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According to the United Nations (UN), approximately 200 million girls have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Since early 2020, East and West African countries have witnessed an increase in FGM as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which puts another 2 million girls at risk.

What is FGM and why is it dangerous?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or female genital cutting (FGC), is a widely practiced ritual that involves the complete or partial cutting of and/or removal of the external female genitalia of young girls usually between infancy and the age of 15, for non-medical purposes. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified four types of FGM. Type I refers to clitoridectomy, which is the partial/complete removal of the clitoris. Type II is clitoridectomy plus the partial/complete removal of the labia majora and labia minora. Type III, the most fatal and invasive type, is infibulation where all external genitalia is cut off and the vaginal opening made smaller by sewing the labia majora together, leaving a small opening for urination and menstruation. Type IV includes other excision techniques including piercing, incisions and cauterisation. 

The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) notes that the origins of this practice are not tied to any specific religion or region. Traces of FGM have been found on Ancient Egyptian remains before the spread of Christianity and Islam which expels the notion that FGM is performed for religious reasons. Forms of FGM have been practiced in parts of Europe and the United States (US) as early as the 1950s to “treat” ailments specifically related to women including “hysteria” and “nymphomania”. 

If one examines the etymology of “hysteria” and “nymphomania”, they will find that these medical terms were created to associate disease or unwellness exclusively with female biology. The root word “hystera” means “uterus”, a common understanding of the word hysteria or hysterical is that someone (with a uterus) is crazy. The root “nymph” of nymphomania refers to the labia minora, a term used to describe ‘sex-crazed’ women. It is clear that the rationale for FGM, even in assumed progressive societies, is rooted in misogynistic beliefs about women’s sexuality and genitalia as something that must be controlled and regulated.

Plan International, outline some of the beliefs that surround and encourage the practice of FGM. These beliefs are related to controlling female sexuality or ‘preserving’ the family’s honor, ‘saving’ the girl for marriage, or fetching a higher bride price for a ‘chaste’ girl. Therefore, FGM takes place in a socio-cultural context with certain beliefs and circumstances that are often grounded in gender inequality and misogyny. It is important to note that FGM has no medical benefits, but increases the chance of complications with childbirth, cyst formation, keloid scarring, painful sexual intercourse, and psychological trauma of undergoing the practice. Most of the reasoning behind upholding these practices are based on the constructed social value by every member of the community except, the individual girls on which the practice is performed. 

Why has COVID-19 caused an increase in FGM in East and West Africa?

A report by the Orchid Project states that FGM has been on the rise in East and West Africa since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020. As a consequence of the spread of the coronavirus, girl children remain at home because schools are closed. Widespread economic hardship due to job losses has made parents decide to marry off their daughters in exchange for a bride price. In many East and West African societies, female circumcision is often a prerequisite for marriage and determines higher bride prices. According to a 2018 brief lead by the Population Council, a direct link between FGM and child marriage is found in Ethiopia and Somaliland. Girls that undergo infibulation (FGM-type III) literally have the seal of virginity so that it is guaranteed that they are ‘pure’, they must also be deinfibulated on the wedding night in order to consummate the marriage. FGM occurs under the radar because most justice and social services are occupied with implementing COVID-19 regulations. Humanitarian aid and organisations that fight against FGM were slowed down by the lockdown and curfew orders and having their funding deprioritised or reduced. Many ‘reformed cutters’ who used to perform the circumcision returned to carrying out the practice as a last resort to earn an income during the pandemic. 

The UN set the goal of ending FGM by 2030. Kenya ambitiously aimed to end FGM by 2022 but has been one of the countries that experienced one of the highest increases in FGM during the pandemic. According to a paper by the BMJ, 2800 girls from the Kuria community in south-west Kenya, had been mutilated in October 2020 alone. Ghati Alfons, the founder of an anti-FGM community group called Safe Engage Foundation, highlights that FGM is particularly prevalent in Kuria because of the high levels of poverty and FGM began increasing earlier in the year, because of school closures. She also notes how other girls are drawn into the practice because of the incentive of gifts which make it seem as though they possess ‘agency’ and are participating by choice. However, it must be reiterated that victims of FGM are children, who cannot consent and that the practice violates their human right to bodily autonomy and puts their wellbeing at risk. 

The reason that FGM and other forms of violence against women and children have increased during the pandemic is that emergency policy planning and implementation completely lack a gender lens. This should serve as a painful lesson for the future and a basis to demand gender sensitivity.

Nirvana Govender is a postgraduate student at the University of Pretoria completing her Honors degree in International Relations. She is a tutor in the Political Sciences Department. She is also the co-creator of the grassroots community organisation, Get Involved. Please follow her page (@getinvolved_gbv) on Instagram to help support her organisation.


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COVID-19 has plunged the world into an unprecedented health and socioeconomic crisis. At the same time, it has captured the attention of scholars and leaders alike, due to the consequential, dramatic and emotionally charged nature of crises which often reveal frailties and vulnerabilities in policies and decision-making units. In particular, this article concerns itself with the lens which COVID-19 has provided, a lens which has exposed both the successes and shortcomings of South Africa’s foreign policy. Applying this lens allows for an appraisal of one of the core tenets of South Africa’s foreign policy, namely: South-South solidarity.  In the past, South Africa (SA) has frequently faced criticism for its highly aspirational and dubiously idealistic foreign policy; however, COVID-19 has also hinted at the successes of South Africa’s engagement with South-South solidarity in praxis. As such, this article sets out to discuss two things: firstly, the manner in which South Africa’s engagement with Cuba, India and the African Union (AU) reflects its successes in South-South solidarity; and secondly the constraints which despite its relative successes, nonetheless impinge on any further more ‘meaningful’ successes. 

South-South solidarity

South-South solidarity refers to the promotion of solutions via the exchange of skills, resources and technical expertise between countries of the South. Complementary to the North-South dimension, South-South cooperation aims at promoting equality amongst peoples. Informed by the 1955 Bandung Conference, South-South solidarity has both historically and contemporarily played a central role in South Africa’s foreign policy. As imparted in the 2011 White Paper, “South Africa therefore accords central importance to [its] immediate African neighborhood and continent; working with countries of the South to address shared challenges of underdevelopment; promoting global equity and social justice”. The centrality of South-South solidarity in South Africa’s foreign policy has been illustrated by South Africa’s engagements with Cuba, India and the AU during the COVID-19 pandemic.

South-South solidarity: Cuba, India and the AU

The quintessence of South Africa’s success with South-South solidarity during the pandemic is its bilateral relations with Cuba. The arrival of a 216-member Cuban medical assistance brigade signified the exchange of skills, resources, and technical expertise between Cuba and SA in an attempt to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuban doctors, health technologists and epidemiologists were deployed to various parts of the country, assisting SA in the fight against COVID-19. More so, despite the shortage of medical supplies in SA at the time, in an act of diplomacy honouring its longstanding relations with Cuba, the South African government sent back a plane full of medical supplies to Cuba. This bilateral relation is one example demonstrating that in moments of crisis, South-South solidarity can be utilised as an effective means to overcome obstacles. Similarly, so, South Africa’s engagement with India further hints at the operationalisation of South-South solidarity.

SA and India have called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily suspend intellectual property (IP) rights, which if successful, would ensure that drugmakers in poorer countries can produce effective vaccines sooner. The proposal was initially opposed by wealthy nations such as the United States (US), Britain and the European Union (EU), who argued that pharmaceutical companies would be robbed of the incentive to make monumental investments in research and development. This sentiment expressed by wealthy nations clearly contrasts the principle of Batho Pele (putting people first) which is a central feature of South Africa’s foreign policy. SA has opposed the exploitative humanism emanating from the West’s ‘vaccine nationalism’ by utilising South-South solidarity to challenge this inequality. Essentially, the actions of India and SA provide a further demonstration of how South-South solidarity has been operationalised to promote global equality and social justice. 

A final demonstration of the successes of South-South solidarity has been South Africa’s role (as the chair of the AU) in coordinating a continental effort with the African Centre for Disease Control (ACDC), the WHO and the AU Commission. The establishment of a COVID-19 Response Fund, regional task forces and the African Task Force for Coronavirus all contributed to increasing the continent’s readiness and capacity in the fight against the spread of the virus. These efforts testify to the success of South-South solidarity and have, perhaps, pointed to the benchmark of South-South solidarity against which South Africa’s leadership. However optimistic the above-mentioned examples are, this article in an attempt to provide a balanced overview and not to ‘jump the gun’, points to some of the constraints which nonetheless impinge on South Africa’s ability to advance the successes of the South-South solidarity mentioned above.

Constraints and vulnerabilities 

South Africa’s engagement with other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic has affirmed the fact that “under unstressed conditions nations appear autonomous, but crisis quickly highlights the extent of international financial interdependence”. This point alludes to one of the structural constraints which hamper South Africa’s ability to use South-South solidarity more effectively, namely its economy. This is to say, that although SA has shown large degrees of success in operationalising South-South solidarity (as discussed above) it nonetheless faces structural constraints which point out its distinct vulnerabilities, especially in terms of its largely stagnant economy. 

Apart from the plethora of palpable domestic constraints such as poverty, unemployment, corruption and xenophobia (to name a few), SA faces the structural constraints which severely limits its agency. A case in point is the price that SA has had to pay for the COVID-19 vaccine. SA has had to pay almost 2.5 times more for the vaccine than other European countries since it had not initially invested in the vaccine research and development like other high-income countries had. Although South Africa’s failure to secure a sufficient supply of the vaccine has been blamed on its haphazard approach, it must also be noted that SA, as a developing country, does not have the same ability to invest in vaccine research as other wealthy high-income countries which immediately points out uneven playing fields. 

The global economy consists of profound wealth disparities caused in part by historical, structural inequalities. From the perspective of dependency theories, South Africa’s inability to better challenge the current vaccine distribution inequality stems from the fact that SA finds itself constrained in a paradigm of economic dependency. This dependency becomes more evident in moments of crisis and as such it must be questioned whether South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s aim to “forge a new economy in a new global reality” is mere rhetoric and reflects an unfeasible goal?.

Lastly, the extent to which South Africa’s South-South solidarity is truly able to bring about change at a meaningful level has further been limited by the role that new transnational actors play. Pharmaceutical companies, wielding significant political influence, have opposed the IP waiver proposed by India and SA. As such, despite this attempt of South-South solidarity to oppose the current inequalities as manifested in ‘vaccine nationalism’, the glaring systemic global inequality has rendered this attempt nugatory. Wealthy countries have bought more than half of the confirmed vaccine doses leaving the developing world behind. SA has been left at the mercy of laissez-faire economic principles, whereby the decisions on who gets the vaccine has been largely left to big pharmaceutical companies. 

Undoubtedly, South-South solidarity has played a central role in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. SA has demonstrated the successes of South-South solidarity in promoting solutions amongst countries in the South. It has fallen short is in transcending the structural confines of the deeply entrenched paradigms of dependencies. As such, an appraisal of South Africa’s utilisation of South-South solidarity concludes that whilst SA is using this solidarity to treat the symptoms of a disease, it has failed in using solidarity to eradicate the underlying causes. The question should thus not be whether SA uses South-South solidarity, but rather the extent to which South-South solidarity can be used to transform the global system of governance into a just and equitable global order.

Daniela is a 3rd year of BPolSci International Relations at the University of Pretoria. Daniela hopes to pursue her honours in 2022. Her passions are in the fields of foreign policy and philosophy. 


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Presently, there is an ongoing human rights crisis on the high seas. The scarcely monitored regions of the sea provide an area in which gross human rights abuses are perpetuated on fishing vessels against those working aboard them. Moreover, the activities of said vessels, namely overfishing not only constitute unethical fishing practices which adversely affect marine ecosystems, but also economically hamper local fisheries. Thus, it is the intention of this article to assess the extent of forced labour in the fisheries sector and in doing so, highlight the link between forced labour, human trafficking and fisheries’ crime. Furthermore, the article will highlight the economic and environmental implications of illegal fishing. Finally, the article will provide recommendations on how best to tackle this ever-growing threat.

In recent years international media has shone a light on forced labour aboard fishing vessels, however the extent of these activities is largely unknown. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines forced labour as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which said person has not offered themselves voluntarily”. Within the fisheries sector, forced labour (slavery), debt bondage, poor working conditions and restriction of movement are increasingly recognised as human rights violations. Fishing vessels suspected of transporting victims of forced labour are classified as high-risk vessels, these vessels manifest certain key behaviours. These indicators include, vessels which travel further from ports, vessels which log more fishing hours per day, those which spend more time fishing on the high seas as well as take fewer fishing voyages annually, in comparison to other vessels. The areas of open ocean (international waters) beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any nation, provide high-risk vessels with a way to work in the shadows and obscure from view, the inhumane treatment occurring on the high seas. It is economic migrants, refugees and desperate individuals in need of money who fall prey to modern day slavery. Fishers are particularly vulnerable to human traffickers and forced labour. Many of these workers face an even greater danger out on the open seas without access to functioning means of communication with those on land, nor the ability to disembark and return to shore. These workers, the victims of slavery, remain trapped on the high seas at the mercy of their ‘employers’. They are subjected to poor working conditions, little to no pay as well as physical and sometimes sexual abuse. Human traffickers cater to the demands of illegal fishers by providing them an unwilling labour force, many of whom are constrained by the lack of alternatives available to them. This continuous cycle of abuse facilitates the growth of illegal fishing and further endangers the livelihoods of individuals and communities.

The unchecked growth of slave labour in the fisheries sector has fuelled not only human trafficking, but also fraud, corruption, money laundering, tax and customs evasion as well as illegal fishing and the extraction of marine resources. Fishing vessels often engage in other maritime crimes such as smuggling drugs, firearms, as well as conducting piracy or terrorist attacks. Much of the illegal global multi-crime activity within the fisheries sector takes place on the east coast of Africa as well as off the coast of South Africa and Namibia. Fishing vessels operating in these regions need not dock in the respective harbours, rather they carry out their transhipments offshore. Drastic fluctuations in global fish stocks are not only attributed to the loss of biodiversity, but also illegal fishing. The multi-crimes affect not only the global fisheries sector, but also local fisheries, small-scale fishers and small island developing states (SIDS). Small fishing communities rely on fish for commerce, trade as well as for consumption. Furthermore, these communities are dependent on the marine economy and environment for sustenance and other resources. Illegal, unregulated and uncontrolled (IUU) fishing adversely impacts small island developing economies, as it deprives them of taxes and marine exports. Overfishing and the illegal extraction of marine resources in particular, adversely affect the sea ecology, thus causing further harm to marine life already at risk due to coastal degradation, continuous oil spills and other forms of marine pollution. Furthermore, unchecked, the practice of overfishing not only threatens food security, but also hampers efforts to improve conservation and environmental sustainability.

The crisis on the high seas consists of several interrelated challenges, each one feeding into the next. The major task remains the protection of the oceans and seas as well as the protection of habitats below the surface and the livelihoods of those living and working above the surface. That is, so long the push-conditions of poverty behind those forced into these circumstances persist. There is an urgent/pressing need to improve fisheries regulation and management in order to ensure ethical practices and sustainable harvests. In addressing the multi-crimes occurring on the high seas, greater cooperation among states and equitable burden-sharing is necessary. Moreover, an improvement of ocean monitoring and policing would serve to deter illicit economic activity, harmful environmental practices as well as gross human rights violations. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the framework for the governance of the ocean. It creates obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment, while also encouraging cooperation among states. Given that IUU fishing is transboundary in nature, it is the responsibility of all states as well as international organisations to cooperate in ensuring the sustainable use of the oceans, but also in addressing the continued exploitation of labourers in the fisheries sectors.


The oceans connect people to each other, whether geographically, historically or commercially, and the rapidly accumulating challenges pose risks to the international community at different levels and across several sectors. Thus, a coordinated effort through multilateralism is necessary to address the barriers to ensuring maritime safety and security. There is an urgent need for increased maritime surveillance, enforcement, and intelligence sharing through coordinated efforts of national navies, coastguards and private maritime security agencies. Given that human trafficking, forced labour and fisheries crimes are cross-cutting (interrelated) issues, they require concerted efforts by states, international organisations and non-governmental organisations. Collaboration across several sectors at the national, sub-regional, regional and global levels is essential to combatting gross human right violations and environmentally harmful practices. Furthermore, significant considerations must be given to vulnerable communities plagued by persisting socio-economic issues and the effects of climate change. Those living and working under such conditions are easy targets for human traffickers, thus it is crucial to address these environmental and socioeconomic issues as the starting point in tackling the much larger issues. What is needed, is a three-pronged strategy, with an immediate plan of action of deterrence, an intermediate strategy of enforcement and finally a long-term strategy comprised of preventative measures to remove push factors which drive individuals into the clutches of human traffickers. This is not to say the strategy should be implemented sequentially, but rather simultaneously through a sustainable and developmental framework. 

Tshegofatso Ramachela is a certified paralegal and has an undergraduate degree in International Studies, Political Sciences and History from the University of Pretoria. She is a humanitarian, an intersectional postcolonial feminist and an aspiring international development and peace worker, who hopes to one day be a Doctoral student. Tshegofatso is a permanent member of The Art of Politics writing staff.


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What is the problem?

Globalisation has given corporations the ability to have complex international supply chains. This provides the opportunity for corporations to cut costs and maximize profits. Unfortunately, it also allows corporations to choose to operate in countries with low levels of law enforcement or protection of human and environmental rights. Some companies also hide behind a ‘corporate veil’ by acting through subsidiaries which they control. There are many cases of multinational corporations disrupting communities and ecosystems with little-to-no repercussions. 

One example is the Shell oil production in Nigeria. In 2008 a group of Nigerian farmers launched a court case against the Royal Dutch Shell for losses suffered to health, livelihood and land caused by two oil spills in 2008 and 2009, Shell admitted that their subsidiary was liable for the spills. There have been many reports of the negative impacts these spills have had and continue to have on the community. One study showed that a baby born within close proximity to the oil spill is twice as likely to die in their first month. 

In January 2021, the Royal Dutch Shell was ordered to pay compensation to farmers who claimed their farmland and fish ponds were poisoned from the oil spills. Although this judgment has been claimed as a victory because it may open a floodgate of more litigation against Shell and other corporations involved in oil exploration in the region, it took 13 years to receive this ‘victory’. How many decades will it take for individual cases, such as this, to be ruled against multinational corporations to create precedence? More efficient and reliable legal solutions are, reformed regulations which legally compel corporations to ensure their productions and supply chains do not cause damage to individuals, nor the environment. Mandatory Corporate Human Rights Due Diligence could provide such an obligation and prevention.

What is Human Rights Due Diligence?

The concept of Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) was first introduced in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPBHR) which was unanimously supported by the United Nations Human rights council (UNHRC). These guidelines provided, for the first time, a globally recognised framework for governments and businesses to prevent and address the adverse impact on people and the environment from their activities. Governments and businesses are encouraged by the guidelines to identify and assess risks, not only from their direct actions but indirectly through their supply chain. 

Why are reforms needed

Unfortunately, these guidelines are voluntary and enforced only by international norms and the hope that corporate image can persuade businesses to choose human rights over revenue. Only a few companies actually abide by these guiding principles. Corporations that choose not to abide by these guidelines may have more growth opportunities. This leads to unfair competition in the market between those who do their HRDD and those who do not.

Considering the following statistics, it is clear that voluntary corporate due diligence is not effective enough. Firstly, fifty percent of the biggest corporations in Europe have been linked to adverse human rights and environmental impacts. Secondly, forced labour generates annual profits of $150 billion. According to the 2019 Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, half of the 200 largest listed companies from agricultural, apparel, extractives and information technology sectors fail to meet any of the five basic criteria for HRDD.

How close are the reforms?

Mandatory Corporate HRDD is not an unachievable goal. France has already legislated HRDD for their biggest companies. The French 2017 law on the duty of vigilance requires all French companies with more than 5000 employees in France and over 10 000 employees globally to undertake due diligence. Non-compliance with this law leads to sanctions and payment of damages. 

Additionally, the European Union (EU) has passed due diligence rules for the import of minerals from conflict areas. This falls under Regulation EU 2017/821 which changed the certification scheme from voluntary to compulsory. It applies to EU importers of tin, tantalum, tungsten, ores and gold which originate from conflict or high risk areas. These importers must check that these minerals and metals do not contribute to conflict, forced labour or illicit activities. This regulation entered into force in January 2021.

The EU has tabled a proposal for mandatory Corporate HRDD. This legislation would not only decrease the abuse of human rights and the negative impact on the environment but it would also level the playing field among all companies which operate in the EU market, improve legal clarity, establish effective enforcement and sanction mechanisms which would improve the access to remedy for those affected. Access to remedy for affected persons is important but not currently easy as evident in the 13 year case against Shell outlined above.

Impact on Africa?

The tabled EU Mandatory Corporate (mHRDD) policy would apply to all EU companies and external companies which operate within the EU market. This would make it much easier for those affected by actions such as oil extraction by EU companies to claim remedy without needing to wait for case precedence to do so. Currently, domestic justice systems are preferred to deal with complaints by communities against the actions of international corporations, within Africa, many of these domestic justice systems face legal and procedural challenges and do not often result in justice. If the EU passes mHRDD,  these cases can be taken directly to the court of the corporation headquarters and justice would be more prevalent as the legal right to remedy for non compliance with mHRDD would exist and just need to be proven.

Unfortunately, EU corporations are not the only ones whose supply chains operate in Africa and pose a threat to communities and the environment. More countries or multilateral groupings need to pass HRDD into legislation to ensure the cohesive protection of people and the environment. This would also prevent companies from simply relocating to avoid these restrictions.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) has recently begun its implementation stage.Considering how this agreement will increase intra-African trade and increase the number of Intra-African value chains, it would be advisable that signatories to this agreement consider agreeing on mHRDD in preparation for these evolutions. This would not only prevent future damage to communities and the environment and provide a pathway to remedy for any violations, but it would also create a level playing field between African corporations who operate in Africa. 

Laura has a degree in BPolSci International Studies from the University of Pretoria and is currently completing a level 4 NALP paralegal diploma. She hopes to complete her honors in International Relations and pursue a career in the field of Public International Law and Human Rights. Laura is one of the permanent members of the writing staff at The Art of Politics.


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In 2020 the United Nations (UN) celebrated its diamond anniversary for being in existence for 75 years. Its celebrations were however, muted and sombre with the global COVID-19 pandemic at the forefront of its global agenda. A year since its 75th anniversary, I think it is a good time to reflect upon the UN’s existence, relevance and track record in the international arena.

In 1945 at the end of World War II (WWII) nations were in ruin and the world wanted peace and stability on the globe. On the 25th of April 1945, 51 nations met in San Francisco and began drafting the UN Charter which was adopted on the 25th of June 1945. The core aim set out by the charter established the UN as an intergovernmental organisation (INGOs) that aims to maintain “international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid promoting sustainable development and upholding international law and achieve international cooperation”. Most importantly the UN at its establishment included the United States (US) which had emerged out of WWII as a global superpower. This was important, as the predecessor to the UN, the League of Nations (LoN) which failed to prevent WWII did not include the US. The UN is headquartered in New York and has various other offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and The Hague. The UN has various bodies which consist of the UN General Assembly (UNGA)(deliberative assembly for all UN members), UN Security Council (UNSC) (for international security matters) and The International Criminal Court (ICC) (court of international law matters) which are arguably its most important. The UN began with 51 member states but now boast 193 sovereign nations which make up the UN, these 193 states are also responsible for the funding of the UN. Additionally, the UN has numerous programs to tackle various economic, social and environmental challenges.

When reflecting upon the UN existence, it is important to note that the UN is not a supranational authority or “global government” that the laymen may label it. It is a group of nations states who “try to work together and collaborate” to solve various global issues but ultimately, states may act in their own interests and there is often not much the UN can do.

The early years of the UN, specifically the first 45 years were marked by serious inadequacies and ineffectiveness, as the Cold War between the US and Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) hamstrung the UN and especially the UNSC which is responsible for international peace and security. The US and USSR along with France, United Kingdom and China are known as the permeant 5 (P5) within the UNSC. These members hold a veto vote which was used more often than not by the US and USSR to stop the UN from intervening in the Cold War. A prime example of this was the UN not being able to intervene in Vietnam and the Cuban Missile crisis. Once the Cold War ended in 1989, the UNSC still had some major failures such as, failing to act in the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994, its role in the US invasion of Iraq, its inaction against Israel’s illegal displacement of Palestinians and the continued weak action and intervention in Syria and Yemen, to name but a few. These complexities and UNSC inter-political dynamics are still at play in the modern UNSC as demonstrated by the cases of Syria and Yemen. As some of the P5 nations have their own interests at heart and not that of global peace.

Though they may have had some major failures, the UN has also had some major successes. Most notably, since its creation there has not been a global war. It has played a major role in making the world free of nuclear weapons through the Partial Test Ban Treaty and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Additionally, the UN has acted as a vanguard for the protection of human rights through the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. Furthermore, since 1945, the UN has had 172 successful peaceful negotiations which have ended regional conflicts.

There is so much more to digest about the UN, one can see that the UN has had a somewhat “mixed bag” of results. It has for the most part maintained international peace and security, prevented global wars and helped shaped the world for the better. However, the internal workings of its most important body, the UNSC is hindered by internal politics which will always hinder the impact and effectiveness of the UN. Additionally, with every unsuccessful mission or operation the UN loses the trust of the global population and of its member states. The only way for the UN to be truly successful would be to remove the veto power of the UNSC P5 and dismantle the law of sovereignty which is neither possible nor realistic. Thus, this writer remains ambivalent about the UN’s next 75 years. To conclude, here is a thought for the reader to consider, does the UN and especially the UNSC P5 really have the interests of global peace at heart when the P5 are responsible for the production of 90% of global arms and weapons?

Jervin Naidoo is the founder of The Art of Politics and works as a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pretoria.


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Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, cannabis advocacy has been increasing around the world as a number of different cannabis lobby groups and individuals are increasingly using social media platforms to promote normalising and decriminalising cannabis use. Subsequently, several states have undertaken measures to reform their cannabis laws and establish new legal frameworks to regulate the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis. Therefore, it is the intention of this article to explore the normalisation of cannabis use as well as the shift towards legalising cannabis cultivation around the world. Furthermore, this article will assess the strengths and weaknesses of South Africa’s Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill.  

Cannabis or marijuana is a drug, but it is also a plant. Historically, cannabis has been an important and useful plant, which has been primarily used as a fibre crop for making paper, cloth and rope. A key feature that distinguishes cannabis from other narcotics is that it is derived directly from the plant and it involves minimal processing to produce a consumable and effective drug. There are other common plant-based drugs namely coca and opium, which involve a greater degree of processing than cannabis to convert them into their commonly recognised products. Unlike cannabis, the use of coca and opium is not as widespread. There is a degree of social tolerance surrounding the use of cannabis when compared to other illegal drugs and to some extent legal drugs, specifically tobacco and alcohol. Furthermore, the effects of cannabis are generally seen to be pleasant with less harmful adverse effects when compared to other drugs. 

From the 1960s onwards, the demand for cannabis in the developed world began to increase rapidly. It was during this time that international efforts of drug control took on a more coherent form with the 1961 United Nations (UN) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This marked the beginning of internationally organised eradication efforts directed at the narcotic plants outlawed by the UN Convention, namely cannabis, coca and opium. During the 1980s and 1990s relatively small quantities of cannabis were intercepted in several ports and airports in the industrialised world. Concurrently, the police and media in several countries discovered more cannabis and cultivation sites. One of the primary goals of the War on Drugs was the prevention of drug use, by creating a scarcity of supply through supply-side crackdowns and by stigmatising drugs through social marketing. These international supply-side crackdowns had the unintended effect of driving suppliers and illicit narcotic markets further underground and dispersing them over vast distances. Today, new models of cannabis regulation, including the partial or full legalisation of cannabis are emerging globally. Yet, they have had little success in curbing the flow of illicit cannabis supply and distribution.   

New patterns of production related to the globalisation of cannabis cultivation are being observed in the global economic arena. Over the last 25 years, cannabis cultivation has spread around the world. A major driver of the increase in cannabis cultivation is linked to the rising demand for the plant.  Cannabis is the most widely consumed and trafficked narcotic in the world. The high demand for the plant has prompted both users and non-users alike to grow cannabis in order to reap the economic benefits it offers. Moreover, cannabis is a plant that can be grown easily in most conditions; thus, its cultivation is particularly widespread in developing and underdeveloped countries. Evidently, the earnings from supplying cannabis outweigh the risks of doing so. As a result of the widespread cultivation of cannabis, its financial benefits and societal tolerance, many countries have to some extent legalised the use, possession, cultivation and or/distribution of cannabis. Countries such as Morocco and Mexico are major suppliers of cannabis to European and American consumers, respectively. There is an inherent issue in this framework of trade, it retains the status quo of developing nations as mere providers of raw materials, this model still consigns developing countries to the primary level of extraction and assigns specific roles in the global value chain. This model, which enables the extraction of minerals and thereafter the exportation of these minerals to the developed world for processing, continues to entrench the inequitable global divisions of labour. Consequently, cannabis producers in Southern Africa, namely in Tanzania, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa will only reap miniscule financial return in comparison to criminal organisations who export final (processed) drug products.

Although the sale of cannabis remains illegal in many countries, possession of small amounts is no longer a crime in Jamaica, Brazil and Portugal. Owing to its medicinal properties some countries have legalised the use of cannabis for medical purposes, namely South Korea, the United Kingdom and a few states in the United States. Medical marijuana is prescribed by some medical practitioners to aid in a whole range of ailments such as nausea, vomiting, a lack of appetite, chronic pain, glaucoma and sometimes depression and insomnia. These perceived and/or evidence-proven and beneficial uses of cannabis have promoted social tolerance among non-users and increasingly normalised the use of cannabis. Initially, cannabis was listed alongside deadly and addictive narcotics, including heroin in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Recently, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) amended its stance on cannabis and reclassified cannabis as a less risky narcotic, leading to changes in the way cannabis is internationally regulated. The Netherlands is one of the long-standing countries with less punitive legal regimes surrounding the use of cannabis, the drug is sold openly for recreational use in coffee shops. Presently, Uruguay and Canada are the only two countries which have legalised non-medical (recreational) cannabis use and retail sale in small amounts. In Spain and South Africa, it is legal for adults to use cannabis in private.

In 2018 the South African Constitutional Court ruled to decriminalise the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal (private) use by adults. The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill presently tabled in parliament was subsequently drafted by the Department of Justice and Correctional Services. The draft Bill aims to regulate the possession, cultivation and use of cannabis by adults. The draft Bill, however, does not cater for the commercial opportunities presented by cannabis which could potentially stimulate South Africa’s economy and make up for the major tax budget deficit. One of the many inconsistencies of the draft Bill is that while it holds many potential commercial opportunities, the legal framework permits the members of Cannabis Clubs to operate. This is extremely problematic as it gives these clubs the ability to exclusively capitalise and monopolise the cultivation of cannabis. This legal framework potentially jeopardises the role of communities as it relegates the custodians of the land to the primary economic activity of farming, extraction and wage-labour. 


The rising demand for cannabis and increasing normalisation surrounding its use have to some extent shifted international norms and the internal laws regulating cannabis in some countries. Where South Africa is concerned, the conditions of its cannabis legislation have several limitations. The framework of the bill overlooks the potential of commercial cannabis opportunities and the redress and empowerment effect they may have for South Africa’s economy in addressing inherited and persisting socio-economic issues, namely poverty and unemployment. Furthermore, given that the predominant holders of land in South Africa remain the white minority and the government, South Africa’s majority are severely disadvantaged as they will not benefit from the financial rewards of cannabis cultivation. Without a fundamental shift in the patterns of land ownership and roles within the value chain, the shifts in attitudes and regulatory accommodation of the cannabis economy may not fully realise this development potential. Moreover, the continued criminalisation of cannabis use in public and its distribution have done nothing to curtail cannabis smuggling across borders in Southern Africa.

Although the full potential of cannabis is unknown, key areas can be identified and quantified. Not only does cannabis possess medicinal properties, it also generates economic rewards, which if directed towards the many-crying social and economic needs, may facilitate the upliftment of local communities. Furthermore, cannabis in particular, hemp is a sustainable and ethical plant-based material which can be used to create a wide range of products including cosmetics, clothing, paper, food, building materials, biofuels and bioplastics. Although cannabis may still be illegal in many parts of the world, its health and economic benefits cannot be denied/ignored. With effective national and international regulatory mechanisms, coherent trade policies, sound legal regimes and substance education programmes, the use, cultivation and distribution of cannabis may facilitate social progress, as well as economic development. Furthermore, formal international recognition of the benefits presented by cannabis, may foster greater normalisation of cannabis use and diminish the criminalisation and condemnation of cannabis users and growers. 

Tshegofatso Ramachela is a certified paralegal and has an undergraduate degree in International Studies, Political Sciences and History from the University of Pretoria. She is a humanitarian, an intersectional postcolonial feminist and an aspiring international development and peace worker, who hopes to one day be a Doctoral student. Tshegofatso is a permanent member of The Art of Politics writing staff.


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Often referred to as the “Golden Child” of West Africa, Ghana is argued to be the continent’s star of democracy. Having endured great political transition in 1957, Ghana is widely applauded for the manner in which it has practiced democracy so far. Many argue that its democracy is consolidating, thus paving the way for peaceful, free and fair elections in the west African sub-region. This claim is refuted by those who consider the country to be a flawed democracy. Refutations are largely based on the fact that Ghana’s democratic features show some level of weak governance as a result of the way in which the practice of democracy strays away from democratic principles. Given this context, this article aims to analyse Ghana’s democratic features by highlighting their strengths and shortcomings.

Ghana’s democratic features:

Ghanaian electoral system for choosing government type and officials: 

Ghana’s leaders are appointed through an electoral system by which national elections are held every four years, to elect a president and his representatives into national assembly or its unicameral parliament. While this feature forms an integral part of any democratic state and while majority of the citizens of Ghana favour this form of electoral system, there is some level of disenchantment amongst the youth and minority present in the country. This level of disenchantment has impacted negatively on the perceived legitimacy and quality of its democratic practice mainly because Ghana’s electoral system and commission lacks transparency and democratic practice amongst political parties. As a result of this, it can be argued that Ghana’s electoral system lacks financial autonomy, the legal autonomy and support from the government and its institutions, thus undermining its legitimacy. For these reasons, the quality of democracy in Ghana is weak and needs some strengthening as disunity present in the relationship between its electoral commission and government indicates levels of weak governance and democratic practice. 

  • Citizens active participation in civics and politics:

Citizen participation in politics is widely acknowledged to be a key component in any democratic state. Participation in this regard refers to the voluntary activities that are undertaken by the citizens of a country which are aimed at influencing politics and public policy, both directly and indirectly. The Ghanaian Constitution emphasises the freedom of citizens to actively engage in political demonstrations and further grants its citizens the right to actively participate in the political activities of the country. However, participation in the country has been relatively low due to increasing disenchantment amongst citizens over their government’s inability to adequately represent their interests and service their needs while they feel intimidated by state officials. Growing levels of disenchantment amongst citizens in this regard suggest that the quality of democracy is weak because at the cornerstone of democratic principles is the ability of a country to fully represent and service the needs of its citizens, ensuring further development and security- something that Ghana has failed to do, even today. Moreover, the inability of Ghana to fully represent its citizens prior to its state needs, further limits and declines the presence of a representative democracy in the country, thus undermining its democratic legitimacy. Therefore, for desirable democratic outcomes in Ghana to be achieved, the country needs to strengthen and increase citizen engagement, and increase the manner in which it represents and services the needs of its citizens.

  • Human rights protection for all:

Another democratic feature that lies at the cornerstone of a democratic state is the protection of all human rights. These rights are protected through various institutions and in Ghana, the institution that acts as a means of protection is the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). Many scholars have argued that the presence of this feature in a state alludes to democracy. However, this is a common misconception globally, because the presence of such institutions do not necessarily mean that in practice the fundamental rights of all, are protected. In fact, Ghana has had its fair share of disregard for its own constitution and commission. Human rights violations in the country are rampant and are often carried out by its government’s officials such as police officers and others in high positions of power. Disregard in this instance largely stems from unequal power relations present between citizens and Ghanaian government officials who enforce laws for their benefit and who believe that they are above the law. Moreover, it can be argued that these violations and unequal power relations lead to further disenchantment that is common amongst Ghana’s citizens. The prominence of disregard for basic fundamental rights undermines and weakens the state and quality of Ghana’s democracy mainly because the country has failed to protect what is deemed to be at the cornerstone of any liberal democracy. Human rights violations taint the reputation of any country and therefore it can be concluded that these violations have played a negative role in the way in which Ghana’s democratic practice has been perceived, causing it to be classified as a flawed democracy.

The positives and negatives of Ghana’s democracy:

The transition to democracy in Ghana has yielded a significant number of benefits for the country. Ghana’s economy has grown rapidly when compared to other countries in the west sub-region of Africa. This has put Ghana at the forefront of poverty reduction on the African continent and placed it on a pedestal to greater success in global politics. Another advantage of democracy in Ghana is the decentralised power base for ruling people. This has allowed for its citizens to be able to freely participate in free and fair elections. Moreover, this has increased civic engagement to a greater extent however, as aforementioned the country falls short in this regard.

Contrastingly, Ghana’s democracy has been considered to be ineffective in the sense that voters are not educated on what governing decisions constitute. Misinformation with the countries electoral process and constitution, leads to further disenchantment with the country’s politics. Another disadvantage of Ghana’s quality of democracy has to do with the fact that its structure of democracy is highly dependent on the will of the majority. Discrimination, human rights abuses and identity issues are prominent in Ghana and these influence the will of the majority, further fuelling political disenchantment amongst the country. As a result, the quality of democracy in the country is weakened. 

Strengthening Ghana’s democracy:

For Ghana to overcome its shortcomings, the quality of its democracy needs to be strengthened. On the account of the failures of its electoral system, Ghana can ensure greater transparency by implementing strict policies and procedures that disable any issue that cripples voter’s confidence. Moreover, the electoral commission can assert its autonomy in relation to its mandate by having legal repercussions for any party that disregards its mandate. On the account of civic engagement, Ghana can mitigate through issues where voters are intimidated and coerced to vote through the use of violence by having the presence of parties and their campaigns separate from the actual election process. This decreases the risk of violence and harm to those who fear voting. The Ghanaian government should make information on governance and public policy freely available to everyone across different demographics, thus increasing representation and inclusivity which will strengthen the quality of its democracy because education is key in the success of any democratic country.

Finally, on the account of human rights protection, the government of Ghana should hold anyone who violates the basic rights of any citizen accountable as these gross violations undermine the legitimacy of any democracy. This can be done through enhanced transparency of governance systems to safeguard human rights. Failure to successfully implement basic measures lead to widespread instability which questions the structure of democracy. While measures can be taken to strengthen the quality of democracy in Ghana, one cannot neglect that the notion of democracy was tailored to fit Western Imperialists more than African states and as such, I bring forth the question of whether or not Ghana (and other flawed democracies) should move away from democratic principles to a new theory that will better fit the African continent and its citizens.

Nirvaly Mooloo has a degree in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Pretoria. She is an activist and feminist at heart. Her interests strongly lie in academic fields specialising in Politics and International Relations. Her dream is to one day be the leader that brings change to the livelihoods of others. Nirvaly is one of permanent members of The Art of Politics writing staff.


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In Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana combined, 1.5 million children under the age of 15 work in the cocoa industry. Many of these children are sold to these farms as bonded labours from Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso. These children work long hours, they use dangerous tools without training nor protective gear. They are regularly exposed to toxic chemicals, and the risk of diseases and infections. These children are further threatened with physical violence if they attempt to escape or refuse to work.

The unethical practices within the cocoa supply chain have been acknowledged and are not newly exposed. 20 years ago, eight of the largest chocolate manufacturers including Nestlè, Mars and Hershey signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, an agreement aimed to address abusive child labour practices in the cocoa-growing areas of Western Africa . A new report by Macquarie University shows that even after two decades, they have not addressed this dire issue. Child labour in cocoa production in key areas of Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana have increased by 14% between 2009 and 2019.

Nestlè has admitted that there are ethical issues in their own cocoa supply chain, but they have also become the recipient of Corporate Social Responsibility awards. This significantly questions the importance placed on corporate social responsibility globally and demonstrates the extensive distance that still needs to be travelled before the cocoa global supply chain is ethical. 

Nestlè has promoted its Cocoa Plan initiative in Cote D’Ivoire which aims to improve tree-growth, build schools, educate women, and help farmers increase their income. However, this project only impacts 30% of its supply chain.

Nestlè United States and Cargill are currently in court defending a lawsuit brought against them by six former child slaves who are seeking compensation from these two cocoa manufacturers. These former labourers claim that they were trafficked and forced to work on cocoa farms in Cote D’Ivoire. The ruling is only expected in June 2021. 

During the oral arguments, the former child slaves set out to prove that the 1789 Alien Tort Stature (ATS) is enforceable against these US (United States) chocolate manufacturers. The ATS allows foreign nationals to lodge civil suits against US and foreign defendants for acts committed in violation of international laws. Although it is difficult to establish the corporation’s criminal intent and sufficient involvement in these illegal activities, the defendant corporations were challenged with arguing their immunity when they facilitate a crime against humanity, child slavery.

If the Supreme Court rules against the corporations, not only the global cocoa prices and industry but every American food company will be impacted by the decision. The ruling would greatly increase the pressure for corporations to monitor their international suppliers because it would create precedent for further claims against manufacturers who knowingly incorporate unethical suppliers in their supply chains.

Conversely, if the supreme court rules for the corporations, it risks creating a safe haven for corporate abusers. The companies have argued that the ATS applies only to individuals and not corporations. If the corporation wins this case, the ATS, which has been a vital human rights tool in previous activist cases would be diminished of its usefulness, creating a gap in international human rights law for protecting victims and holding corporations accountable for their part in human rights abuses globally. 

The chocolate manufacturers have been given two decades to tackle the unethical activities within their supply chains. The supreme court now has the opportunity to find two of the major corporations liable for their part in child slavery and thus force them, and other corporations in the industry, to take further steps to recreate their supply chains and turn away from unethical practices. 

Laura has a degree in BPolSci International Studies from the University of Pretoria and is currently completing a level 4 NALP paralegal diploma. She hopes to complete her honors in International Relations and pursue a career in the field of Public International Law and Human Rights. Laura is one of the permanent members of the writing staff at The Art of Politics.


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The creation of networks that make up the black markets is a result of political pressure on economic activities that leads to the trading of goods that are not conventionally available. While the poor regulation of international small arms trade by countries has seen an arms industry that continues to boom and over the years has gained some political influence. This has led to the creation of a gun culture that we do not admit to despite the presence of arms in our daily activities. Small arms trade consists of small and light weapons which are considered to be destabilising in regions affected by conflict. Taking the security dilemma into consideration in which actions taken by a state to increase its security cause reactions from other states, which in turn lead to a decrease rather than an increase in the original state’s security. The world’s arms trade consists of billion-dollar transactions to increase security as a result of acquisitions by other countries. While illicit trading through, the United Kingdom decided to increase arms by $16bn over 4 years, while at the Atlantic Council Think Tank (ACTT) the pentagon called for increased weapons sales, to compete with Russia and China and ultimately enable industrial bases while limiting market space. The industries continued arms development and countries furthered commissioning of arms production contributes directly to increased illicit trading of arms. This takes place through traders who manage to get hold of arms to trade on the black markets. Most importantly, it is the creation of regulations by regulatory bodies that continue to inspire the world’s increasing illicit trade as regulation are inefficiently enforced in areas affected by past and present conflict. 

Arms today have become associated with economic and social progress and in Africa political instability.  Its these associations that make arms, seen as solutions to political instability in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia where there are 14 peacekeeping operations whilst the world’s top arms exporting countries benefit from increased conflict. One of the issues is what happens when arms from these missions are left behind, lost during combat, or abandoned? More guns are manufactured and during transportation, illicit traders find a way to get a hold of these arms. In some countries, arms are stolen not only from manufacturers but from the police, and military as well. The regulations of trade implies placing restrictions on the development, production, stockpiling, proliferation and usage of arms is needed. This falls under the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) which monitors the movement of arms. Of the UNSC members, the United States (US), China, and Russia are the biggest manufactures of arms and stand to benefit from these regulations. Over the years arms trade has increased despite the ratifications of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR)-1540 internationally and hardened gun laws domestically. How the arms trade became pivotal to global society lies in understanding the security and economic context of arms.

Briefly, for the US and UK, the arms industry during WWI and WWII saw the increased employment of arms that would be used to win the wars, while also contributing to economic growth. It was during these times that arms production improved the economic status of many and boosted the economy of the US who today dominates arms production. Till today, arms continue to play a role in the economies and societies with the arms industries gaining political influence. With 36% of arms manufactured in the US, making their way to 96 countries in 2019 and sees countries like Israel, China and India looking to increase their trade. In other parts of the world, arms have become associated with democracy and political stability. Focusing on the African continent, small arms have empowered countries just as much as they have destabilised them. This is mostly due to the illicit trade that is a result of economic sanctions with countries like Libya, the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan sanctioned. Porous African borders have made it difficult to regulate the influx of arms. As a result, militias and terrorist groups have ended up with firepower that rivals their governments’. There will always be a need for a constant supply of arms which sees illicit arms found throughout Africa from the US, Belgium, France, Russia, UK, and China. All of whom have political and economic influence within the region.

Within Africa, the non-existence of hard borders has created a conducive environment for the illicit cross-border movement of arms making the phenomenon an Ant-Trade. Through the porous borders, small arms are moved by foot, through modes of transport as they are flown in or concealed within vehicles. It is through these means that after the fall of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011 that arms registered in Libya were found in Sudan. Illicit trading is not only done by individuals and criminal organisations but also by states who when involved approve deals but don’t associate or endorse the approved sale.

The Politics of Small Arms Trade

There are existing regulatory frameworks that are supposed to be binding and if enforced there is a direct regulation of illicit trading. The Certificate of origin, UNSCR-1540, UNSCR-2220, and the ATT are frameworks meant to control the arms trade and prevent the movement of arms from manufacturers which are found in the hands of civilians, militias and government. The UNSC efforts are called into question as increased trade has affected a myriad of areas in conflict as a result of illicit trade. In February, the UNSC small arms report conceded the need for an increased effort to control illicit trade which saw an increase in 2019. While increased sales of small arms has seen arms appear in neighboring countries, such as the case of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where an ongoing civil war has seen the involvement of multiple countries who are divided on the matter and have reported supplying the Yemeni factions with arms.

The idea that arms have become so synonymous with a countries approach to economic growth and conflict resolution is scary, because of how over-looked underlying issues have become. Currently, small arms trade regulation relies on the compliance of the leader of the International order who is also the world’s biggest manufacturer. Earlier on, we spoke of arms industries representing a symbol of economic prosperity and that companies only seek to increase profits. The regulation of arms is subject to this, for the worlds leading manufacturers, regulating trade means reduced profits and productions. With new technologies, countries and companies sometimes do not dispose of the old arms with their arms being traded illicitly. If the US were to reduce exporting arms to Saudi Arabia, it’s the biggest customer who accounts for 25% of US exports, companies like Lockhead Martin would have to retrench workers. Making the direct link between domestic politics and arms trade quite strong and the small arms trade dynamics within the UNSC, intricate.

The limited success associated with the regulation of small arms has seen increased illicit trading in parts of the world, has made arms trade an issue that can no longer be ignored. While the disruptive nature of small arms in the hands of non-state actors has had destabilising effects. Despite, the economic benefits that developed countries enjoy, the illicit trade has had destabilising effects on the democracies and contributes to pre-existing issues such as education, health, social development, and political stability. Most importantly, small arms contribute to the exacerbation of these issues or even the creation of issues. Conflict from the illicit arms trade has seen the killing and displacement of persons and is used by insurgency groups and non-state actors. With this, the response has been the manufacturing of more arms by countries looking to increase exports, and countries looking to secure arms for security purposes. We can see this occurring in the Middle East and Africa, however, whether this represents a sustainable solution, is questionable.  

Tshiamo Mariti has recently completed his honours in International Relations at the University of Pretoria. He is interested in humanitarian issues and international trade.


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In 2017 the South African government announced plans to withdraw the ratification of the Rome Statute, a treaty which established the International Criminal Court (ICC), on the basis that it contradicts the country’s position on resolving conflict through peaceful resolution and promotion of dialogue. This announcement could have been sparked by the controversial decision of the South African government refusing to arrest former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he arrived for a conference being hosted in South Africa (SA) in 2015. It has been three years and the move to depart from the ICC still remains up in the air with some analysts arguing that being a member of the ICC remains an important factor in the country’s commitment to human rights and international law while others argue that the court is no longer suited to achieve these commitments.

SA is not the only African country to consider leaving the ICC; The Gambia, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and Namibia have all announced plans to remove themselves from the obligations of the ICC. This narrative is very different to the one which existed in 2002, when the Court was first established, and which saw the international community agree to a set of rules and principles that would strengthen international justice. In more recent years there has been growing criticism by African countries, of the role which the ICC has played on the continent. Many leaders have denounced the court as having an unfair bias when dealing with African countries as the cases have disproportionately involved African individuals. Leaders have also questioned the intentions of the ICC as to whether it exists as a further extension of the colonial authority of western states or if it is based on more idealistic values of human rights and criminal justice. Whatever the considerations are for the continued recognition of the ICC or the alternate rejection of its authority, and no matter the strength of the political bias toward the Africa argument, the pursuit of reconciliation and justice for the African people should always remain a priority for the continent’s leaders. 

The reiteration of the commitment by African states to international humanitarian law, protection of human rights and preservation of human life is enforced by the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC). This organ of the AU was created as a continental structure to foster and facilitate initiatives which support and promote stability among member nations and within member nations. Adopted around the same time as the ICC was established, the PSC has also come to be seen as a structure which gives African countries more agency in the pursuit of international criminal justice, in addition to reducing the dependency of Africa on western structures to achieve its goals and objectives.  

Given the regional and international frameworks which exist to advance international justice, why then does the continent appear to be failing when it comes to bringing those responsible for gross human rights violations to justice? Considering SA’s response to the case of Omar al-Bashir or even its relations with neighbouring Zimbabwe it would appear that African states simply lack the political will, required to bring those most responsible to justice. That isn’t to say that there aren’t important legal implications or complex relations to consider when deciding to enforce the law but rather that the factors driving these decisions appear to be based on a culture of diplomatic impunity as opposed to democratic freedoms and peaceful dialogue. While African leaders are justified in their criticism of the ICC and the structures which govern it, they cannot ignore the responsibility of upholding human rights and freedoms of the African people. If an individual or individuals commit crimes against African people then there is a duty to bring these persons to justice. Through various regional and local structures Africa has clearly committed to the principles of humanitarian law and international justice and now it remains up to the continent to clearly define how it will enforce these principles and what structures will exist to ensure that no gross violation of African people’s rights goes unpunished.    

Kaamillah Soeker has recently completed a Masters Degree at the Wits School of Governance in Public and Development Management. She is interested in Policy Analysis of South Africa and the African continent.