Increasing terrorism in Africa is a hindrance to the continent’s economic development and must be fought to the end, said Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. She told the Mail & Guardian in a wide-ranging interview this week that economic development will top the agenda for her next five years in office, as South Africa strives to reap economic benefits from its foreign policy.
Though Nkoana-Mashabane acknowledged that Africa is part of the global village and is therefore not immune to terrorism, she said Pretoria’s concern is that insurgency on the continent “comes in different guises”.
“In some areas it is about so-and-so doesn’t speak so-and-so’s language,” she said. “In some places it uses religion.”
Africa’s current major headache with rebellion is attacks by Islamic militants Boko Haram in Nigeria, which has ramped up its kidnapping of women and children. Africa is also still grappling with insurgency in Somalia and Libya, among other countries. In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, a fresh rebellion by the Renamo group has been brewing in Mozambique.
Nkoana-Mashabane said there are often “inadequate” reasons for rebellion in Africa. “Eighty percent of the leaders that we have on the continent today have come through a democratic electoral process, but there is this new trend that post-elections you will have a group of mutineers and bandits who get together and say: ‘We are rebels and we want to fight the government.’ They contest elections and lose, then they say they want to negotiate power. We must not allow this.”
South Africa would like to see the integration of the Eastern and Southern African economies finalised in the next five years, she said. Three regional economic communities – the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), the East Africa Community (EAC) and SADC – have reached agreements to open up borders for intraregional trade. It is expected that documents will be signed this year to launch a market covering 26 countries.
This is in addition to the implementation of the treaty South Africa signed with the Democratic Republic of Congo for hydroelectricity generation. The treaty will be taken through the ratification process in Parliament “in the next few months to a year”, Nkoana-Mashabane said.
But to make economic growth a reality, Africa needs to fight growing terrorism and instability caused by political conflicts, she said.
Even if Boko Haram had kidnapped only two girls, “it is two too many. We should never find ourselves in a situation where these opportunists now want to use women as weapons of insurgency,” she said.
Last month President Jacob Zuma called on the African Union to “urgently activate” and operationalise the African Standby Force to end the activities of armed groupings terrorising civilians on the continent. South Africa is, however, waiting for an AU summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, next week for guidance on how to assist Nigeria.
Asked why it is left to countries like the United States to help Nigeria, Nkoana-Mashabane said: “We will give an opportunity to our leaders to say how do we reach out to Nigeria through the African Union.”
Zimbabwe’s shrinking economy, which has seen its government struggling to pay civil servants’ salaries amid fears of a recession, is also a concern for Pretoria. Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa will use the SADC platform to talk to Robert Mugabe’s government. Pretoria’s mediation in Harare that led to last year’s general elections ended once the country re-elected Zanu-PF to lead the government.
“As we are all emerging out of the 2008 global economic and financial crisis, we would not like to see any fellow countries in our own neighbourhood failing to march out of that crisis with all the others,” Nkoana-Mashabane told the M&G. “We will go back to the drawing board and engage with our neighbours and see how we help or work with each other.”
On tensions between South Africa and Rwanda, Nkoana-Mashabane said the two countries are “fixing things” but would not be drawn into saying whether that means expelled diplomats will be accepted back in Kigali and Pretoria. “We must deal with all the hindrances that we come across so that we have stronger and more cordial political and economic relations,” she said.
Rwanda and South Africa recently expelled each other’s diplomats amid claims that Paul Kagame’s government used its diplomats to orchestrate attacks on Rwandan political dissidents in South Africa.