South African Defence Minister Mosioua Lekota announced on 13 February that peacekeeping operations are to become a key feature of the country’s foreign policy, after the government’s international relations, peace and security cluster met to address its programme of action for the year.
Lekota said the white paper on peace missions would be reviewed, seven years after South Africa’s first foray into peacekeeping missions.
“It is clear that peacekeeping is now not a passing engagement,” he said.
Lekota added that “greater challenges that lie ahead”, largely in peacekeeping in Africa “and beyond”. He said that since 1994 demand for South Africa’s involvement in peace missions has grown far beyond what could be expected from a young democracy.
The government would now advance the review of the white paper in order to make peacekeeping support for conflict areas a priority, especially within the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It is likely that peacekeeping operations will be pushed up the agenda when South Africa assumes the chair of the SADC in August 2008.
In 2007, the SADC rapid reaction brigade was launched in Lusaka, Zambia. Lekota said there was further need to fast track the establishment of the African Standby Force.
He added that a new strategy would be devised to budget for reserve amounts to meet the country’s peacekeeping commitments.
South Africa is currently hosting the third annual conference on peacekeeping, reconstruction and stability operations, which is set to run from 11 to 15 February. Delegates include representatives from European, African and US governments, military and NGOs.
The conference will provide an opportunity for detailed discussion of past and present peacekeeping operations in Africa. Delegates will also be able to raise their most pressing questions with the forum, and will discuss and share major African issues of concern.
SA’s peacekeeping missions
South Africa is currently involved in peacekeeping missions in Ivory Coast, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is also playing a strong role in the reconstruction in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with it has had a long involvement, having helped end the country’s civil war.
The facilitator of the Burundi peace process is South African Minister of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula. At his recent meeting with the leadership of the Regional Peace Initiative, Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Jakaya Kikwete, Nqakula’s mandate as facilitator was extended for twelve months, ending in December 2008.
Nqakula will now focus his mandate on two key areas. The first six months of his mandate ending June 2008 will concentrate on the final phase of the demobilisation, disarming and reintegration of the rebel PALIPEHUTU-FNL combatants. The second phase will be to assist with the mechanisms aimed at implementing the agreed political and military principles, adopted on 18 July 2006 in Dar es Salaam.
To further cement its key position in conflict resolutions, in April 2008 South Africa will this year assume the presidency of the United Nations Security Council, after spending a year as a non-permanent member. The country will use this position to further seek and promote improved relations between the African Union Peace and Security Council and the United Nations Security Council.