n African Security Review - United States relations with South Africa : why now is a critical time to strengthen them : features

Volume 17, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1024-6029
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Now, more than ever, the United States needs to strengthen its relationship with the Republic of South Africa (RSA). A renewed focus on the African continent by global powers is putting Africa at the centre of a struggle for influence and resources. The US provides aid for numerous countries throughout Africa, but South Africa undeniably receives the major share with over US$221 million for Aids relief alone in 2006. Yet, diplomatic relations between the US and South Africa remain somewhat strained and prevent the US from collaborating effectively with South Africa to bring peace and security to the African continent. Working through those differences sooner, rather than later, will yield enormous returns for the African continent as a whole, as well as for US national security concerns in the future.

The RSA is the strongest economic power on the African continent, with a gross domestic product (GDP) in 2006 of US$587,5 billion (more than 67 per cent of which came from the services sector) and a GDP growth rate of 5 per cent. Unfortunately, even the current economic growth has not been sufficient to lower the unemployment rate, since the country is still plagued by many problems from the apartheid era, specifically poverty and a lack of economic empowerment among previously disadvantaged groups. These problems spill over into the wider economy and prevent South Africa from being the leader on the continent that the world expects it to be.
The US is involved in multiple programmes to alleviate many of South Africa's problems - by means of military assistance, health services, economic aid and other projects from numerous agencies. The existing programmes, combined with stronger diplomatic and military relationships between the two countries, are critical in ensuring that South Africa becomes a beacon of leadership for other countries. In addition, with South Africa being the hegemon of Africa, better relations with South Africa are vital to US interests in Africa: South Africa will be able to act as a committed US partner once relations have been strengthened.
The recent announcement that the US is preparing to establish a unified, designated Africa Command (AFRICOM), which will be responsible for the entire African continent except Egypt, presents a new set of opportunities for the US and South Africa to strengthen military and diplomatic relations. This will inevitably lead to a more prosperous South Africa and Africa since a stronger South Africa can play a larger role in the humanitarian crises that plague the continent.
This paper focuses on why it is imperative that the US, in addition to focusing its attention on northern Africa (due to national interests such as oil, terrorism and potential rogue states), should also devote extensive attention to South Africa. Working through the present challenges and maintaining sound diplomatic relations will benefit not only the US and South Africa, but the African continent as a whole.

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