Empire State of Mind

It’s traffic-jam season in Manhattan again. While we’re conducting a mid-term review of those good old Polokwane policies down in Durban, I mean eThikwini, New York hosted the beginning of the 65th United Nations General Assembly, and also the Millennium Development Goals Summit. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at all these events…

Our Minister of International Relations and Cooperation headed off to the Big Apple recently, and the agenda was seemingly smooth, with a polite, staid script straight off the DIRCO website. Of course we were going to behave; my hunch is that we’re still after that Holy Grail: a permanent UN Security Council seat. On the other hand, the ANC NGC script resembled an episode of a local soap, with enough plot devices and twists in that script to keep me tuned in to Radio 702 (props to Stephen Grootes on the coverage). I was expecting the ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe to encounter more trouble from Julius and his ilk, but he foiled that – for now. I was also anticipating the dreaded NGC-agenda coup, but President Zuma set the tone and scuppered that little threat. All in all, the powers that be handled things rather well. What impressed me on the first day was that while the President set the tone for the congress, the Minister of Finance spoke to a business forum in Durban. Likewise Mantashe’s report has me believing that we could see a move towards more efficiency and less cronyism in government. I’d like to believe that this was coordinated, and I’m more than happy to thank whoever was responsible for that. Ideologies aside though, I prefer smooth efficient politics; they do wonders for my stock portfolio.

Perhaps the leadership tussles have been quelled (temporarily), but what lies ahead for SA for the next 30 years? Our government may be focused on the next 2-3 years, but have we anticipated the needs and challenges that we’ll be facing in the years to come? I see the nexus between the 65th UNGA session, the MDG Summit and between the ANC’s NGC. As an IR junkie (that would be International Relations to the uninitiated), if there’s one belief I’ll die for it is that the policies discussed at the international level have a bearing on domestic politics, and vice versa. Both spheres are mutable and open to influence from each other (to an extent, but we can argue IR paradigms another day). An example would be the previous ANC congress at Polokwane: despite the controversial decision to recall President Mbeki, it was done in a stable manner. Only with the rumours of former Finance Minister Manuel’s resignation did our financial markets take a brief dive – which was happily resolved with his announcement that he would serve under then President Motlanthe. Moreover  the change in policy direction demonstrated by the Zuma cabinet have improved South Africa’s image abroad. SA now demonstrates a firmer commitment to public health issues, in comparison to the AIDS-denialism so prevalent before.

And therein lays the rub: in all of this, the NGC, the UNGA, the MDG Summit, I hope that there is a semblance of policy coherence. I hope to see it not only conceptualised and spoken, but implemented, at all levels, from our pledges and commitments made in various multilateral fora, down to the reviewing of ANC policies.  The crux is this: what are we as a country doing to meet the MDG targets? Africa is behind in meeting these targets, and I don’t see how more aid can be gleaned from the developed world in the next 3-4 years. What I can see and what I can hope for is this: that the powers that be are mindful of the human development challenges we are facing, and that they go beyond saying the right things and demonstrate tangible commitments to resolving our challenges as a country.

  • Aditi

    The only question I have is whose emphasis is the MDG targets? Is it something that the ANC sees as fundamental to its policy outputs or does it view it as a consequence of development?My sense is that its the latter – which is why there isn’t a pressing agenda for attaining MDG targets.

  • I’m sure at the senior levels of government the MDGs take up some thought and consideration, but judging from the way we’re heading in terms of achieving the MDGs I’d say that’s as far as it goes. Sometimes though, policy incoherency can provide a lot of opportunity. Zuma’s lack of foreign policy, for example, gives think tanks and all manner of private institutions a great opportunity to help DIRCO formulate a foreign policy on their own. If the MDGs are not important for government, they could potentially be advocated stronger through institutions. Emphasis on the “potentially” of course!