Department of International Relations & Cooperation: A central role in African affairs

Globalisation is infiltrating almost every industry one can think of. Through technology and improved transport infrastructure, the world has become a smaller place. For a developing economy like South Africa’s, there is plenty of demand to completely modernise infrastructure in order for industry to compete on a global stage. At the same time, expertise and often funding looks to the international community for assistance.

DIRCOInto this environment, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) first made its entrance in May 2009, with the announcement from Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane that President Jacob Zuma had alluded to the name change of the Department of Foreign Affairs to DIRCO.

Mr Clayson Monyela, Deputy Director-General: Public Diplomacy at DIRCO, takes up the story:

The name change moved from the premise that foreign policy was based upon; and is indeed an advancement of our domestic priorities at international level. Accordingly, our foreign policy features still remain, pushing back the frontiers of poverty and underdevelopment in our country and Africa based on the continental economic and developmental plan, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

We also look to create peace and pursue peaceful resolution of conflicts; contribute to peace efforts in Africa and the world and build and consolidate strategic partnerships to advance our developmental agenda.

“DIRCO aims to help building and reforming African continental institutions and the continued exertion of influence on global political and economic issues.

In pursuance of all the above objectives, South Africa recognises that its destiny is inextricably linked to that of the developing world in general and the African continent in particular. Consequently, as South Africa seeks to attain its foreign policy objectives it should simultaneously pursue a developmental agenda both on the continent and in the developing world.

The renaming to DIRCO was a deliberate decision on the part of government to ensure a holistic approach to foreign relations which reflects on the developmental agenda.

DIRCO currently comprises of 1,722 employees based at head office in the OR Tambo Building, Rietondale, Pretoria, with a further 707 officials located at various DIRCO missions around the world.

The Department’s remit is broad and Monyela summarises the key points accordingly:

Through bilateral and multilateral interactions, DIRCO: aims to protect and promote South African national interests and values. The Department conducts and coordinates South Africa’s international relations and promotes its foreign policy objectives; monitors international developments and advises government on foreign policy and related domestic matters; protects South Africa’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In addition, DIRCO contributes to the formulation of international law and enhances respect for the provisions thereof; promotes multilateralism to secure a rules-based international system; maintains a modern, effective and excellence-driven department; provides consular services to South African nationals abroad and provides a world-class and uniquely South African State Protocol Service.

Increasingly in the modern South Africa, there is a need for public and private enterprises to work in collaboration. Monyela says that DIRCO has played its role to build and strengthen a true partnership between government and the private sector, citing the recent examples of the COP17/CMP7 and the Fifth BRICS Summit. DIRCO also ensures that it has strategic relationships with businesses operating outside the country in line with its African Agenda.

But how successful and measurable are DIRCO’s achievements? Monyela is in no doubt that the Department has played an important role in changing perceptions about South Africa:

DIRCO can identify several areas where South Africa’s foreign policy has made positive strides,” he affirms. “Firstly, our country is no longer a pariah state but a valued and respected member of the international community. We have a dynamic, independent foreign policy that speaks to our domestic priorities, supported by a professional foreign service.

We have expanded our global footprint from 34 to 125 Missions across all continents and time zones and at the same time our international trade has surged, creating millions of jobs; and tourist arrivals continue to grow year after year – a direct result of work done by South African diplomats.

Our African Agenda has placed our continent at the centre of our foreign policy and our relations, in particular with countries of the South are firmly grounded on shared interests and common challenges. Our partnership with countries of the North is based on mutual respect and cooperation and we are active in the multilateral system for the transformation of the global governance architecture.

Our economic diplomacy promotes South Africa’s broad economic objectives globally and we are now considered globally a member of what has become known as “emerging powers”.

DIRCO regards the SADC region as a priority, whilst strengthening South-South and North-South relationships. Of course many of these efforts are ongoing and Monyela says there are some key activities currently taking place:

“Much emphasis has been placed on building the necessary institutional mechanisms required for Africa to manage its affairs better. We have said for many years that Africa’s challenges require African solutions. The AU and its organs are being capacitated on a continuous basis to ensure that Africa has the ability to solve its own problems. In all these efforts, South Africa is playing a leading role.

“Within the BRICS grouping, South Africa advocates for equitable trade between African states and some of the world’s leading emerging markets. We want Africa, the second-fastest growing regional bloc after Asia, to get its fair share of global trade.”

South Africa has reiterated the call made in 2005 for a speedy reform of the UNSC and reaffirmed its long-held view that the reform should be comprehensive and include expansion in both categories of membership both permanent and non-permanent. The position of Africa is very clear; Africa should at least be allocated two seats in a reformed UNSC,” Monyela insists.

The post-2015 UN Development Agenda is a major issue in the UN system. This should not distract from the attainment or financing of the MDGs in the remaining period prior to 2015. The MDGs provide a clear way to measure progress for the poorest, and there has been significant progress on all the key MDGs in countries across the globe, including Africa. It is important that any debate on the post-2015 UN Development Agenda ensures that all previous international agreements are honoured, particularly in fulfilling obligations on the Means of Implementation. It must address inequality in all areas, and focus on social and economic development as well as environmental protection in a balanced manner,” he adds.

Recently South Africa returned to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) twice as a non-permanent member and the nation has also joined the powerful and influential group of emerging economies BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and hosted the Fifth BRICS Summit in Durban last March.

Last year South Africa hosted and presided over a historic and successful United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17) and delivered the landmark Durban Platform that rescued the Kyoto Protocol. South Africa also remains the only African country in the G20.

With a priority focus on the SADC region, South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) successfully lobbied and campaigned, ensuring Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was elected as the first-ever female Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission.

But what does the future hold in store for DIRCO? Monyela is confident that his Department can continue to fight the country’s corner internationally:

In the next year and beyond, DIRCO will lead a coordinated campaign, through the footprint it has established, to diversify and consolidate our international relations gains,” he affirms.

By adhering to the values of patriotism, loyalty, dedication, Ubuntu, equity, integrity and Batho Pele, DIRCO’s objective is to have an African continent that is prosperous, peaceful, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and united, and which contributes to a world that is just and equitable.

We are also committed to promoting South Africa’s national interests and values, the African Renaissance and the creation of a better world for all. Therefore, according to government’s outcomes-based approach, DIRCO focuses on Outcome 11: A better South Africa, in a better Africa, in a better world,” he concludes.