Address by Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim on the occasion of the DIRCO 2009 Annual Conference on the Theme: “Closing the gap between Domestic and Foreign Policies”, Southern Sun Hotel, Pretoria, 5 November 2009

The Honourable Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation – Mr Thembelani Nxesi;
Ms Maud Dlomo - Programme Director;
Senior Government Officials
Presenters and Discussants at this important Conference;
Conference Delegates and especially those from Civil Society;
Ladies and Gentlemen

At last year’s Annual Conference, we interrogated challenges facing the African diplomat, now and in the future, including issues of economic diplomacy, human security, and conflict on our continent.  This year, over the next two days, we will be looking at an equally important theme relating to the interplay between our domestic priorities and our foreign policy.  These Annual Conferences provide us with a platform to exchange views and share experiences on aspects of the past, present and future of our foreign policy.

I wish to welcome all participants to this Conference, especially those from outside the corridors of Government.  I look forward to what should be an exciting engagement among us.   

This year’s theme - “Closing the Gap Between Domestic and Foreign Policies” - is inspired by the awareness that foreign policy is no longer the preserve of States, although they remain the primary custodians of State-to-State relations.  I am hopeful that this Conference will help give content to what we need to do – as Government and non-state actors – to create a dynamic interlinkage between our foreign policy and what we want to achieve in the country, and provide greater clarity in the articulation of South Africa’s national interests

Our inquiry into the topic of this Conference may tempt us to revisit the saying by Lord Palmerston – the man credited with influencing British foreign policy in the mid-19th century – that “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests”; and that, as he put it:We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and these interests it is our duty to follow".

Lord Palmerston’s statement was made at the height of the British Empire and in the context of geopolitical competition in Europe during that time.  Since then, states have grown more and more interdependent, and the international community has also developed a global agenda to tackle common challenges such as poverty, peace and security, and the degradation of our environment.

But, in essence, states still act in their national interest in their bilateral interaction with other countries and participation in multilateral organisations. South Africa is no exception.

Programme Director, the concept of “national interest” can be used in two different senses in international relations, with the first usage referring to the goals and values of a state’s foreign policy, whilst the second usage refers to some form of justification for state policy.   This justification has been abused in some cases to defend the violation of human rights or international law in the name of “national interests” or “national security”.

South Africa’s national interests must be about what will benefit our people and country; and what will advance our domestic agenda in line with the goals we have set for ourselves.  They must be about the values we cherish – non-racialism and non-sexism; the supremacy of our Constitution; and the values we attach to human dignity and the respect for human rights.  They must be about our country’s role and responsibilities in our region, the rest of Africa, and the world.  They must be about a better life for all in our country, Africa, and the world.

We must always have in mind in the pursuit of our national interests in our foreign policy what President Nelson Mandela said in his 1995 State of the Nations Address, that, and I quote:
“We might also want to use this occasion to make our contribution to the international debate about the new world order, focusing in particular on such matters as a democratic international political order, universal prosperity, peace and stability - all of which are questions of great relevance to our own continent of Africa… In all our actions we must move from the position that the fundamental objective we must pursue is friendship, co-operation and solidarity among the peoples of our region.”
Programme Director, one of the simplest definitions of foreign policy that I have come across is by Nel and McGowan in their book “Power, Wealth and Global Order”, where they argue that “foreign policy is the sum total of all activities by which states act, react and interact with the external environment”. The authors make the observation that people who make foreign policy straddle between two environments, one domestic and the other international. Thus practitioners and crafters of foreign policy stand where the two worlds meet and often mediate between the two.

This is one goal we hope this Conference will achieve – that is: help us mediate between the world of foreign policy and our domestic priorities.

Ladies and gentlemen

In South Africa, the President is the primary custodian of our State-to-State international relations and cooperation, bearing in mind that the Minister of our Department plays a key role on advising the President, while the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) serves as the focal point within Government for the implementation of South Africa’s foreign policy.  Against this background, we are all responsible for the domestication of South Africa’s foreign policy.   Our Government Departments, the three spheres of our Government, as well as our Parliament and provincial legislatures – are all involved in one way or another in the implementation of our foreign policy.

The progressive and democratic ideals of the ANC are embodied in the 1955 Freedom Charter.  Our values are encapsulated in the 1996 Constitution of the country.  Therefore, South Africa’s foreign policy can be characterised as progressive and underpinned by our values, namely:

  • Multilateralism is the cornerstone of our engagements within the global system of governance;
  • Keeping within sight our location in Africa and the South;
  • Substantive commitment to global developmental issues such as the eradication of poverty, underdevelopment, trade imbalances and the promotion of human rights;
  • Adherence to international obligations and international law; and
  • Seriously seeking to achieve a rules-based framework within which the world should operate.

Ladies and Gentlemen

As we move towards the end of 2009, most of us will look back with a measure of relief on how some of our countries managed to survive the global economic crisis and uncertainty that affected every region of the world. Naturally, we expect this phase to have a huge dampening effect on our economic growth at least up to 2010, with the concomitant negative implications for investments, employment, incomes and government revenue. Of major concern to us though, is that the burdens and economic hardships accompanying this crisis may be placed on the shoulders of the poor, resulting in deepened poverty and inequality. As we are made to believe that the worst of the economic recession is behind us, we reiterate our standpoint that globalization and liberalization cannot be left to the mercy of the market forces and private financial flows if they are to be truly progressive in the long term.

South Africa has experienced a recession, which presented significant challenges in the short-and medium term to every sector of our economy and thus the people of South Africa.

Our Embassies and High Commissions are identifying and reporting emerging global trends to inform policy formulators as to how South Africa should position itself. Out of these reports come certain Departmental multi-year strategies to exploit future opportunities and mitigate challenges impacting on our international relations and cooperation.

This analysis of the external environment is informed by the perspective of South Africa’s normative commitments, political imperatives and developmental priorities, all anchored within our domestic policies.

There is, thus, a need to recalibrate South Africa’s foreign policy in the light of domestic policy changes, developments in our immediate region and the shift in the balance of economic power towards major countries of the South.

South Africa’s foreign policy should have a greater developmental focus which can only be achieved through active strategic partnerships, cooperation and sustainable relations, internally and externally!

This then means that we have to find a way of actualizing our five key (national) priorities in the context of our foreign policy. In this regard, our Department has to be involved and informed of the various international programmes that our National Departments are engaged in. The critical question that immediately comes to mind is obviously: in what way does the Department of International Relations and Cooperation contribute in:

  • Making quality education available to all, as a means to preparing our people for the needs of the modern economy and a democratic society?
  • How do we intend reducing inequalities in our health system, and ensuring that our quality of care and facilities are among the best, including boosting our human resources to step up the fight against HiV/Aids, tubercolosis, malaria and other diseases?
  • How do we assist in the design and implementation of a comprehensive rural development strategy that is linked to land reform and food security, and help in improving the living conditions of farm workers and farm dwellers?
  • How do we contribute in the intensification of the fight against crime and corruption?
  • How do we contribute in the creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods?
DIRCO contributes to this mammoth task of closing the gap between our domestic and foreign policies through: Our bilateral engagements with countries of the world;Our participations in the global system and membership in multilateral organisations;Our economic diplomacy to promote trade and investment; and Promoting Brand South Africa to make our country one of the important and unforgettable destinations in the world

We use our bilateral relations and partnerships with both developing and developed nations as strategic platforms for promoting South Africa’s domestic priorities to identify opportunities geared to strengthening cooperation for socio-economic development in the country and our region. 

To this end, we have expanded bilateral political and economic relations with countries all over the world, establishing diplomatic relations, setting up structured bilateral mechanisms, and exchanging a large number of high-level visits as well as concluding Bilateral Agreements in various fields, including trade, investment, technical cooperation, mining and infrastructure.

We are utilising strategic mechanisms such as Bi-National Commissions which prove valuable in generating support for projects such as NEPAD and other economic diplomacy engagements. BNCs have yielded significant economic benefits for South Africa through increased trade and investment.

As our continent is one of our foreign policy priorities, South Africa has signed a total of 412 Bilateral Agreements with countries in Africa. Approximately two-thirds of these have already entered into force. There are currently 35 Bilateral Cooperation Mechanisms with African states, the majority of which are co-chaired by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation. 

Also, the size and complex nature of countries of the South, as well as their own serious socio-economic challenges, render the majority of countries in that part of the world as ideal partners for enhanced interaction given that South Africa shares many similar political and socio-economic challenges.  Several countries of the South have also become key strategic partners in promoting South-South Cooperation, notably within the Non-Aligned Movement and the G-77 plus China, as well as the IBSA.

We are learning best practice from countries such as Venezuela to see how we too can cut down our illiteracy rate to 0%. We have also signed bilateral agreements on Education Cooperation with Brazil, China, India and Saudi Arabia which provide a framework for our own schools and universities to benefit from twinning, research collaboration, exchanges, sharing of best practice and scholarships.

North America, Europe and Japan are also South Africa’s important partners in terms of trade, investment, finance, transfer of technology and tourism. Economic restructuring, greater market access, more direct investment, increased cooperation in the field of science and technology as well as the development of the South African tourism industry are priorities in our engagements with these countries.

In the context of bilateral relations with the North, our Government has established mutually beneficial arrangements and implementation plans to benefit our country’s health sector with Canada, the United Kingdom and Italy. The nature of the activities that are being pursued are intended to share best practices and strengthen our health sector.

Many multilateral organisations are as well represented in our country as many of our bilateral partners.  They work with different sectors of our society, and in all parts of our country.  We will always be indebted to efforts they make in aligning their programmes and allocation of their resources to our priorities.

Our interest in a just, and rules-based multilateral system is based in our belief that the international community can work together to make globalisation work for all.  The international community can help countries like ours set benchmarks and goals, and establish norms and standards to the benefit of ordinary people.  One example here are the Millennium Development Goals that have become a battle-cry for those working for the eradication of poverty, disease and ignorance.

Our involvement in multilateral negotiations is not a luxurious occupation of men and women dressed in black and carrying briefcases.  No.  We want an international system that is based on rules that can promote the plight of our countries, be it in the area of trade or the protection of our environment. 

Programme Director

Our approach to economic diplomacy endeavours to strengthen the linkages between foreign policy and domestic priorities of economic growth and development; and take optimal advantage of economic and commercial dimensions in South Africa’s foreign policy as articulated in bilateral, regional, continental, and multilateral settings.   Our economic diplomatic work  is felt in South Africa’s foreign policy engagements, including the African Agenda; South-South Relations; North-South Relations; multilateralism; and bilateral relations.

Economic diplomacy has a broader, and more substantive, meaning encapsulating global policy making processes, for example, in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and the G20. Whereas commercial diplomacy mainly refers to the work of bilateral missions aimed at marketing the country and promoting trade and investment activities. It is also a tool that is utilised by non-state actors such as corporates to pursue commercial opportunities.

South Africa faces pressing development issues. These concern the need to address the deep-seated structural challenges in the economy, namely slow growth, commodity dependence, high unemployment, and poverty. Increasing growth levels, expanding the gross domestic product (GDP), enhancing South Africa’s manufactured and diversified export capacity, and maximising the competitiveness of industries, including creating opportunities for small and medium enterprises to expand their reach beyond the national frontier are some of the targets that need to be achieved.

Grounding economic diplomacy within South Africa’s development framework means that the objectives set out in the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGISA), the National Industrial Policy Framework (NIPF), and the Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) are explicitly reflected in our foreign policy.

Development objectives are deeply ingrained in South Africa’s foreign policy architecture and guide the work of diplomats in foreign missions, including our initiatives in trade and investment promotion abroad. Similarly, our work on multilateral economic diplomacy places a stronger premium on economic growth and development priorities.
Effectively managing coordination across government and through structured engagement with the private sector and other stakeholders in society is crucial for success.

Trade promotion is very important in this regard.   South Africa has begun exploring more trading and export opportunities with southern hemisphere countries. More than ever before, the nations of the developed and developing world are considering how best to work in concert as Africa's partners.
As such, it is not surprising that African countries have established trade and investment cooperation framework arrangements with countries from Asia and South America because of the tremendous opportunities for investors across the globe. For example: despite the global recession, South Africa's foreign trade with Asia remains robust, with China now being the number one export destination after being fifth a year ago. It replaces the United States, which moves into second place.
More so, South Africa participates in a number of preferential trade relationships, both regional and bilateral. The South African government has actively pursued negotiations for an agreement on trade, development and co-operation with the European Union.
South Africa has also turned her attention to pursuing agreements for greater South-South co-operation. The move to establish trade relations with Mercusor via a free trade agreement with Brazil, and also with India, is top of the government's international trade agenda. This will facilitate greater trade with South America and the East.
South Africa's participation in the SADC allows access to a market of approximately 140-million, which is expected to grow at an annual rate of around 3%.

Furthermore, we are currently undergoing an active campaign to image, brand and market South Africa in the global village. Together with key role players such as the International Investment Council, the International Marketing Council, Trade and Industry South Africa and South African Tourism, the DIRCO is vigorously strengthening its public diplomacy particularly through extensive network of South African diplomatic missions abroad. In the period 2004 to 2007, for example, tourist arrivals in South Africa grew from about seven to almost ten million. Cumulatively, this growth created an estimated 400 00 direct jobs.

The potential for South Africa’s economic growth poses challenges relating to the skills shortage in the country.  This problem is common in many parts of our continent. According to the United Nation’s Economic Commission on Africa, Africa is yet to produce a critical mass of skilled and highly trained workers to sustain a dynamic development path.
Government has set in motion measures aimed at harnessing our foreign policy to help alleviate this challenge.
Our growing economy is also in need of technology and innovation. We are well aware that we cannot sustain this growing economy without the necessary scientific technology in place. In this regard, we take full advantage of our multilateral engagements - especially within the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), the SADC and the African Union - and our bilateral relations to enhance South Africa’s National System of Innovation.

Also, cooperation in science and technology is an important and active component of the strategic partnership between South Africa and the European Union.    As a result, South Africa has emerged as one of the most successful participants from outside Europe in the EU's Framework Programmes for Research and Technology Development, with financial support  awarded to South African organisations in projects covering the areas of health, food and agriculture, the environment, information and communication technology, space and socio-economic science and humanities research.
South Africa is also bidding against Australia to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).  If South Africa wins the bid, this €1,5 billion project will have sites in Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, Ghana and Madagascar.  A number of African students are being supported at masters and doctoral level through the SKA bursary programme.

Programme Director, the role of our corporate sector in our foreign policy is one of the topics this Conference will interrogate. This is very important not least because many of our companies are very active in different parts of the world, especially in Africa where their investment has averaged $1.4 billion per annum since 1991.  Our country is now one of the largest investors in Africa through the involvement of our business community in areas such as mining, telecommunications, retail and banking.

This positive development has not been without challenges, hence Government is working on developing a code of conduct for these companies.  We are hopeful that this code of conduct will help harness the positive contribution of our business community to the African Agenda and the broad objectives of our foreign policy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are still seized with promoting peace and security towards the stabilisation of the African continent as this is in our national interest. The success of our efforts at home towards a better life will be greatly enhanced when we live in a continent that is prosperous and free of violent conflicts.

Our cooperation with countries of the region in this area contributes to our determination to rid our country of crime.

We continue to support efforts to combat cross-border crime which can find its way into our country. Operations to destroy arms caches which are remnants of civil war are currently underway. These operations were executed in Mozambique, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Namibia.  Since their inception in 1999, hundreds of tons of firearms, ammunition and weapons of war have been destroyed, bringing stability to the region and thus making it difficult for criminal to find firearms to use in their activities.

We are also assisting in the training of regional police services, thereby contributing to capacity building in the region to combat transnational crime. Capacity building programmes have also been established with police forces in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Comoros and the Sudan.

Programme Director,

Development cooperation should be a vehicle to advance South Africa’s foreign policy imperatives which are informed by domestic priorities.  In this regard, we are grateful to a number of our partners who provide us with Official Development Assistance (ODA) to assist South Africa address some of its critical challenges.  We remain committed to working with these partners, be it in the area of health, rural development, or the education sector.  We know that in partnering with us and allocating their resources to support our programmes, they will always be guided by our priorities.  They will also work with us to ensure that their support of our initiatives is owned by the people on the ground. 

Programme Director, the conceptualisation and implementation of our South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA) will provide us with a vehicle to work with our partners in the world in pursuit of the African Agenda in particular.  Development cooperation should be a vehicle to advance South Africa’s foreign policy imperatives, which are informed by domestic priorities.  This Agency, we believe, should assume responsibility for all of South Africa’s international development cooperation and assistance; and related bilateral, trilateral and multilateral partnerships with countries of the South and North, multilateral development institutions, civil society and the business sector.   The Agency should have a strong coordinating and integrating function, to ensure a strategic focus, coherence in policy formulation and implementation, and maximised impact   in the application of its programmes, in collaboration with relevant South African government departments
Ladies and Gentlemen

The release of the green and discussion papers on national strategic planning, and on performance, monitoring and evaluation, marks an historic development in the South African Government’s system of governance to improve service delivery to the people of our country.

Therefore, DIRCO as the lead department on international relations and cooperation will deepen its leadership and coordination role within National Government, the Provinces, and Municipalities.

Stakeholders engaging with other States in trilateral experiences, for example, in the IBSA Dialogue Forum should articulate areas where they have successfully leveraged opportunities as well as areas where they have experienced constraints and how this could be engaged in future. 

Ladies and Gentlemen – In Conclusion

We need to deepen our engagement with all stakeholders in South Africa to bridge the gap between knowledge and policy in critical areas.

This Conference is, therefore, a unique opportunity for us to recognise pertinent domestic issues and players impacting on our foreign policy and to reflect on how these could better inform our foreign policy over the next five years and beyond in order to benefit from the geo-political shifts that are taking place.

We look forward to engaging with you on the opportunities and challenges that we face in the global village, and how we together can better serve our people’s hopes and aspirations. Thus, mindful of the interconnected global and local challenges, together we need to craft a meaningful vision for our country’s international relations and cooperation.

I thank you.

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