Ramaphosa conspicuous by his absence at the G7 Summit

In the recent past G7 summits, Ramaphosa was the go-to African leader who was high on the guest list of invitees – a prerogative of the summit host, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)

In the recent past G7 summits, Ramaphosa was the go-to African leader who was high on the guest list of invitees – a prerogative of the summit host, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 22, 2023


London - One of the conspicuous absentees at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, over the past few days, was President Cyril Ramaphosa.

In the recent past G7 summits, Ramaphosa was the go-to African leader who was high on the guest list of invitees – a prerogative of the summit host.

Not so any more. The South African leader’s star has waned dramatically thanks to a mix, inter alia, of alleged corruption-linked scandals, foreign policy awkwardness, which has seen the Ramaphosa administration reluctant to condemn Russia for its invasion of and ongoing attack on Ukraine to the chagrin of the industrialised economies; and an economy teetering on the brink of collapse thanks to seemingly never-ending power cuts.

The symbolism of Hiroshima as the host city can never be lost in time and translation. At 8.15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was devastated by the first atomic bomb (with the dubious soubriquet Little Boy) to be used as a weapon of war and mass destruction, which saw an estimated 140 000 Japanese perish.

A second bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later resulted in similar devastation.

The intended rejoinder aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin to deter him from resorting to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine as a last resort or as an act of desperation, does not deflect from the reality of the historical brutality of imperialism, colonialism and hegemony of which the US, Europe, Russia and indeed Japan were past masters.

It’s not that foreign policy per se is undergoing a mindset transformation by going “ethical”. That was tried and tested and always succumbed to the vagaries of Realpolitik. In the end, nations will always act in their self-interest, which trumps any notion of a moral compass.

Otherwise, how do you explain the shenanigans at the “other” summit, which ran almost concurrently with the G7 – the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where the de facto Saudi leader Muhammed Bin Salman, whom a CIA report named as the man who ordered the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, warmly welcomed Syrian dictator, President Bashar al-Assad, who brutally suppressed his own population with the help of Putin and Iran, because they wanted democracy and which resulted in a civil war in 2011, claiming half a million lives and confining 12.8 million Syrians either as internally displaced or as refugees abroad.

The irony is that it was Bin Salman and his fellow absolute monarchs in the Gulf who expelled Syria from the Arab League and armed a disparate motley crew of anti-Assad protagonists including Turkish-backed rebels, jihadists, and Kurdish-led militia fighters supported by the US, many of whom still occupy large swathes of northern Syria.

An emboldened Assad, who hails from the minority Alavi sect and whose father Hafez Assad brutally ruled Syria with the collusion of the French for almost half a century, has set a disturbing precedent for a pariah state – “ride out the storm and you will triumph”.

“Today is an historic opportunity to rearrange our affairs with the least amount of foreign interference,” he told the summit. The Arab League has a delusional sense of Arab solidarity and consensus, a phenomenon which is as elusive as it is unrealistic given the disparate governance systems of the league’s member states – a motley crew of absolute monarchies, military dictatorships, and countries in a state of perpetual civil war – Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia.

It is common these days to talk about a new world order to counter the hegemony and influence of the West. People talk about the Global South as a counterweight to the Global North, as if geopolitics and the world order is a zero-sum game – “us versus them”. The reality is far more complex.

Russia and China have just as much an “imperialistic instinct” as the US and Europe.

Just ask the Chechens, the Afghans and the Uighurs of Xinjiang. All four powers have contributed to the post-independence political chaos on the African continent using the nefarious “divide and rule” tool to influence or curry favour with one faction or the other by financially supporting or arming them.

Modern history is littered with such shifting sands of geopolitical alliances and allegiances.

This year’s G7 host, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, seems to be trying a new variant of this diplomatic pathogen called the G7.

He invited eight more guests to the summit, which included the leaders of Australia, India, Brazil, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Comoros (representing the AU) and the Cook Islands (representing the Pacific Islands Forum), ostensibly to forge a more global coalition as opposed to a Western one for a consensus against the two enfant terribles of global politics and stability, and dealing with the current global economic shocks and cost-of-living crisis.

Kishida notably visited Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique earlier in May to bolster African support against increasing Russian and Chinese influence on the continent.

Instead of inviting Ramaphosa to represent Africa as other G7 hosts have done over the past few years, he decided to move the goal posts by inviting the current chairperson of the AU, President Azali Assoumani of Comoros.

Whether this is a snub to Ramaphosa or the decline of South African influence in global diplomacy, which was at its peak during Madiba’s reign, the irony is that during the apartheid era, the Japanese were welcomed as

“Honorary Whites” because Pretoria wanted to preserve its diplomatic, trade and investment relations with Tokyo.

We have seen several false dawns of new scrambles for Africa. Continental nations must learn the lessons of past scrambles.

Past and present suitors from both the West, Eastern Europe and the Far East may talk the talk. But the partnership scorecard has relentlessly shown that when it comes to walking the walk, this is very often fraught with diversions and cul de sacs.

South Africa should be careful not to be beguiled by the low-hanging fruits of the likes of BRICS, Chinese capital and clamours for immediate de-dollarisation through the establishment of an alternative currency to the greenback, most likely the yuan.

China’s flourishing trade relationship with Africa, which according to Chinese Customs data reached a record $282 billion in 2022, is as much due to Western neglect in its relations with the rising continent, which merely served to help increase Beijing’s footprint there.

The paltry US-Africa trade at $72.6bn is testimony to the scale of this neglect.

Parker is an economist and writer based in London

Cape Times

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G7Cyril Ramaphosa