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Fifteen diplomats on a powder keg

By Adekeye Adebajo
03 November 2022   |   3:44 am
The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) and Future Africa, recently partnered with the Sweden-based Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), to host a policy dialogue on “Fifteen Diplomats on A Powder Keg: Africa and the United Nations (UN) Security Council.”


The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) and Future Africa, recently partnered with the Sweden-based Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), to host a policy dialogue on “Fifteen Diplomats on A Powder Keg: Africa and the United Nations (UN) Security Council.” The meeting involved senior diplomats, heads of UN agencies, civil society, media, scholars, and students, and had three key aims: to craft ideas to ensure an effective division of labour between the UN, the European Union (EU), and Africa’s regional bodies; to strengthen the effectiveness of the Elected Ten (E10) members on the Council in promoting positive peacekeeping outcomes in Africa, with three case studies  of
South Africa, Germany, and Sweden examined; and

to increase the meaningful participation of women and human rights priorities in peace processes across the continent, while linking security to development. The dialogue thus assessed how the E10 have worked to strengthen Africa’s security architecture.

The Shadow of Ukraine
The meeting took place in the shadow of the Ukraine war – with 2 billion people globally living in conflict-affected areas – at a time when the 15-member UN Security Council is probably more divided than at any time in the last three post-Cold War decades. Efforts are once again afoot – for the first time in four decades – by Western actors to strengthen the role of the 193-strong UN General Assembly in the area of peace and security. But like the Council, the Assembly is also divided on many of these thorny issues. It was also noted that the five veto-wielding permanent members (the P5) of the Council – the United States (US), China, Russia, France and Britain – who are mandated to maintain international peace and security, paradoxically account for 76% of arms sales that fuel global conflicts.

There were calls to strengthen the UN Peacebuilding Commission, since many post-conflict countries relapse into war as a result of inadequate peacebuilding resources being provided to rebuild crippled states. The increased focus on the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda on the Council since 2016 was praised, with Sweden, Germany, Kenya, Mexico, and Ireland recently backing these efforts. There were, however, urgent calls to address the exclusion of women from African mediation processes, and African think tanks were urged to contribute to knowledge-production in this critical area.

Pax Africana and the A3
The meeting was also held as conflicts have proliferated in African theatres such as the eastern Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sudan, and Mozambique, with 70% of the Security Council’s deliberations typically focusing on the continent. About 22 million people on the Horn of Africa remain in danger of starvation, even as the rich world reneges on promises to support African efforts to tackle climate change and its deleterious impacts. The main focus of the deliberations was 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 prioritise conflict prevention in order to address the root causes of conflicts.

The Council has clearly not done enough to strengthen the capacity of African regional organisations, and to collaborate more effectively with them in the field. Often led by South Africa 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 Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The three African members (A3) of the Council – who now coordinate their efforts closely with the African Union (AU), and worked well with the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2020/2021 – have thus consistently but unsuccessfully called for the UN to fund 75% of African-led peacekeeping operations through UN assessed contributions. There were also calls for a long delayed 25,000-strong permanent African Standby Force (ASF) to be urgently established, and the AU’s $315 million Peace Fund to be massively increased. Tensions have historically been evident in the UN’s peacekeeping collaboration with the AU in Darfur, CAR, and Mali, even as 16 meetings have been held between both security councils. The EU has deployed four small military missions into the Congo (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.

Reforming The Anachronistic Council
US president, Joe Biden’s call at the UN General Assembly in September 2022, for the expansion of the UN Security Council in order to bring in permanent representation from Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere, generated much debate at the dialogue. 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 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, South Africa, Brazil, and India to be brought into the Council to make this anachronistic body more representative of the world of 2022 rather than that of 1945. There were also calls to reform the UN’s working methods, and a suggestion of reserving one of three African rotating seats for regional powers such as Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, and Ethiopia in order to ensure consistently strong African representation.

Though half of the Security Council’s resolutions over the last two decades have related to Africa, only 6.5% of these have had a sole African pen-holder drafting them. Perversely, France, Britain, and America write all the Security Council resolutions in 12 out of 14 African cases, as if continuing colonial spheres of influence. China drafts no resolutions, while Russia holds two pens. African and other regional powers were therefore urged to seize these pens from the hyperactive Western trio and ensure that they become pen-holders on cases relating especially to the continent.

The New Non-Alignment
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. The business of the Council has, however, continued on non-Ukraine cases, with 36 resolutions having been passed this year by October 2022. 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 pitting Pax Sinica against Pax Americana. This unleashed a lively debate over the efforts by African, Asian, and Latin American states to revive a new “non-alignment” in order to avoid becoming embroiled in what many see as great power “proxy wars”. It was suggested that a non-aligned bloc within the Council could play a role in balancing the P5. There were also strident calls to end the Western double standards on cases such as Palestine and Western Sahara, and to uphold the rules-based international order consistently not just in Ukraine, but also in Iraq.

Professor Adebajo is a senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship in South Africa.