n African Journal on Conflict Resolution - Prospects for African conflict resolution in the next millenium : South Africa's view

Volume 1, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1562-6997


The tragic events in Liberia (1990), Somalia (1992) and Rwanda (1994) evoked a rethinking on the pivotal role assigned to the United Nations and the international community in African conflict resolution. Subsequently, there emerged clarion calls for African solutions to African conflicts, with foreign intervention only playing a complementary role. This unfolding of events put a democratic South Africa, a former pariah state, in a good stead to take this initiative in sub-Saharan Africa. So far, South Africa's circumspect role has elicited mixed reactions from concerned parties within and outside her territorial boundaries. In this paper, the nature of South Africa's involvement in subsequent conflicts is discussed. The main objective is to highlight factors which have moulded South Africa intervention, and their impact on her perceptions about prospects for future African initiatives in the twenty-first century. Earlier on, in 1992, the United Nations (UN) decided to review its strategy for conflict resolution and peacekeeping. Non- payment of contributions coupled with the reluctance of Western countries to commit their military personnel in hazardous peacekeeping operations (in Africa) also made it imperative for the UN to review its strategy (Boutros-Ghali 1992: 28,41). Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace, the policy document on UN peacekeeping, came as a direct response to these challenges. This document, inter alia, called for the partial delegation of peace-keeping duties to regional organisations (Boutros-Ghali 1992: chap 7). However, the events in Somalia and Rwanda showed that many of the recommendations of the UN Agenda for Peace are, in fact, implausible. In the light of these developments, a democratic South Africa as a dominant member state within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) eemed to be in good stead to be in the forefront of renewed moves towards bringing African solutions to African conflicts (Jan 1997: 13; McGowan & Ahwireng- Obeng 1998: 1 - 3). However, this proved not to be an easy task at all, for South Africa carried with her a considerable baggage of the past (See, amongst others, Landsberg 1996: 1670- 1671; Gwexe 1996: 29-32). To mark a clean break with the past, South Africa, among other things, has had to transform herself from a pariah state into a first among the equals in Southern Africa. In the process, South Africa adopted a remarkably ambivalent foreign policy towards the region and indeed the rest of the continent. This paper will start off with a brief review of recent attempts - both foreign and African -in conflict resolution in this continent, to be followed with an overview of South Africa endeavours. It will be argued that South Africa conception of African conflict resolution falls short of meeting the heightened expectations in the continent as a whole; that South Africa position is influenced by the magni- tude of daunting domestic challenges which will, for some foreseeable future, continue to drain much of her meagre resources; and that in pursuit of legitimate interests abroad, South Africa will nevertheless be impelled to fulfil her continental obligations. This paper will then conclude that without substantial financial backing from the West, particularly the US, South Africa will remain pessimistic over the prospects for African conflict resolution in the next millennium.

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