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The challenges and ambiguities of South Africa’s foreign policy

Jean-Paul Marthoz , 19 September 2012

In 1994, after the African National Congress’s electoral victory, the Republic of South Africa emerged as a promising regional foreign policy actor. The rise of a generation formed in one of the most epic global political struggles, its proclaimed commitment to promote peace and development and its promise to put human rights at the heart of its international relations seemed to open a new era in Africa. The new South Africa established itself as a key actor in the region, acting as a mediator and sending peacekeeping troops to conflict zones, launching ambitious plans to develop the continent, and guiding the reforms leading to the (re)birth of the African Union (AU). This Africa focus was complemented with a strong commitment towards the global South and the forging of alliances with other new emerging powers, in particular Brazil and India.

Over the last two decades South Africa has scored some significant victories and become one of the major players on the continent and a legitimate voice of Africa on the world scene. It has failed, however, to project its influence as it initially planned to.

Despite its ambiguous record, South Africa remains an important partner for Norwegian peacebuilding diplomacy, particularly in the context of supporting the AU in the region. A major challenge will be to address South Africa’s “solvency”, i.e. to balance its diplomacy with its economic and social realities, and its political and military capacities.

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