South Africa’s Perspective of an Independent Kurdish State: Is it a Model to be Reckon with or may Emulate?

It is difficult to address South Africa’s perspective towards the establishment of an Independent Kurdish State without addressing South Africa’s strategic outlook for the world at large and the Middle Eastern region in particular. However, what of interest to question is how far can the prime parties to the current intra- Iraq conflict benefit from the vision and practices of South Africa in strengthening national unity and national integration. A “new Iraq” is truly seen as vulnerable state since the Kurdish 25th September 2017 referendum. However, in few words, since the end of Apartheid, South Africa’s relations with the Middle East was based on relatively common strategic (political and economic) interests. Moreover, South Africa has expressed clear desire to prevent armed conflict and thus preferred to resort to peaceful resolutions of regional disputes. In line with this approach one can’t escape South Africa’s historic concern or interest in striving to promote economic and energy special relations with regional actors mainly Iran during Shah’s era (1950’s -70’s), or with other salient Middle Eastern –Gulf states at different phases of Middle Eastern politics.

Erbil, Kurdistan Region (dfr.gov.krd) - Minister Falah Mustafa received John Davies, Ambassador of South Africa in Jordan to discuss enhancing bilateral ties.

Erbil, Kurdistan Region (dfr.gov.krd) – Minister Falah Mustafa received John Davies, Ambassador of South Africa in Jordan to discuss enhancing bilateral ties.

However, from a complementary perspective, it is important to realize that South Africa’s global strategic outlook has taken a comprehensive – realistic approach as and when addressing hot-topic issues. Thus, in today’s terms South Africa can be characterized as an accomplished BRICS member armed with advanced active affiliations to a number of prominent International and regional organizations such as the G20, the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Union, or other global Non-Governmental civil society organizations. Admittedly South Africa has strenuously worked on maintaining a highly developed relational framework with due attention in building bridges with prime Middle Eastern and Asian states. Without discounting the importance a flourished advanced relationship with Israel prior to 1994 in the nuclear, economic and technological domains. However, things have changed dramatically since the end of the cold war or the Apartheid era, whereby South African leaders (essentially Nelson Mandela) have begun an arduous though eventually relatively fruitful journey aimed at addressing salient human rights files from the perspective of activating political movements of national liberation whether in Palestine or in other regional concerned zones of conflicts including the “Kurdish Regional Government” without encouraging separatist tendencies.

Ironically, Israel was the solely first welcoming state to recognize the establishment of an independent state.  From another important version, South Africa may like to export its own moral –humanitarian and economic successes ’model in as far as national integration and national –human development is concerned. The new anti-Apartheid South African authorities were keen on maintaining and promoting the advantages encompassed South Africa pluralistic body-politics. Admittedly, the Kurdish cause for self-determination has taken a priority status on the South African agenda”. It goes without saying that upon the ratification of the ANC resolution by the projected 2017 elective conference, the words of the this resolution affirmed supports to the Kurdish peoples ‘struggle for political freedoms, rights, peace and justice in the Middle East. Resolving local and regional disputes will increase the prospects of having a stable and secure political systems.  “Religion” can be a common denominator in galvanizing the people’s movement towards creating a more unified national position, whilst in simultaneous terms acknowledging other positive humanitarian dimensions.

In the post-Apartheid era, respecting religious plurality (Christians-Hindus and Muslims) created a positive trend for enriching national integration. Thus, whilst South Africans in the words of a scholar : “may have been segregated by race, there were no clear rules about religion…Religion was not only a source of strength and comfort during apartheid, it was also a means of resistance against a system designed to divide.” Thus, “despite being a secular state, South Africa is a deeply religious country.” Meaning that it “has more than 60 religious affiliations and in 2016 the General Household survey by StatsSA revealed that more than 90% of South Africans associate themselves with a religion while 36.6% of Hindus,52.5% of Christians, and 76.5% of Muslims attend religious ceremonies at least once a week”.

Recognizing the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) as part and parcel of South African policies in asserting Iraqi unity without discounting the importance of contributing in moral / material terms towards the development of an Iraqi mature Kurdistan region. Along this line of argument, the South African ambassador to Jordan stated that his “country will encourage its business professionals to invest in the Kurdistan region because of the stability of the region”. However, currently the objective of preserving and innovating a new developmental plan in the Iraqi Kurdistan is fraught with more risks and challenges particularly in the aftermath of redeployment of Iraqi force in Kirkuk and in the so-called “Disputed Areas”.

What of interest to state is that Masood Barzani who may have entertained the idea of shaping himself on the footprint of Nelson Mandela’s personality was surprised to see an adverse dramatic ending for such an idealistic dream.  In fact, the leader of the African National Congress (ANC) has called for “putting deep-seated political animosities’ aside in order to build a new South Africa”. Furthermore, “unlike Barzani who refused to step down at the end of his Presidential term, Mandela transferred power, setting a precedent for transition necessary for any aspiring democracy”. Mandela became soon a recognized well-established statesman and a charismatic leader on the world stage. It is significant not just to activate South African–diplomatic approach to enhance South African –KRG economic –energy relations but with a new daring diplomatic move South Africa may launch the opening of its long –awaited embassy in Baghdad. A forward step such as this can strengthen the efforts of the Iraqi central –federal authority who have taken full advantage of introducing a new welcoming cooperative approach sponsored by non-Arab regional actors (Turkey and Iran).  In final terms, it is expected that Turkey and Iran will play an increasingly leading roles in cementing Iraqi national sovereignty and integration.

Ahmad Shikara

Member of the faculty at the EmiratesCenter for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) in Abu Dhabi since 2000. There he works in the Training Department and in Human Resources. He recently published on the ramifications of Iraqi elections. In the past he conducted extensive research at the ECSSR and has conducted graduate and faculty seminars focusing on the effect of resource scarcity on the Arabian Gulf and the United States. Dr. Shikara, and before joining the ECSSR, served on the Political Science Department at the United Arab Emirates University (1980-1994), as an honorary professor at the Institute of Developing Economies in Japan (1994) and as a research fellow in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Auckland, New Zealand (1996-2000).

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