Fifteen diplomats on a powder keg
The University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) and the Sweden-based Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) convened a hybrid seminar in Pretoria this month, of largely African and European scholars, to examine the potential influence of eight two-year rotating Elected 10 members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council: South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Niger, Sweden, Norway, and Germany. A particular focus was Africa’s security architecture, and engaging the often self-interested veto-wielding Permanent Five (P5) of the US, China, Russia, France, and Britain.
While the African Union has sometimes used its strategic partnership with the UN and the European Union (EU) effectively, due to the pan-continental body’s financial and logistical weaknesses, some of these external partners – particularly UN Security Council permanent members, France, Russia, and the US – have also manipulated this relationship to pursue more parochial security agendas in Africa. The EU has been the most generous funder of peace and security efforts in Africa, contributing 90% of finances to the AU Peace Fund over two decades. But the AU/EU partnership has often been regarded by Africans as being one-sidedly shaped from Brussels.
South Africa served – with a 17-strong team – on the UN Security Council in 2019/2020, focusing on relations between the UN and Africa’s regional bodies; coordinating closely with the two other African members; and championing issues of Women and Security, Youth, and “Silencing the Guns.” It often acted independently, voting with China and Russia in 54% of cases, and the US in 31% of resolutions. Nigeria, which last served on the Security Council in 2014/2015, has deployed over 150,000 soldiers to international peacekeeping missions since 1960. Reflecting the West African Gulliver’s domestic instability, Abuja, however, currently has only about 300 UN peacekeepers deployed around the world: the 46th largest contribution to the world body. Nigeria, nevertheless, remains the only African member to have served consistently on the AU Peace and Security Council since 2004.
Ethiopia – a regional power and the seat of the AU – served on the Council in 2017/2018, when its 8,300 peacekeepers represented the largest contribution to UN peacekeeping. Addis Ababa championed UN peacekeeping reform, as well as closer relations between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council. Tunisia – home of the 2011
“Jasmine Revolution” – sought to represent an Arab and African identity on the Council between 2020/2021, focusing on Libya as well as Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam dispute with Egypt and Sudan. Its unusual change of two Permanent Representatives at the UN was, however, detrimental to the institutional continuity so vital to success on the Council. Niger also served on the Council in 2020/2021, championing issues of security in the Sahel as a member of the French-led G5 Force (with Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso), while acting as a client of its Gallic patron.
Sweden served on the Council in 2017/2018, stressing the links between peace-building and development and advocating for issues of Women and Security as part of its “soft power” role as a “consensus builder.” In practice, Stockholm, often voted closely with EU partners like France, pre-Brexit Britain, and Italy, including on African issues like South Sudan. During its current term in 2021/2022, fellow Nordic and non-EU member, Norway, has prioritised the link between climate change and security as a key focus, and worked closely with other EU states like Ireland, as well as Kenya and Mexico, on the Women and Security agenda. Finally, Germany – the EU’s paymaster – served on the Council in 2019/2020, voting 77% of the time with the US and fellow Western allies. The two European permanent members – France and Britain – have historically been reluctant to dilute their veto-wielding status by coordinating efforts with EU members. In practice, however, Berlin and Paris worked closely together on the Council.
Professor Adebajo is director of the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation in South Africa.