Reform or risk being moribund – UN warned

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire

The United Nations risk being a moribund organisation incapable of dealing with a myriad of issues afflicting the globe if it fails to seriously consider instituting reforms being proposed by member countries, analysts have said.

The damning assessment by analysts comes in the wake of persistent calls by the African Union and other regional bodies for the global organisation to enlarge its Security Council, which has over the years been monopolised by a few countries with veto powers.

Other leaders, including US President Donald Trump, have also urged the UN to reform or risk being irrelevant.

The push for reforms from the African bloc was consummated in 2005 in Swaziland when African leaders adopted the Ezulwini Consensus.

The background to the Ezulwini Consensus is that in 1945, when the UN was formed, most of Africa was under colonialism and that in 1963, when the first reform took place, the continent was represented but was not in a particularly strong position.

Convinced that Africa was now better placed to influence global affairs, African leaders agreed that the continent should have full representation in all decision-making organs of the UN, particularly in the Security Council.

The idea was to push for Africa to have at least two permanent seats with veto power and five rotational non-permanent seats on the Security Council. Although in principle Africa is opposed to the veto, it was held that as long as the instrument existed then the continent should also have the right to use.

The Ezulwini Consensus further advanced the view that the AU must be responsible for selection of Africa’s representatives on the Security Council.

It seems, however, that the calls by the West for reforms of the UN, particularly from Trump, are different from the calls being advocated by the AU.

University of Zimbabwe political scientist Ashton Murwira said although the UN is urgent need of reforms, there was no consensus on what exactly needs to be done.

“When it comes to what reform actually means, different countries and voting blocs have varying priorities. The United States and its allies want the organisation to take greater initiative in reforming management so as to increase transparency, accountability, effectiveness and efficiency,” said Murwira.

He said rising powers like India and Brazil are eager to join the Security Council as permanent members, but are not willing to embrace the management reforms necessary to reduce waste and increase efficiency and effectiveness because the moves are unpopular with the developing countries whose votes they will need to achieve their Security Council aspirations.

Murwira said while the Trump administration is focused on management reform, particularly on operational efficiency and budget.

Renowned international relations expert Professor Hasu Patel said the African bloc must continue pushing for reforms even though it may take long for the UNSC to be enlarged.

“It is humbling to note that the African bloc is probably the only continental body which has agreed in principle to effect reforms in the Security Council. Other regions like Europe and Asia remain disunited. However, even within the African Union, countries are divided on which countries should have permanent seats in the Security Council,” said Prof Hasu.

He said even if the United States continues to favour adding Japan to the Security Council, the other four permanent members are unlikely to go along, particularly China which is worried about the prospects of historic regional rivals, Japan and India, becoming permanent members.

“Russia is also opposed to diluting its role in an enlarged Security Council. Europeans are divided, Germany thinks that the Security Council’s membership structure is an anachronism and believes that it should become a permanent member. But then the issue is that if Germany joins, Italy will likely to demand the same. The United Kingdom and France pay lip service to UN Security Council expansion but in fact are not open to it, believing along with Russia that this will dilute their position,” Prof Patel.

“You may be aware that the General Assembly is where each member state has one vote that decides the organisation’s general budget. Developing countries dominate the General Assembly and decide how and on what initiatives to spend the funds yet the contribution of these 176 countries is just 18 percent while less than nine of the total membership, inclusive of America, contribute 80 percent.”

Despite the US’s financial power, Prof Patel insists that reforms were more than needed in the UN system. He referred to the organisation as an ignorant uncle born in a different time and has not adopted to the multi-cultural world of today. This has forced leaders of up and coming nations to change the old status quo.

Ironically, India represents 1/6 of the global population, yet has no permanent voice.

The maladjusted structure of the UN has forced President Mugabe to say that African countries are treated like “underdogs”.

It appears as though efforts to reform the 15- member United Nations (UN) Security Council have become an annual ritual in New York. An amendment to the UN Charter to effect reform requires a two-thirds majority out of a total UN membership of 193.

Prof Patel said it was sad that every effort at reform has fallen foul of power politics.

As the 72 United Nations General Assembly continues in New York, there are clear signs of an emerging consensus on the size of a reform UN Security Council and various other proposals. Yet key positions on reform remain as entrenched today as they have been for several decades and the prospects for progress appear faint.

That as it may, the 54 African members represent an important region in effecting envisaged reforms.

September 2017
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