Current political situations in Mali and Swaziland: briefing by Department

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International Relations

27 February 2013
Chairperson: Mr T Magama (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of International Relations and C-operation commented that it was evident that the situation in Mali was affected by the volatility of the region it found itself in. Political unrest in countries like Egypt and Libya had a huge impact on the region. Dialogue between the various factions and groups in Mali was what was needed. Ethnic and religious differences needed to be set aside.

The Committee was concerned that African leaders lacked the political will to take action in Mali and solve the problems in Africa themselves. Once again the West had to step in and save the day. The French intervention was nevertheless supported and was considered the lesser of two evils. It was still a concern that the French air strikes had taken civilian lives. Members were also not impressed by the inconsistent behaviour of the United Nations Security Council in not taking hasty action over the conflict in Mali. The United Nations was quick to act when political unrest erupted in Iraq and Libya.

The political tension in Swaziland was attributed to the fact that political parties were banned in the country. Various groups were calling for the unbanning of political parties. To make matters worse, Swaziland was going through an economic crisis which was evident by the strikes that were taking place. Swaziland had initially approached the International Monetary Fund for a loan but could not or did not wish to fulfil the conditions attached to the loan. Thereafter it approached South Africa for a loan. South Africa agreed to grant a loan but also with conditions attached. Swaziland had in January 2013 informed South Africa that it was no longer in need of the loan. There was the expectation that there would be a call for the boycott of the elections to be conducted during the second half of 2013. It was evident that Swaziland would continue to face severe political and economic challenges which admittedly the country would not be able to overcome on its own. Therefore, there was a need for some external support by way of mediation or facilitation from the Southern African Development Community preferably. South Africa would also need to consider an engagement strategy to help Swaziland overcome its political challenges.

Members felt that there was room for a constitutional democracy in Swaziland whilst still maintaining its monarchy. Lesotho was an example of a democracy with a monarchy that was still supreme. 

Meeting report


Mali briefing
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) briefed the Committee on the current political situation in Mali. The briefing was undertaken by DIRCO Director General Ambassador Jerry Matjila, assisted by Ambassador Mdu Lembede Chief Director DIRCO.

Ambassador Matjila noted that Mali was one of the biggest countries in West Africa. Mali was landlocked by seven countries and arms were entering the country via Libya. If Libya was stabilised then the entire region would be stabilised. Mali was also not unaffected by the drug trade. Drugs were entering Mali from the south such as from South Africa, Nigeria and Guinea. The drugs were on route to Asia and Europe. He continued with a genesis that led to the coup de etat in Mali. When Mali received its independence, the Tuareg tribal grouping wished to have its own independent state in the north of Mali. France did not agree to divide Mali along tribal lines. Consequently there were uprisings by the Tuareg. The Mali government had brutally crushed the uprisings and this resulted in permanent tensions in Mali. The failure of a peace agreement was worsened by the drought in Mali. Many of the young Tuareg had migrated to Algeria and Libya. Many had joined the Libyan army and after the civil war in Libya they returned to Mali with weapons. To make matters worse the world considered the administration in Mali to be corrupt and weak.

Another grouping in Mali was the Mouvement National de Liberation de l’ Azawad (MNLA). They were more moderate than the Tuareg and had defeated the Malian army. The MNLA declared independence on the 6 April 2012. However the MNLA militarily was defeated by AQIM, Ansar Ed-Dine and MUJAO. Various militants regrouped themselves in a decentralised manner. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) agreed that the destabilisation of Mali needed to stop and that a stabilising force had to be deployed. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) gave the go ahead and bore the costs of the military intervention. 

South Africa supported ECOWAS and AU PSC actions. South Africa had pledged $10m for the
African-led International Support Mission (AFISMA) to capacitate its police force. There was a two-track approach to the situation. The first was national negotiations with non-terrorist elements and the second was armed action, only if negotiations failed. After the offensive by AQIM, Ansar Ed-Dine and MUJAO, the Malian army was defeated. Mali henceforth requested assistance from the French government. France responded with military action known as Operation Serval.

Some of the concerns which South Africa had were that the international community should let the intervention in Mali remain an African initiative. The Malian government had to be seen as credible and a leading partner in the intervention. The French military action which could be seen as the lesser of two evils caused civilian casualties by way of its air strikes. The Malian government and the French military prevented access to areas by journalists, humanitarian workers and doctors. There was the possibility that human rights violations were being hidden. There were also implications for the national negotiations process. Only a credible negotiated solution could address the legitimate grievances of populations, especially the Tuareg. The Timbaktu Project was also in danger. Another concern was that the offensive could aggravate the humanitarian situation as more refugees would result and it could complicate the delivery of aid to the northern parts of Mali.

Ms L Jacobus (ANC) was concerned about the French air strikes causing civilian casualties. After all the Malian government had requested France’s assistance and Africa had agreed to the French intervention.

Amb Matjila noted that urban warfare had civilian casualties but the concern of the member was noted.

Mr S Ngonyama (COPE) asked whether the UNSC was totally committed to the process or was its commitment half hearted. The situation was serious and maximum support was needed. He asked what the real concerns of the Tuareg were. Could the archival material not be removed from the region until the situation had stabilised?

Ambassador Lembede explained that the UN resolution had said that force should only be used in September 2013 but the French and ECOWAS was not happy to wait and hence proceeded with action. South Africa supported UN Resolution 2085. South Africa had no objections to the French intervention but it did not support it either.

Ambassador Matjila pointed out that P5 countries had said that everyone blamed them for the situation in Libya. He remarked who else had been responsible for the drop off of arms in Libya. The P5 needed to do some soul searching.

Ambassador Lembede explained that in West Africa all the countries had the same problem and it was termed the “northern problem”. All the countries in West Africa had their capitals in the south. People hardly ventured north. There were no links to the north and governance and control was lacking. The loose groupings found in the north of the West African countries felt isolated and wished to be autonomous. The north was almost always Islamic and the south, Christian. The northerners saw themselves to be more Arab whilst the sub-Saharans felt more African.

Ambassador Matjila stated that perhaps an inventory of the archived material could be done. It was important to set funds aside to restore the richness of Africa’s history.

Mr M Booi (ANC) said that archival material from Timbuktu should not be removed but rather be defended. Mention was made of terrorist groups in the region. Had the question been asked as to why people were reacting in this manner? What informed the struggle for power in Mali? He did not have a sense of why terrorist groups were flooding Mali, Libya and other countries in the region. What were the real political reasons? Once these questions were answered, solutions could be found. Human bitterness was something that could linger.

Ambassador Matjila said that it seemed that the groups wished to have an Islamic Mali, beyond that he did not know. The problem was that none of the African countries had a charter of basic rights.

Ambassador Lembede stressed that drug trafficking and human trafficking was also a problem. Piracy was moving towards the Gulf of Guinea. He noted that most of the countries had weak institutions and that coup d etats were common. Most of them had also at some or other time been under military rule.
There were many groups active in Mali. Some were called terrorists. The oldest group was the MNLA and it was true Malian. The MUJAO was led by a Mauritanian and had Islamic leanings. It was no easy task to negotiate with these groupings. On negotiations the leaders of Bukina Faso and Nigeria had been chosen to be the facilitator and co-facilitator respectively. All the groupings had been invited to negotiations to which the West was not too happy about. The leader of Bukina Faso had since been sidelined.
Mr I Davidson (DA) pointed out that Resolutions 2071 and 2085 gave authority for Africa to engage in a military endeavour in Mali. The French however intervened without United Nations military intervention permission. How could United Nations Security Council (UNSC) procedures apply to certain countries and not others? There was a need for consistency. In Mali the letter of the law had not been followed. There was no UNSC resolution which gave France the go ahead. The UNSC resolutions called for an African led military intervention. He nevertheless supported the French intervention. He asked was there an exit strategy in place for South Africa. South Africa had contributed $10m to support the police force but where did the involvement end? He also asked if South Africa had contributed the $10m, who was it that rejected to give financial support?

Ambassador Matjila explained that when the Tuareg and other groups gained more territory, the President of Mali had requested French help. The French president had called African regional leaders to inform them that Mali had requested military assistance. The response of ECOWAS had taken too long hence the plea by Mali for French help. As ECOWAS took charge of matters in Mali, the French would exit. He explained that it was the UN that had agreed to offer logistical support but not financial support.

Mr B Elof (DA) asked what the different movements had in common and who was behind it all. He asked whether the $10m contributed by South Africa had been ringfenced.

Ambassador Matjila responded that the $10m was not ringfenced. The police needed to be equipped to maintain law and order.

Mr R Shah (DA) said that the mere fact that France had to intervene in Africa showed that the African Union lacked purpose and advocacy. There was a failure on the part of the AU to do its job. The AU was not pro-active but rather reactive. He asked what the status of the archival material was. He also supported the idea that the archival material be kept safe elsewhere. Would the AU come to the table financially?

Ambassador Matjila said that if Mali collapsed, Algeria would also be destabilised. If the insurgents continued to move downward they could reach Guinea. The French intervention was the lesser of two evils. It was the responsibility of Africans to maintain peace in the African continent. He said that if Mali asked for contributions towards the safekeeping of the archival material, South Africa would be happy to assist.

Mr E Sulliman (ANC) stated that if the present government of Mali was illegal, who was really in control? What plans did the AU have to ensure that Mali had a more legitimate government? 

Ambassador Matjila said that the Malians had to decide for themselves when they wished to had elections. The grievances of all Malians needed to be addressed.
Ambassador Lembede noted that the President of Mali had been overthrown 31 March 2012. There was currently a transitional government in place. Possible elections were planned for July 2013. It all depended on the situation on the ground.

The Chairperson said that whilst the French intervention was welcomed there was a greater matter of concern. It was indicative of a deeper problem in that African leaders were unable to take charge of their own continent. It was understandable that African countries were poor but it was to a certain extent because the leaders enriched themselves. African countries also spent huge amounts on military equipment. It was a difficult situation since UN Resolution 2033 gave the AU legal standing in the UNSC. If Africa wished to be independent from its colonial masters, its leaders needed to take responsibility. It was a clear failure on the part of leaders to take responsibility for the situation in Africa. ECOWAS was a strong body and it was not a good sign that French help was sought.

Ambassador Matjila responded that there seemed to be two main issues raised by members. The first was the capacity of Africa to deal with its problems and the second was the way Africa requested assistance from abroad. The situation was very difficult. States like Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia were unstable. Most of the countries mentioned and in the region had weak institutions and most could not survive without French assistance. Focus on governance was lacking. Inhabitants of those states needed to feel a sense of belonging and an obligation to defend the state. The sub-Saharan states were more African whilst the more northern parts were more Arabian. There was a lack of co-ordination to address problems with insurgents in the region. The way Libya was dealt with was now haunting Africa. Even Egypt and Tunisia found it difficult to settle. The AU confirmed that ECOWAS had its blessing to deal with the Mali situation. It had taken time to get the ECOWAS and AFISMA forces together. There was initially conflict between the Malian government and ECOWAS in terms of who was in charge of certain areas. ECOWAS and the UN came to and agreement that ECOWAS would leave the provisional government in Mali to do its work. Mali had not wanted ECOWAS to take charge on how Mali was to be governed. It was concerning that Africa could not take care of its own problems. Perhaps the rejuvenated AU could create capacity.

Mr Ngonyama (COPE) said that it was clear that ECOWAS was not as strong as what everybody had thought. Their intervention in Cote d’Ivoire showed that they were not really cohesive. The lack of speedy action by ECOWAS was concerning. He sensed some inconsistencies in UN interventions. He did not wish to breach the issue of the UN looking after the interests of the big powers. He was nevertheless glad for the French intervention. How could the Committee register its concern about the inconsistent behaviour of the UNSC? If nothing was done they would continue acting the way they were. For example in Iraq and Libya the UNSC took quick action.

Ambassador Matjila responded that the inconsistency of the UN in Africa was a huge concern. There was the issue of national interests which influenced every policy or position decision.

Mr Booi (ANC) stated that the Committee must accept the fact that the UN would not always do what Members perhaps wished because of their history. Africans had to take the leadership roles themselves. The issue was how to do it.

Mr Elof (DA) pointed out that there was no law and order in Mali yet South Africa gave them $10m. He felt that in future funds needed to be ringfenced. Were there countries that supported the various factions in Mali?

The Chairperson asked who actually received the $10m.

Ambassador Matjila responded that the $10m would be placed in an AU fund. The AU would manage the funds. The funds did not go to the Malian government. The funds as yet had not been transferred.

Mr Shah said that given the fact that the whole Saharan region was embroiled in conflict, did South Africa have a policy in relation to the area. What exactly was South Africa’s policy in those regions? He asked how real South Africa’s hopes of leading in Africa were. What was South Africa’s role? South Africa experienced huge logistical problems in its mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr M Mncwango (IFP) asked whether the leader responsible for the coup d etat in Mali, Captain Amadou Sanago was part of the discussion process.

Ambassador Lembede responded that the role of Captain Sanago was unclear in discussions. The question remained as to how he managed to remain so powerful for so long. He overthrew the Malian government and ECOWAS had to beg him to step down in order to set up a transitional government. Captain Sanago in return for stepping down wished to be given the benefits of an ex head of state. It was granted to him but later withdrawn.

The Chairperson agreed that South Africa should assist where it could to protect the Timbuktu archival material. He understood that the French intervention was a necessary evil but was concerned about the lack of political will of African leaders. The longwinded approach by the international community to the Mali situation was a contradiction. He bemoaned the kidnapping of a South African citizen in the region but said that there was a pattern emerging. Often those kidnapped had dual citizenship such as South African and European. The person travelled with the European passport and only when they got into trouble did they remember their South African citizenship. Nevertheless South Africa would not desert its citizens. Another concern was the lack of deliberate attempt by regional leaders to set up liberating forces.

Briefing on Swaziland
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) briefed the Committee on the current political situation in Swaziland. The briefing was undertaken by DIRCO Director General Ambassador Jerry Matjila, assisted by Ms Liezel Castleman Director: DIRCO.

In 1973 political parties were banned in Swaziland by decree. In 2006 political parties were banned in terms of its constitution. This led to an escalation in tension in Swaziland. There was a call for the unbanning of political parties. The Swaziland authorities passed anti-terrorism legislation and clamped down on unrest. The political unrest in Swaziland has caught the attention of the international community and South Africa has been called upon to assist Swaziland in dealing with its challenges. Apart from the fact that Swaziland’s currency was pegged to the South African Rand and thereby subsumed the country’s monetary policy to South Africa, Swaziland received 85% of its imports from South Africa and sent almost 74% of its exports to South Africa. The economic crisis presented a serious challenge to the country’s stability as evidenced by strikes. The 2008/9 global economic crisis has had a severe impact on the country’s economy. This was followed by a dramatic reduction of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) revenue allocations during the financial year 2010/11. For example, Swaziland had received a R1.9 billion revenue allocation in 2010/11 compared to R5.1 billion in 2009/10. For 2012/13, the SACU revenue allocation to Swaziland increased to R7.1 billion, thus cushioning the country from a potential economic collapse. However, this may not be sufficient to cover all government expenditure as well as previous financial commitments.

In response to this situation, Swaziland has since approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to obtain financial assistance. The IMF has made a set of recommendations to the Swazi authorities. Swaziland had subsequently developed an intervention strategy called the Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap (FAR). However, the Kingdom had implemented only a few recommendations, namely the collection of tax and the introduction of VAT and a fuel levy. Swaziland had not met the key targets set by the IMF for the implementation of FAR which was the reduction of the wage bill by reducing and freezing salary increases and also merging certain ministries. Another requirement was to reduce the King’s household spending.

Swaziland turned to South Africa for a loan request. The two countries concluded and signed a R2.4 billion loan agreement in June 2012. South Africa had built in key conditions to the loan agreement including a demand for an inclusive political dialogue and economic reforms.
Swaziland indicated in January 2013 that they would no longer pursue the loan. For South Africa, the loan was still on the table only if Swaziland implemented the required conditions and submitted documents like a loan book as requested by National Treasury and Reserve Bank. Swaziland was the only Southern African Development Community (SADC) country where political parties were banned.  Not withstanding the security clampdown, the banned political parties were expected to continue calling for democratisation. They were expected to call for the boycott of the elections expected to be conducted during the second half of 2013. From the foregoing, it seemed that Swaziland would continue to face severe political and economic challenges which admittedly the country may not be able to overcome on its own. Therefore, there was a need for some external support by way of mediation or facilitation from SADC preferably. South Africa would also need to consider an engagement strategy to help Swaziland overcome its political challenges.

Mr Sulliman had a suspicion that Swaziland received assistance from abroad. The problems of Swaziland directly affected South Africa. How could Swaziland be convinced to unban political parties?

Ambassador Matjila said that perhaps an option was to use the SACU arrangement as a bargaining chip. A solution could be found whilst still taking the monarchy into consideration. Lesotho for example was a democracy but the king was still supreme. There were many options that could be discussed.

Ms Castleman did not wish to speculate whether Swaziland received financial help from abroad. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to the tune of an R2.4bn loan had already been signed by Swaziland with conditions. Some financial reforms and political issues were accepted in the MOU.

Ms Jacobus said that if Swaziland was dependant on the SACU Budget could it not be pressurized to unban political parties. Why was the offer of the loan to Swaziland still on the table? Why did South Africa not withdraw the loan?

Ambassador Matjila noted that South Africa stuck to its commitments. Swaziland was after all its neighbour. The loan was still on the table with the conditions attached to it. The question was how the move was to be made towards a constitutional monarchy.  

Mr Davidson considered Swaziland to be a renegade state. The Constitution of South Africa encouraged democracy. Why did South Africa follow the approach that it did with Swaziland? He commented that South Africa had not followed the same approach with Zimbabwe. South Africa needed to be consistent. DIRCO had nevertheless been consistent thus far.

Ambassador Matjila responded that Members themselves needed to debate the issue of South Africa being more consistent.

Mr Shah noted that his constituency was close to the Swaziland border. It was common practice for Swazis to cross the border into South Africa to collect social grants and pensions. Why should South Africa take care of Swazis when their own king did not care about them? Why was the king even tolerated?

Ambassador Matjila explained that South Africa had an arrangement with its neighbours. Where people who had lived and worked in South Africa moved back to countries like Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia, they would be allowed to collect their pensions in South Africa. The concept of dual citizenship was not only European; many Swazis had dual citizenship and hence could collect pensions. The broader issue needed to be looked at. 

Mr Skosana pointed out that if an inclusive political dialogue was to be had with Swaziland a special envoy of people with different interests were needed. It was true that Swaziland was a collapsing state but other institutions like the monarchy had to be taken into consideration.

The Chairperson emphasised that there was no contradiction in having a constitutional monarchy and a democracy. The Committee supported the conditions set out in the MOU between South Africa and Swaziland. He remarked that the King of Swaziland had in his state of the nation address mentioned the political instability in Swaziland only twice. It was concerning how the king dealt with civil and political issues. South Africa was directly affected by what happened in Swaziland.

The meeting was adjourned.


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