Solidarity for peace and progress

The opening session of the 19th Nordic-Africa Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Helsinki, Finland, last week. The meeting is an important annual forum for informal and open-minded discussions between African and Nordic countries. Picture: Dirco

The opening session of the 19th Nordic-Africa Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Helsinki, Finland, last week. The meeting is an important annual forum for informal and open-minded discussions between African and Nordic countries. Picture: Dirco

Published Jun 26, 2022


By Naledi Pandor

The Nordic Africa Foreign Ministers’ Forum that was held in Helsinki, was valuable as the Nordic countries are at the forefront of innovation and global development, resulting in forward-looking foreign policies.

They have sought to find new ways to deal with existing challenges and invested heavily in the belief that innovation and development will provide solutions. Their domestic development provides the conviction that it can be done elsewhere with equal success. We are pleased to have them as partners in so many different areas of our domestic and foreign policy.

The Nordic nations comprise five countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, whose total population is less than half of South Africa’s, and although without major resource endowments, their combined GDP is almost six times that of ours.

Their ranking on the human development indices indicate that they are among the most successful and contented nations. Their political, economic and development successes, while remarkable, are not unique. Although they are viewed as social democratic governments, their political views are not homogenous.

No Nordic country has ever had a party holding a full Parliamentary majority. What has been created in the Nordic region is a system of open dialogue and shared commitment; whether between politically disparate parties, or labour and government, or private sector and civil society.

They have forged a system of trust in each other that has served to build societies based on shared values of democracy and human rights, equality and equity, free market economics within a responsive social welfare system, where the social balance is maintained and that allows their citizens to flourish.

In many respects, the Nordic model is an embodiment of the spirit of ubuntu, often expressed in the phrase “If we want to go far, let’s go together”. Their coalition governments, rather than focusing on compromise and accommodation, often express a philosophy of innovation and problemsolving.

The words of the former Finnish president, Mr Urho Kekkonen, when he addressed the UN General Assembly in 1961 are worth recalling: “We see ourselves as physicians rather than judges; it is not for us to pass judgement nor to condemn. It is rather to diagnose and to try to cure”.

It is a philosophy that has served them well. In Africa, they are widely regarded as countries without an agenda, resulting in major Nordic Africa partnerships that serve as catalysts for African countries to build greater autonomy and self-sufficiency.

This is evidenced by the growing number of partnerships with Africa including the dialogue for peace, the programmes to build African peacekeeping capacity, supporting African economies, the developmental aid where Africa is a major focus, and their substantive humanitarian aid commitments.

They are also an important support for Africa within the EU. As small states, they have maintained strong convictions that all nations are interdependent, and that multilateralism and the rule of law are the best options for international security and stability. Another former president Paasikivi from Finland reminded us that “small states have to put their efforts into law and cooperation, while great powers can rely on their might”.

For many generations, the Nordics have remained steadfast in support of peace, peaceful resolution of conflicts, support for mediation and for dialogue as a way of resolving difficult situations. They have been our partners and active proponents of peace and restraint in many conflicts such Ethiopia, South Sudan, Libya, Mali and the Sahel region, Palestine, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Yemen … in some of the most protracted and difficult conflicts.

Even as our ardent supporters in the struggle against apartheid, the Nobel Committee, knowing and understanding the deep hurt of the African people, chose to jointly award the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize to Comrade Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk. It was easy for many of us to see this as the committee equating the two politicians and many of us, at that time, may have felt disappointed.

However, the committee issued the following statement that embodies this philosophy of peace and reconciliation: “From their different points of departure, Mandela and De Klerk have reached agreement on the principles for a transition to a new political order based on the tenet of one manone vote. By looking ahead to South African reconciliation instead of back at the deep wounds of the past, they have shown personal integrity and great political courage.”

I had the occasion, during the tail-end of my visit to the region, to visit the Nobel Peace Centre. As I walked through the hall of laureates, I was reminded of these words. I was reminded that the laureates, all eminent global citizens, had embodied this belief in peace and reconciliation.

It made me proud that four of our fellow South Africans were among the eminent persons. However, walking through the Nobel Peace Centre also reminded me that these Nordic countries are at war today. These very values that they have so cherished are being tested. As I walked through the peace centre, I could not help but wonder,

“Where are the eminent global citizens of today that will stand up to stop the war in Ukraine so that peace may have a chance?” I recalled the words of former Finnish president Kekkonen, who said, “Small states have little power to influence the course of international events. The Great Powers, possessing the means of destroying the world, bear the chief responsibility for the maintenance of peace”, but “the smaller states can and must constantly remind them of this responsibility”.

We stand ready to work with the Nordics to build a coalition for peace, for ending the war in Ukraine, for ending the humanitarian suffering, and for reconciliation that will help end the deep divisions. We need political courage today.

* Pandor is the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation. She participated in the 19th Nordic-Africa Foreign Ministers’ meeting.