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President Jacob Zuma and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will apparently pass like ships in the night in the Caribbean. Both are making journeys to Jamaica to help the island state celebrate its golden jubilee – half a century of independence from Britain.
But it seems their schedules have been carefully calculated to ensure they do not meet. According to the Jamaican Information Service, Jonathan arrived in Jamaica yesterday to meet Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller before departing today.
Zuma will arrive on Sunday, will also meet Simpson-Miller and will attend other independence celebrations before returning to SA on Monday.
Jonathan is reported by Nigerian media to be in something of a sulk about SA Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s victory over the incumbent, Gabon’s Jean Ping, in the election for the chair of the AU Commission in Addis Ababa last month. Jonathan was strongly backing Ping.
But, strangely, he was absent from the Addis summit and some African analysts believe this absence, as well as that of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, was decisive in our minister’s victory.
Nigerian journalists say it was because of this sulk that Jonathan did not attend the Forum for China Africa Co-operation in Beijing immediately after the AU summit.
He knew it was going to be a big show for Zuma and he didn’t want to be overshadowed.
Indeed, Zuma was the African star of that show, sharing a platform with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the opening ceremony and delivering an address.
That address would certainly have rubbed salt into Jonathan’s wounded pride as Zuma took the opportunity to congratulate Dlamini Zuma on her victory and to sing her praises – as though her victory was not the result of his own government’s superhuman efforts.
It was really a boast disguised as congratulation, and some other African journalists listening thought it inappropriate and rather parochial on such an international platform.
“That was a party-political speech or at best a national one, not an international one,” one said.
Of course Zuma and the ANC are increasingly blurring the distinction between party and state on the issue of the ANC’s centenary, to such an extent that it is barely remarked on now.
For example, the official announcement of his visit to Jamaica, says: “South Africa and Jamaica have agreed to celebrate the ANC’s centenary and Jamaica’s golden jubilee jointly in 2012.”
Spot the difference. The Jamaican independence anniversary is an event for all Jamaicans, the ANC’s centenary is a purely party-political event.
Zuma hardly ever fails to mention the ANC’s centenary in his addresses abroad or to foreign visitors. It is not right, and Jamaica has erred in allowing the ANC to piggy-back on its independence celebrations.
Ironically, Zuma will not be repaying the compliment by blurring the distinction between party and state in Jamaica, as he will also meet the leader of the opposition, Andrew Holness, according to the Jamaican government information service.
This apparent gesture of respect for the opposition is not mentioned in the announcement from the SA Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) and is not common in Zuma’s foreign visits.
It is not clear what else Zuma will talk about with the Jamaican leaders. So far the two countries have only one official agreement for co-operation, covering arts and culture, and the Dirco statement does not indicate if others will be signed or advanced on this visit.
Another area of existing co-operation, though, is the project of integrating the African diaspora more deeply into the AU structures on which SA is taking the lead, having hosted the recent African Diaspora summit in Sandton.
Jamaica is active in this initiative, too, as are most Caribbean nations, which are largely nations of African origin. This is an initiative which can be expected to gather momentum with SA at the helm of the AU Commission.