President Cyril Ramaphosa has identified the “intractable conflicts” in Libya and South Sudan as a focus for South Africa when it will be chairing the African Union (AU) this year.
He said these conflicts “need the intervention of those who are able to assist African countries to find solutions”, adding “in some cases these interventions seem to be driven by ulterior motives”.
This indirect criticism was directed at especially Turkey and Russia, a close ally of South Africa as part of the Brics economic grouping.
South Africa has been part of peace efforts in both countries for several years now as part of the AU high-level committee on Libya and high-level ad hoc committee on South Sudan.
Ramaphosa addressed South Africa’s heads of mission to African countries on Tuesday ahead of the AU heads of state summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, next week, where he is expected to take over from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as AU chairperson.
This year is also the final year of South Africa’s two-year non-permanent membership on the UN Security Council.
Ramaphosa, who has been facing a host of domestic challenges including slow economic growth and power cuts, told the diplomats chairing the AU was not his job alone, but they had to make it a team effort and drive South Africa’s goals in the countries where they were based.
He outlined South Africa’s strategic objectives for the year as promoting its “values, interests and continental and domestic objectives”; supporting economic development and integration on the continent; advancing gender equality; driving the implementation of the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative to support the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA); strengthening co-operation between the AU and UN and promoting peace and security.
The AU’s theme for the year is “Silencing the guns”, a goal that was set out by former AU commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in 2013 as part of the continental body’s long-term plan, Agenda 2063.
Ramaphosa spent a large part of his speech talking about economic development on the continent, which he said should be supported by peace efforts.
“Africa’s youthful population is impatient for change and the creation of more economic opportunities.”
He added the AfCFTA presented “unprecedented opportunities for development”, as this would create the largest common market in the world with a population of more than a billion people.
Meanwhile, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor issued a stern warning about attacks by militants affiliated to the Islamic State (IS) in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado.
This “has raised concerns about an IS presence in new territories where it has drawn allegiance from local militant groups”, she said.
“We should be worried, given that the attacks on Mozambique point to the presence of IS in the [Southern African Development Community] region.”
Pandor said Africa should find ways to deal with extremist violence and mentioned the “increased military presence” in Africa of France, the US, China, Russia and Turkey as concerns.
She warned that, while South Africa had numerous international obligations this year, its challenges on the domestic front were “the sternest test since the dawn of the democratic dispensation in April 1994”.
“We are fighting off the possibility of a credit rating downgrade but also, we have the duty to revive a sluggish economy even as we push back a high unemployment rate in the face of continued private sector job shedding.”
A credit rating downgrade would weaken the country’s capability to address social inequality and create conditions for social cohesion, Pandor said.
She mentioned the electricity challenges and repair of state-owned enterprises as further problems, as well as the “intermittent attacks” on foreign nationals.