Professor Adekeye Adebajo reflects on the conversation around Africa's involvement in the United Nations Security Council, which was recently considered at the high level policy dialogue hosted by the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) and the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) on 24 October 2022.
The University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship and Future Africa recently partnered with the Sweden-based Nordic Africa Institute, to host a policy dialogue, “Fifteen diplomats on a powder keg: Africa and the UN Security Council”.
The meeting involved senior diplomats, heads of UN agencies, civil society, scholars and students, and assessed how the 10 elected nonpermanent members of the UN Security Council have worked to strengthen Africa’s security architecture.
The dialogue took place in the shadow of the Ukraine war at a time when the 15-member UN Security Council is probably more divided than at any time in the past three post-Cold War decades.
The five veto-wielding permanent members of the council — the US, China, Russia, France and Britain — which are mandated to maintain international peace and security, paradoxically account for 76% of the arms sales that fuel global conflicts.
The meeting was also held as conflicts have proliferated in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sudan and Mozambique, with 70% of the security council’s deliberations typically focusing on Africa, to which 85% of the UN’s 75,000 peacekeepers are deployed.
With 22 debt-distressed African countries needing relief, there were calls to divert more resources from security to development, and to strengthen the UN Peacebuilding Commission. The increased focus on the women, peace & security agenda on the council since 2016 was praised, and there were urgent calls to address the exclusion of women from African mediation processes.
Often led by SA in 2019/2020, African states on the council worked with China and Russia to push back against Western preferences in Abyei, Burundi, Darfur, South Sudan, Somalia and the DRC. The three African members of the council now co-ordinate their efforts closely with the AU, and have consistently but unsuccessfully called for the UN to fund 75% of African-led peacekeeping operations.
Sixteen meetings have been held between the UN and AU security councils. The EU has deployed four small military missions in the DRC (twice), Chad, and Chad/CAR, which were sometimes seen to be pursuing parochial French interests, while 13 meetings have been held between the security bodies of the AU and the EU.
US President Joe Biden’s call last month for the expansion of the UN Security Council to bring in permanent representation from Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, generated much debate. France has also called for text-based negotiations on council reform, while Paris, London and the Nordic countries have backed greater African representation on the council.
Many speakers advocated for the expansion of an unrepresentative council that has not been reformed since it was expanded from 11 to 15 members in 1965. Some explicitly called for countries such as Nigeria, SA, Brazil and India to be brought into the council to make this anachronistic body more representative.
Though the conflicts in Libya and Syria have divided the security council since 2011, tensions have recently increased between a Russo-Chinese bloc and the Western trio of the US, France and Britain. However, the business of the council has continued on non-Ukraine cases, with 36 resolutions having been passed this year. Four vetoes have nevertheless been cast over Ukraine (twice), North Korea and Syria.
The Ukraine conflict has raised the spectre of a new Cold War, unleashing a lively debate over the efforts by African, Asian, and Latin American states to revive a new “non-alignment”, to avoid becoming embroiled in great power “proxy wars”. There were strident calls to end the Western double standards on cases such as Palestine and Western Sahara, and to uphold the rules-based international order — not just in Ukraine, but also in Iraq.