In Summary
  • But those who bet on Ramaphosa would score in terms of creating rapport with the would-be South African president.
  • Also, Ramaphosa campaigned on a business and investments ticket.

South Africa’s 54th African National Congress (ANC) conference is now water under the bridge, with business mogul-cum-state Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as the new party President. What are the implications for Kenya, Africa and the world?

Unless dynamics change drastically, Ramaphosa is poised to assume state presidency after the June 2019 General Election. Subject to ANC political developments, Ramaphosa could indeed become state president earlier.

For instance, President Jacob Zuma could resign or be recalled by the ANC. For now, South Africa is in a state of ambivalence — referred to as “two centres of power” — in that Ramaphosa is the party President while Zuma remains the state president, posing diplomatic challenges.


The “incomplete” transition from Zuma to Ramaphosa era poses challenges for African and global leaders as well as businesses. Those who cosy up to Ramaphosa risk attracting the ire of Zuma as long as he remains South Africa’s diplomat-in-chief — at least in the short term.

But those who bet on Ramaphosa would score in terms of creating rapport with the would-be South African president.

Assuming that Ramaphosa will have to wait until June 2019 to become president, there is an 18-month hiatus during which foreign entities will have to navigate between the ANC power and the state power, not to mention the tricky balance of power within the ANC itself.

Perhaps in keeping with diplomatic protocol, no head of government openly congratulated Ramaphosa on his election. It can be speculated that a number of African and world leaders may have used backdoor channels to salute Ramaphosa, mindful not to upset the incumbent Zuma.

The exception is Namibian President Hage Geingob, whose felicitations towards Ramaphosa were on behalf of the ruling party, Swapo.


The other political leader to have lauded Ramaphosa is Raila Odinga, leader of Kenya’s opposition coalition, Nasa. This was a move as loaded as it was strategic, given the suggested proximity between Odinga and Ramaphosa.

The subtle implication would be that if Odinga is close to Ramaphosa, then, the Kenyatta administration is not close to him and, therefore, a loser in his election — at least for now.

It is probable that Kenya’s foreign policy honchos will be mulling strategies of engagement with South Africa under Ramaphosa. On the other hand, Ramaphosa will have to make choices in his engagement with the divided Kenyan political class.

In a nutshell, Kenya-South Africa relations will likely remain in a grey area for some time to come. This would generally apply to other countries. Indeed, it will be recalled that Ramaphosa’s entreaties to serve as a mediator in the Kenyan post-election violence of 2007-2008 was snubbed by then President Mwai Kibaki’s administration.

But there has been a mending of fences lately, with Ramaphosa travelling to Kenya in June 2015 to apologise to the Kenyan public after xenophobic attacks in South Africa in April 2015.

In his speech as the new ANC leader, Ramaphosa did not mention Africa. Deciphering Ramaphosa’s African policy will, therefore, have to wait for the dust to settle. However, the role that Ramaphosa gives to at least two fellow South African leaders will be closely watched.


These are Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Thabo Mbeki. Dlamini-Zuma left her position as chairperson of the African Union to contest the ANC presidency while Mbeki is credited with charting the Africa Union course in the early 2000s but remains an active envoy and mediator on the continent.

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