It’s one thing to accuse “The West”, that great villain in African political crime stories, of having ulterior motives with regard to Libya.
It’s much harder to level the same charges against a country like Turkey which does not carry any of the West’s colonial or super-power baggage.
On Saturday, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu held a meeting with International Relations and Co-operation Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in Pretoria and later with President Jacob Zuma.
At a joint press conference after their meeting, the two foreign ministers, though both friendly, made it clear that there were sharp differences between the positions of the two countries on Libya and Syria.
On Libya, of course, the differences were no surprise since Turkey is a member of Nato and the current chair of the International Contact Group of countries – Nato plus others – who are bombing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
South Africa voted for UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which authorised a no-fly zone and military action to enforce the no fly zone and to protect civilians.
But Zuma has since then rebuked the Nato-led coalition which is conducting the military operations, for “misinterpreting” Resolution 1973 by seeking “regime change” through killing or ousting Gaddafi instead of just protecting civilians.
As a result, South Africa has refused to vote for any UN Security Council resolution to condemn Syria’s equally-brutal crackdown on mostly-unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators.
The aim was “to send a clear message that we will not be taken for a ride again” as Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim bluntly put it.
He later met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an Ibsa (India, Brazil, South Africa) delegation which issued a statement urging all sides to stop the violence, as though it was being perpetrated equally by all.
Davutoglu insisted on Saturday that the military operations in Libya were intended only to protect civilians, “not regime change, as it has been said by my dear colleague” .
On Turkey’s neighbour Syria, Davutoglu appeared to have shifted South Africa to a much stronger position.
Nkoana-Mashabane echoed him in saying ; “Yes we condemn violence from all sides. But government must take full responsibility for the security of all its citizens; military operations must stop now.”
Former diplomats and other officials from former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration have been whipping up even greater indignation about the Nato-led military operations in Libya, through a petition and otherwise.
The gist of their complaint is that it is outrageous that foreignors are bombing an African country and that this flies in the face of the doctrine of “African solutions for African problems”.
But surely the ultimate mantra in all such cases should be “any solutions for African people”?
Do Africans suffering under dictators like Gaddafi really care who relieves their suffering as long as it happens? Do the Mbeki people – and the Zuma people – care about the well-being of Africans or about the prestige of African politicians and diplomats?.
In this regard, it was perhaps significant that Davutoglu had flown to Pretoria from Mogadishu where he had accompanied Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a bold venture, the first visit to Somalia by a non-African leader during the 20 years the country has been in a state of anarchy.
Davutoglu said Turkey wanted to send the message Somalia is not a no-go area. Turkey had also pledged $200 million (over R1.4 billion) which would rise to $250m – to feed starving Somalis he said. Turkey would – also boldly one must say – open an embassy in Mogadishu to help distribute the aid. It would rebuild the road between the city and the airport, restore a hospital, build schools and drill water wells. That’s putting your money – and your safety – where your mouth is.
South Africa, by contrast, has given just over $1mA to feed starving Somalis, channelled through private agencies like the Gift of the Givers which has actually been there.