African leaders intensify calls for UN reforms

Lovemore Ranga Mataire
The UN General Assembly opened in New York this week with African leaders intensifying calls for the world body to embrace reforms aimed at making it more representative of all geographical regions. African Union (AU) chairman, President Mugabe led the call for the UN reforms and was supported by South Africa President Jacob Zuma and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
President Mugabe said African countries had not gone to the General Assembly “looking for handouts” but had a well thought-out agenda of seeking partners to develop their mega infrastructure projects, exploit their natural resources and attract investments.
He said the world would only benefit from an Africa that has been set free and recognised and not one that had been muzzled by the powerful countries sitting on the UN Security Council.
“While the world has drastically changed since 1945, the United Nations, and indeed the global governance architecture, remains mired in a long bygone era.
“This archaic hierarchy among nations threatens to erode the confidence and support that the United Nations commends among the majority – but disadvantaged – of its membership,” he said.
“We are disappointed that we have lost the opportunity of this anniversary to address this burning issue of the reform of the United Nations Security Council in a manner that satisfies the just demands of the majority among us. I wish to reiterate our strong attachment to Africa’s common position on the reform of the Security Council contained in the Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration.”
President Mugabe said AU members were rightfully pushing for reforms to get a seat on the Security Council and called on other member states to support the African campaign.
President Zuma questioned the failure by the UN to reform since it was established, arguing that African countries liberated themselves from colonial rule and must be involved in the top organ. The South African leader stressed on reforming and restructuring of the UN Security Council in order to resolve conflicts surrounding Middle East and African nations.
He specified that although significant progress has been made by the UN since the adoption of the World Summit Outcome in 2005, no reform has been made to the restructuring of the Security Council since the founding days of the organization.
“It is unacceptable and unjustifiable that more than one billion people on the African continent are still excluded as permanent members of the key decision making structure of the United Nations, the Security Council. A continent with a smaller population than Africa is represented by three countries on the UN Security Council,” said President Zuma.
He also called on the UN to allow more representation of countries through permanent and non-permanent membership at the Council, thereby keeping with the changed times.
“The UN cannot pretend that the world has not changed since 1945.
We are no longer colonies. We are free, independent sovereign states,” he said.
President Zuma criticized decisions taken by certain Security Council members that led to an escalation of conflicts in the Middle-East and Sahel region.
“The current situation in Libya and the Sahel region is a direct consequence of some members of the UN Security Council not heeding informed counsel from the African Union. The principle of the ‘responsibility to protect’ had been abused for narrow political interests that had nothing to do with the fundamental aspects of the prevention of mass atrocities,” he added.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Desalegn, demanded full reforms of the UN, warning that without the changes it would be impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted last Friday.
He said it was up to member states to empower it to fulfil its promises in a new era. Not only had the organization’s membership changed dramatically over the years, but so had the world’s geopolitical and economic realities.
He said while the need to reform the UN had long been recognized, forging the necessary compromise among the wider membership had not been easy, but could not be further delayed. It was not enough to adopt the next generation of goals as the United Nations must be made fit for the post-2015 era.
Noting that comprehensive reform of the United Nations, and of the Security Council in particular, was imperative, Desalegn repeated Africa’s call for full representation in all of the organization’s decision-making organs.
African leaders have for a while now been calling for the reform of the UN Security Council saying the world has changed since the UN’s creation in 1945 and that it must therefore reflect the state of the world today.
However, analysts question feasibility of the proposed reforms in light of frantic resistance and assorted interests of those holding permanent seats – United States, Britain, China, Russia and France.
Africa’s position on the UN Security Council reforms is encapsulated in the Ezulwini document adopted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 8 March 2005, following a consensus reached at Ezulwini, Swaziland, the same year.
While other countries from Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America have also called for similar reforms albeit for varied reasons, Africa’s call seems to hold sway probably by its sheer huge membership base.
The primary concern of the African bloc is that the UN Security Council’s composition has become sterile and maladjusted and needs to be more democratic and representative of all regions.
As contained in the Ezulwini Consensus, various organs of the world body are in urgent need of reform to suit the dynamics of a world where the maintenance of international peace is no longer the prerogative of state players.
However, of particular interest to the African leaders is the need for the reform of the Security Council which in their view, lacks legitimacy, given its inequitable representation.
Africa’s position is that when the UN was born in 1945 after the Second World War, the continent was not represented and that Africa was still weak and fragmented when subsequent reforms were undertaken in 1965.
“Convinced that Africa is now in a position to influence the proposed UN reforms by maintaining her unity of purpose; Africa’s goal is to be fully represented in all the decision-making organs of the UN, particularly in the Security Council which is the principal decision-making organ of the UN in matters relating to international peace and security,” the Ezulwini Consensus document says.
The document further states that full representation in the Security Council means not less than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership including the right of veto, five non-permanent seats and that even though Africa is opposed in principle to the veto, it is of the view that so long as it exists, as a matter of common justice it should be made available to all permanent members of the Security Council.
The criteria for the selection of African members of the Security Council is proposed as a matter of the AU to decide taking into consideration the representative nature and capacity of those chosen.
While on paper, the African reform proposals are noble, they remain insurmountable in terms of practically convincing those who over the years have enjoyed unabated power to relinquish some of the power or at least share it with other equal members in the community of nations. The sticking question is how can a reform process be initiated when key five permanent members with veto rights have no interests in acceding to such reforms?
It is glaringly regrettable that the maladjusted nature of the Security Council has perpetuated skewed international arena where important policies affecting the future of African politics and society are decided in Paris, Washington, and London.
In order to effectively push for its proposals, the African bloc needs to be alive to the sensibilities of other countries like Japan, India, Germany and Brazil who for long have also been clamouring for permanent seats in the UNSC.
Besides the four countries, the African bloc needs to expertly manoeuvre and be alive to the sensibilities of individual countries holding permanent seats. Although the United States has been somewhat ambivalent on Africa’s proposed expansion of the UNSC, President Barak Obama recently supported India’s quest for a permanent seat.
Traditionally, the US has also supported the inclusion of Japan in the UNSC given the fact that the country is one of the biggest financial contributors to the world body. But its position has clashed with that of China, which sees Japan’s inclusion as an affront to natural justice as the country is seen not remorseful of committed Chinese atrocities.
A Foreign Service officer with the US department of State Kara C. Mcdonald who worked at the UNSC between 2001 and 2009 argues that despite the dramatic changes in the international system over the past forty-five years, the composition of the UNSC has remained unaltered since 1965, and there are many who question how long its legitimacy will last without additional members that reflect twenty-first century realities.
In the US Council Special Report of 2009-2010, McDonald asserts that little agreement has been reached as to which countries should accede to the Security Council or even by what formula aspirants should be judged.
While reform advocates have frequently called for equal representation for various regions of the world, McDonald highlights competition between India and Pakistan, Mexico and Brazil, with very little compromise in the horizon. Moreover, the UN Charter prescribes that regional parity is a secondary consideration as the primary concern is the ability to advocate and defend international peace and security.
“The United States has remained largely silent as this debate has intensified over the past decade, choosing to voice general support for expansion without committing to specifics. (President Obama’s recent call for India to become a permanent member of the Security Council was a notable exception.),” says McDonald.
Ironically, China – which has smoother diplomatic relations with most African countries — is averse to the expansion of the UNSC while France is supportive of the idea.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told a US diplomat that “Beijing was concerned by the ‘momentum’ that was building on UN Security Council reform.” Yafei told the US diplomat that the position enjoyed by current P-5, China, Britain, France, Russia and United States – should not be “diluted” by making it P-10.
“If we end up with a ‘P-10’, both China and the US would be in trouble,” Yafei confided to the US diplomat in Wikileaks released in 2005.
Although this is not a Chinese official position, what is apparent is that Africa’s position will not easily sail through without resistance.
For reasons that are yet to be unpacked, France seems amenable to UNSC reforms supporting the accession to a permanent seat of Germany, Brazil, Indian Japan and an Arab country as well as a greater presence of African countries. France’s position is well known by all member-states in that it promotes the framing of the use of veto by the five Security Council permanent members in case of mass atrocities.
Decisions by the Security Council are adopted with a majority of 9 votes out of the 15 votes of the total members. Any decision is rejected if one of the five Security Council permanent members (China, France, Russia, Britain and United States0 uses veto.
France has over the years voiced its concern of the veto and in 2013 it proposed that the permanent members voluntarily and collectively pledge not to use the veto in case of recognised mass atrocities. This reform would not involve any amendment to the UN Charter and the UN Secretary General would therefore seize the Security Council in cases of genocide, crimes against humanity or large scale war crimes.
In September 2014, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Laurent Fabius, organized a ministerial meeting on the issue on the margins of the UN General Assembly with his Mexican counterpart Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena in which many member states, including Security Council members, UN officials and representatives of civil society groups, took part.
It is thus not surprising that at the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations this year, France, Mexico and other partners seized the opportunity to advance the reform project of the United Nations.
It is fatuous for Africa to ride on the back of France as the country harbours its own agenda, which may be at variance with the continent’s ultimate vision. What then are the options for Africa to ensure that their proposals translate and effect the historic changes envisioned in the Ezulwaini consensus?
The first hurdle to Africa’s position is Africa itself. There is no consensus of the two countries that Africa wants to have permanent seats in the UNSC. South Africa, which currently holds a non-permanent seat, has set its eye on being the frontrunner while Nigeria has openly campaigned for it.
Egypt has also not made it a secret that it’s angling for a permanent seat. The criteria that Africa will use in selecting its representative remain unclear and strenuous. Africa needs to clearly set out parameters for choosing its representative and needs to speak with one voice.
While effective Security Council reforms may take time to sail through the bureaucratic mesh-wire of the world body and the abstinence of the majority of permanent members, one thing is certain: Africa has set itself on a historic course for the eventual transformation of the international world order.

December 2015
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