The recent protests leading to governmental resignations and consequent elections in Guatemala, natural disasters and northward-migration and smuggling of many Central Americans particularly children affecting the region, underlines the persistent struggles and deficits faced by people and the states in the region. These events have increasingly drawn more attention to the region, and have resulted in various opinions and analyses by authors and organisations. Despite existing formal and economic relations with states in Central America, the lack of a response or statement by South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) regarding the recent events in Guatemala presents Central America as a glaring vacuum in South Africa’s foreign policy. This potentially means that South Africa’s reactions to events in the region have no lasting effect or yield as they are eclipsed by this vacuum, as no platform exists from which to navigate events and build on relations in the region. This perceived inaction by South Africa’s sectors, inevitably brings two scenarios to mind.
Scenario One: South Africa’s (non)reactive approach, lack of strategy and positioning, non-articulation of perspectives and the lack of response or notice of the Guatemalan events in late August and early September 2015, could mean an underlying coherent strategy undertaken through “Silent Diplomacy”, that seems not of interest as it is not articulated in public. If this scenario is valid, one has to wonder and interrogate why this approach has been adopted and kept away from public and policy scrutiny.
Scenario Two: The approach described in scenario two concerning the events in Guatemala during late August and early September 2015, could mean a genuine lack of a comprehensive strategy and diplomatic innovation, restricted to reaction to events, shallow economic linkages and popular issues that develop a temporary trend in the Global System of Actors.
Whichever scenario is applicable; the nature of Central American dynamics and the lack of a comprehensive South African strategy reflect a region that has been assigned a value that is not befitting of South Africa’s interests and focus. This however, may be one of the bigger miscalculations of South Africa’s targeted areas of involvement, particularly if an arena is presented where South Africa can test the viability of its Strategic Culture, Ubuntu Diplomacy and principle of Batho Pele within the Global South but also within the Global System of Actors. The events in Guatemala should also remind Southern Africa and South Africa that the authority of the people remains powerful in their response to perceived and experienced government apathy. The application of the principles of Ubuntu and Batho Pele in the Central American isthmus, through the provision of aid and crisis assistance to cultural exchanges, should result in greater embedding within the societal and political imaginations of the broader Latin America and the region in particular.
A strategy that guides how South Africa interacts with regional dynamics and state and societal interests in Central America in this instance, and Latin America and the Caribbean in general is essential. If not for economic or any real purpose of interest; at least for the desire to integrate and come to understand regions and territories through their own experiences and perspectives. South Africa should look to deepen relations and understand the limitations of this set of relations, thereby seeking stable but beneficial relations which do not seek to go beyond the threshold of what is possible. The establishment of such a platform essentially necessitates the development and articulation of a strategy that seeks to deal with the region, as well as shape the necessary Tracks of Diplomacy required to apply these strategies. South Africa should look to develop and articulate this broader Latin American and Caribbean Agenda, in an essential South African manner based on the principles of Ubuntu and Batho Pele that seeks to bring a development-driven and people-centred character to South-South Cooperation within the Global System of Actors.
Mr Wayne Jumat is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD, Unisa.