Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Dr Greg Mills, National Director, SA Institute of International Affairs



  SA-UK relations are currently defined by four concentric issues:

    —  Trade and Investment Ties.

    —  The UK and SA Diaspora.

    —  The Wider African Role including NEPAD.

    —  Shared International Concerns.

  Although this short memo will focus on the latter two areas, a number of observations will be made in conclusion with regard to trade and investment concerns and the diaspora, and in so doing will identify a number of areas where the UKFCO and related diplomatic/cultural entities might focus their activities.


  In this, both SA and Africa have focused their activities on Africa in four areas.

    —  First, partnership in conflict resolution, peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance.

    —  Second, political, technical and financial support for NEPAD.

    —  Third, aid and assistance towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

    —  Fourth, support for democratisation, the rule of law, economic liberalisation and management, and human rights.


  The bilateral relationship has been, in the Mbeki presidency (1999-), defined to a great extent by public disagreement over "what to do" with Zimbabwe. South Africa has preferred to see the crisis in its northern neighbour in terms of its colonial legacy; while the UK (especially Minister of State Peter Hain) has emphasised the rule of law and human rights as key factors in the turn of events. While every effort should be made to distinguish bilateral relations from wider regional and African issues, such disagreements should not, however, dilute the need for a more active British African diplomatic role. British diplomats have made every effort not to have the wider relationship held hostage to differences over Zimbabwe, and this has been achieved by the UK's de facto withdrawal from the Zimbabwe debate. This has, however, not assisted in arriving at a resolution of the crisis, and indeed, may well have served to stress the "colonial dimension" to the problem, which is not in British (and African democratic) interests.

  Paradoxically the shift in South Africa's foreign policy focus to become African-centric has seen a much more proactive SA role in regional peacekeeping (notably in Burundi and the DR Congo), offering a number of avenues for partnership. National security apparatuses have weakened in Africa because the international community has ended military assistance, because additional spending on defence is carefully monitored by international organisations, and because domestic financial crises have caused a general weakening of the state. Two types of agencies have suffered particularly during the overall decline in security: the police and intelligence agencies. Most African police forces are extremely weak and cannot combat day-to-day crime, much less be the front-line forces in combating instability. Intelligence collection is also very poor in most African countries. It is particularly hard for leaders to evaluate changing threat environments and the breakout of armed violence often comes as a surprise to national authorities. Aiding police agencies, in particular, so that they can fight crime, deter criminals, and be viable "first responders" to those who might eventually threaten war is absolutely critical. More has to be done so that the African countries that are potentially viable will actually be able to police their territories. A similar strategy would also assist intelligence agencies, particularly important in the light of the war on terror.

  Finally, the ability of African countries to benefit from wider regional and continental economic integration efforts remains to an extent dependent on their ability to establish, negotiate and manage tariff reduction schedules, and to facilitate trade through effective customs agencies. These are important areas for UK aid engagement.


  These hinge around the EU-African relationship, the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the provision of more equitable and effective global trading and financial architecture (such as in the progress of the WTO Doha Round), and environmental issues.


  The divergent positions of the South African and UK governments on the war on Iraq is illustrative that, first, the "old" African National Congress (ANC)-Labour Party ties no longer have the irreducible value they once might have possessed. Indeed, as the SA political leadership progresses in generational terms beyond a core group of exiles, this sentimentality may further dissipate.

  The failure of the Cancun round of trade negotiations is also a setback for SA trade policy, both domestically and in terms of its wider ambitions. This will remain a key objective for Pretoria, and will to a great extent shape the nature and focus of its foreign relations, notably with the G20+ and the Cairns Group where ties will likely be deepened and strengthened. This could be at the cost of a chilling in ties with the EU over the CAP, and more emphasis will also likely be placed on concluding bilateral free trade agreements notably with the US and Mercosur, and possibly India, Japan, China, Nigeria and Australia. However, there are shared SA/UK concerns over the liberalisation of agricultural trade, and conversely over the CAP and the failure at Cancun. While the UK should continue to make the case for reform of the CAP within the EU, SA will need to take the lead on emphasising the need for reform in terms of African development and EU-African relations.

  The Commonwealth has, since 1994, been an important body for Pretoria in terms of providing a platform for North and South to meet on an equal footing. However, while its coherence has suffered over the Zimbabwe issue, it will remain an important platform for SA not least due to President Mbeki's wider ambitions for African development.


  A number of policy recommendations are made in conclusion in the four identified areas:

    —  Trade and Investment Ties: The UK is SA's third largest trade partner (with a total flow of R42 billion in 2001 comprising R18 billion in SA imports, R22 billion in exports). There is, however, a need to encourage trade and investment ties partly by facilitating business contact, mentoring business ties, and, in so doing, ameliorating the current perception of a high investor risk premium, which currently contributes to low investment growth in the Republic. Conversely, there has been a substantial outflow of SA capital mainly via London listings. The largest single investment in SA by UK companies has, since 1994, been around the arms deal. This will remain a controversial issue, and indeed may create a number of political problems not least those around perceptions of enrichment associated with the offset element of these packages.

    —  The UK and SA Diaspora: The importance of this group in shaping perceptions about both countries cannot be understated. Efforts should be made, in particular, to draw the SA expatriates in the UK (around 350,000) into a constructive Dialogue involving both governments; and using the UK group in SA (around one million) as a source of information and possible avenue for partnership with incoming businesses.

    —  The Wider African Role including NEPAD: NEPAD is the key policy programme for the SA government. As such, a great deal has been staked on its continued roll-out and success. However, there is little doubt that it has met with resistance in much of Africa where its good governance message is seen as a threat in some quarters. Also, its programmes remain focused overwhelmingly on process rather than the delivery of key priorities. The UK government should identify one or two key areas for involvement such as providing technical assistance for trade negotiations (a key element of NEPAD) and in support for local policing initiatives as identified above.

    —  Shared International Concerns: There is a need to focus diplomatic efforts on concluding successfully the Doha Round of world trade negotiations, and in establishing tariff reduction procedures and strategies within African countries, an absence of capability which has constrained efforts to create meaningful African regional economic communities.


  In the nearly 10 years since South Africa's political transition, the UK-SA relationship has normalised. Beyond the goodwill and warmth of the Mandela period (1994-99), the extent of this normalisation is arguably most evident in the degree of rhetorical disagreement around the war on Iraq and over Zimbabwe. Short of London disengaging from African issues as difficult (yet as important in human rights terms) as Zimbabwe, this normalisation trend will likely continue.

  In these circumstances, the UK-SA bilateral commission (and related diplomatic efforts) should focus on a number of key areas, otherwise it runs the risk of becoming yet another commission (of which there are an increasing number with South Africa, stretching thus its foreign policy capacity) with limited rewards beyond providing a framework for interaction. As a start, the bilateral commission should focus on facilitating bilateral business opportunities, and finding ways of linking the SA diaspora residing in the UK.

Institute of International Affairs

September 2003

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