SLR on AGOA: US-SA tensions, self-interest and geopolitical power dynamics

In a recent turn of events, US Senators Chris Coons and Michael McFaul have called for South Africa to be stripped of its opportunity to host the annual AGOA forum due to its alleged support for Russia. The move has sparked concerns about strained relations between the two nations and potential repercussions for South Africa’s economic prospects. SLR delves into the details of the senators’ letter, highlighting the escalating tensions and raising questions about the motivations behind this diplomatic push. As South Africa grapples with the potential consequences, it finds itself navigating a complex geopolitical landscape and the uncertain dynamics of international politics.

AGOA, statecraft and self-interest

By Simon Lincoln Reader

“Joe Biden is fit, capable and ready to serve another term”. These were the words of a man called Chris Coons, a US senator who co-chairs the incumbent sock puppet’s campaign for re-election next year, to an ABC correspondent last month. Coons, who looks like he mistook his wife’s Veet for a bottle of shampoo, is a known Biden goon, detests opposition and is long on the whole ‘a-woman-is-who-he-says-he-is’ thing. 

Unfortunately for South Africa Coons has joined another hawk called Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, in writing a letter addressed to other hawks in the US State Department calling for South Africa to be stripped of its opportunity to host the annual AGOA forum on account of ‘its support for Russia’. It’s not expulsion from the lucrative arrangement – but it is an alarming step toward and at this stage, it’s difficult to see how the initiative could possibly extended past its scheduled expiry in 2025. 

Read more: US lawmakers request AGOA summit venue shift away from SA amidst Pro-Russia concerns

Neutrality in conflict is always an option and widely exercised, but the United States argues that certain recent events, in particular, the curious scampering around a Russian naval vessel, do not qualify as ‘neutrality’. A former state department official who now lives in London told me last week that the Biden administration ‘is inches, not meters’ away from treating South Africa like a baby Belarus. ‘Washington considers the ANC poisonous,’ he explained, before dismissing the claims that the ANC is working with other African nations toward a peace agreement as ‘theatre’. 

Technically the ANC could respond to these charges in a convincing fashion by reminding everyone of the fake gossip that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction in 2003 – which lead to one of the most destructive events in recent history – ‘same people again’. It could also jeer the shrieks of ‘democracy!’ accelerating under Biden: America, it could point out, is an oligarchy, whose body politic is captured by industrial complexes and special interests – ‘like ours…just mature’. ‘If you’re looking for the truth in anything there,’ it could argue, ‘don’t ask the people who’ve appointed themselves arbiters of it merely by purchasing its gatekeepers’.

Read more: SLR: Tina Joemat-Petterson and the entitlement of impunity

But a drunk nostalgic like the ANC, who believes that historical links alone guarantee it status in an emerging power center, would err in an exchange of wrongs, not because of its spurious claims to neutrality, but because it has underestimated the current propelling America toward its objectives. Supposedly tired of Russia’s ‘election meddling’, which, contrary to claims, is practised by nearly every single country – with the exception of the Nordics – and demonstrably proven to make little or no impact, America has successfully seized the invasion to weaken its enemy for good. So Coons and co are propelled by forces much less fragmented than the supposed neutrality coalition and much less clumsy than a liberation movement way past its glory. There is no ambiguity: those two pages were composed in a language designed for projection as a summary to every single foreign and domestic failure spanning almost three decades. 

Perhaps the ANC cannot make sense of the changing world or does not wish to play its games. Who can blame them? Philip Morris’ products contribute to the death of 8 million people a year, but this week it was awarded a higher ESG rating than Tesla. Coof convicts like Jacinda Ardern are knighted and waving a flag wildly during the month of June apparently exonerates weapons manufacturers from dropping bombs on Yemeni weddings for the other 11. Two weeks ago an extravagant ‘degrowth’ conference, attended by European lawmakers, academics and ‘experts’ – all whom have enjoyed the benefits of hyper-industrialisation in some form – is hosted by the European Union. How do African peasants feel about that one? 

Read more: Putin, Ukraine, Wokeness, and Boris Johnson: A delightfully disruptive analysis by SLR

But every now and again it does make sense. You get wind of a letter, and from its contents come reminders about the things that in all your stealing and lying and scheming and denying you forgot – how vindictive those with whom you differ in perspective can be, and how willing they are to follow through on it. And you’re disgusted because these are, after all, the same people who only took Nelson Mandela off the terror watch list in 2008, but this – here right now – does make sense, and it can happen. So you must play the game, you must protect a deal that generated just south of $1b in the first three months of this year, not because your hand is being forced by what you consider the latest iteration of imperialism, but because your new ‘friends’ are just as confused as you are, and in the world you’re all hoping to make together – fraught with paranoia and suspicion – a clear act of self-interest is one of the only things you can all respect and understand.

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*Simon Lincoln Reader works and lives in London. You can follow him on Substack.