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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Is South Africa expanding its power and influence over Africa?

Over the last few months, South African president Jacob Zuma has made trips to Chad, Algeria, Kenya and Nigeria, South Africa has hosted the BRICS summit and in Addis and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma convened her first AU Summit. Is South Africa’s influence expanding in Africa, CCTV asked? Appearing with the S.A. High Commissioner to Kenya, I argued there is both continuity and change in their approach to the continent in 2013.

SA Africa policy has four elements; strengthening the African Union and SADC, post conflict reconstruction and development and building of the African Standby Force. These elements are not new. SA has a diplomatic presence in 46 out of 54 countries, spends more on Africa than any other region of the world and is one of 5 African countries that spends 15% of the total budget of the African Union.  Since 1994, SA has mediated or caused mediation in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Libya among others.

What is new, is for the first time, SA Defence Forces have been killed in a country that is not traditionally within South Africa’s zone of influence, the Central African Republic. What is new, is that South Africa’s influence over the African Union has grown through the Office of the AU Commission Chairperson. In 2009, despite a quota of 17, there were only 3 South African staff working at the AU Commission. Since Zuma’s appointment, her office has seen this expand at least four fold with a number of senior advisors.

SA Africa trade reflects more commercial interests. By 2007, 92 companies out of 100 listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange have business interests in the rest of Africa. Some of the companies MTN, Anglo-gold Ashanti, Woolworths, Massmart and Pick n’ Pay. This is South Africa incorporated. South Africa Inc. now has large commercial interests in retail, mining, energy and transportation across the continent. So much so that questions were raised in Parliament as to whether South African Defense Troops were in the Central African Republic to protect the private financial interests of Senior ANC officials that have mining concessions in the country.

Foreign policies reflect commercial, political, geographical and moral interests of powerful elite groups, South Africa is no different. Question is whether these interests are coherent and are disclosed transparently. As to whether South Africa represents the continent globally or even with the new grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, it would be rash to mistake South Africa’s visibility and voice as having Africa’s vote on all matters. This vote has to be earned, issue by issue, moment by moment.

You can watch the interview at

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