A one-day high-level policy dialogue that sought to evaluate the impact of the UN Security Council on conflict management efforts in Africa was recently hosted by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship in partnership with Sweden’s Nordic Africa Institute.
Titled ‘Fifteen diplomats on a powder keg: Africa and the United Nations Security Council’, the dialogue took place at UP’s Future Africa Institute on the 77th anniversary of the day the United Nations (UN) Charter entered into force. It was attended by 22 diplomatic missions, including 16 ambassadors; South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation; the Department of Economic Development; heads of UN agencies; civil society; media scholars; and students.
The policy dialogue had three key aims: to craft ideas to ensure an effective division of labour between the UN and African regional organisations and civil society actors; to consider how strengthening the effectiveness of the Security Council’s 10 non-permanent members could promote positive peacekeeping outcomes in African cases; and to reflect on the meaningful participation of women, human rights priorities and the implementation of the Sustainable Developmental Goals.
“The focus of our deliberations is the African continent, where 85% of UN peacekeepers are currently deployed,” said Professor Adekeye Adebajo, a senior research fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, in his opening remarks.
“We wish to assess how the 10 elected non-permanent members of the UN Security Council can work with the five veto-wielding permanent members of the council to capacitate African regional bodies to strengthen Africa’s security architecture.”
He added that we are living in the shadow of the war in Ukraine, at a time when the 15 UN Security Council members are probably more divided than at any other time in the three post-Cold War decades. However, he added, efforts are also being made to break the deadlock in the Security Council, with peace and security uppermost in the minds of council members.
Prof Adebajo pointed out that conflicts had increased in number throughout Africa, including in the Eastern Congo, the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sudan and Mozambique. He noted that 22 million people in the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya) face starvation, as climate change continues to ravage large parts of the continent and “the rich world reneges on promises to support African efforts to tackle it”.
In an address to the UN General Assembly last month, US President Joe Biden supported calls to expand the UN Security Council to include more permanent membership from Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.
“It’s important in our deliberations that we try to take this policy statement and see how to make the Security Council more representative of the world of 2022 and not that of 1945,” Prof Adebajo said.
Dr Angela Muvumba Sellström, a senior researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute which is affiliated with Uppsala University’s Department of Peace and Conflict Research, expressed her reservations about the Security Council.
“In 2016, when Sweden was about to begin its two-year term [on the Security Council], one of my colleagues at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo and I became interested in how the council was operating and what impact a country like Sweden could have,” she said.
“We started to watch the council and ask questions about the variation in composition and how the small states could achieve their goals, and whether or not there was such a thing as a fellowship of the elected 10 and how the art of diplomacy, with its many gambles, bargains and trade-offs, could be exercised in pursuit of human security.”
South Africa’s long-serving diplomat, Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Xolisa Mabhongo, said the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in September took place during an era of global uncertainty, where the international community is characterised by fragility.
“Today, the global order is divided as never before, with the potential use of nuclear weapons being part of daily discourse among world leaders,” he said.
“The key challenge for this conference is how the UN can respond to all these challenges. Why is it, for example, that in the 77 years of the UN's existence, conflicts and wars persist?”
Referring to an address made earlier in the year by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Ambassador Mabhongo noted that “2 billion people, a quarter of humanity, are living in conflict areas and the world is facing the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945, when World War 2 ended”.
He added that countries slowly recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic are now struggling with multiple crises.
“The detrimental socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and the financial, energy and food crises are felt most acutely on the African continent,” he said.
Dr Ayodele Odusola, Acting UN Resident Coordinator in South Africa, reminded delegates of a comment by former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who once said that the United Nations “was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell”.
“I want to anchor the fact that most people evaluate the UN based on the wars on the ground, but not wars that have been averted,” Dr Odusola said. “I strongly believe that the UN has played a role in making wars less likely and limited despite our challenges today.”
The dialogue concluded with a question-and-answer session.