foreign policy are not an abstract principle, but they ought to constitute concrete phenomena in well-calibrated strategic foreign policy thinking.
Certainly, there is space for the evolution of such interests. But the evolution of national interests should be the result of a focused political process. More importantly, this evolution on the basis of clearly identified and defined objectives should be the leitmotif of the foreign policy of a small state like Namibia. Namibia’s history, in particular its ‘struggle era’ is explicitly tied to liberation movements and ruling parties in Southern Africa, including the African National Congress of South Africa and the Movimento Popular de Libertaçao de Angola (MPLA) and Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe. This history anchors Namibia’s foreign policy identity in substantive ways, and particularly the conduct of Namibia’s relations to states in Southern Africa and continental African processes. Broadly, this also defines how Namibia conducts itself in global affairs, mostly with a clear bias based on discourses of the South. However, as a country, Namibia is too small to matter on its own. It has a small population, a small economy and does not have the diplomatic clout to pursue certain positions. Using more powerful neighbours, including South Africa and Angola, can be a sound avenue to shape the course of events, which the country would ordinarily not be in a position to influence.
Namibia has pursued consistent policy posturing with Angola. However, the country’s positions in relation to South Africa have been pretty much awkward for the past 18 years of South Africa’s transition. Namibia has in most instances looked at South Africa in a triangulated way – hardly consistent with regard to how the country should hook up policy issues in a manner that befits its national interests. Relations from the Namibian side have always been based on an acute sense of pragmatism, and not necessarily acceptance of the important role South Africa has to play in both the region and the world. This pragmatism was largely economic, hardly going beyond Namibia’s economic dependency on South Africa. It even begs the question as to whether Namibia would have supported, (wholeheartedly that is) South Africa’s candidacy for the chairperson of the African Union commission under former President Sam Nujoma’s administration.
Namibia’s full support for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma does suggest that relations between the two countries have progressed beyond the frosty, but pragmatic and balancing vision that characterised the administration of former President Sam Nujoma. Under President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s presidency, relations between Namibia and South Africa seem to have been elevated to a much higher rank with President Zuma having visited Namibia on at least two or three occasions over the past seven years. Still, the elevation of the relationship with South Africa should provide an avenue for Namibia to jointly shape issues that appear on the regional and continental agenda. To start with, a good case in point would have been Namibia’s support for the candidacy of Dlamini-Zuma for the top AU-post. Certainly Namibia could not have demanded to be on the ticket of Dlamini-Zuma as Vice-Chairperson of the Commission. Ideally, a candidate from a Lusophone or Francophone country would be the natural choice in order to maintain both geographical and linguistic balance in the Commission. However, it would still be in our interests to demand South Africa’s support for one of the more influential positions in the Dlamini-Zuma Commission. We could also seek to secure with South Africa’s support, senior appointments in continental or world bodies, including the African Development Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the United Nations. In terms of managerial representation, these are after all international institutions where Namibia has fared badly in recent years. Alternatively, our support could be tied to the issues that should appear on the agenda of the Commission and broadly the type of normative agenda the AU should push going forward. Both Namibia and South Africa’s domestic orders have plenty in common. Notwithstanding their respective internal challenges and shortcomings, the two countries are without doubt well-functioning democracies. This gives them significant mileage to pursue a more ambitious democratic norm-driven agenda in Africa than what has otherwise been the case. Such an agenda should include human rights and good governance – areas where both countries have fared fairly well in Africa. To pursue an agenda that is inconsistent with our domestic democratic order is counter-productive. It is in our national interests to define democracy as an essential and sustainable outcome in our continental diplomacy. It is also crucial that we get a return on our investment in South Africa’s candidacy.
Admittedly, we cannot push an ambitious agenda on our own, but South Africa provides an important inlet into continental and global processes. With seemingly more than cordial relations with South Africa at present, an opportunity exists for Namibia to draw a laundry list of issues that should be carried into the continental and global agenda.
* Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is Head of the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.