Professor Adekeye Adebajo is Director of the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation. He recently penned an opinion article that first appeared in the Business Day: 11 October 2021
South Africa served on the United Nations (UN) Security Council in 2019/2020. In chairing the Council in December 2020, Tshwane held a high-level debate on cooperation between the African Union (AU) and the UN, and championed greater involvement of women and youth in peace processes across Africa. It also successfully removed Burundi from the Council agenda. South Africa often led Africa on a Council that also contained Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea (2019), and Tunisia and Niger (2020). Tensions, however, continue between the 15-member UN Security Council and the 15-member AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), as powerful UN members haughtily stress their primacy in global security issues, while AU members highlight their political legitimacy.
The University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation and the Sweden-based Nordic Africa Institute convened 30 African and European diplomats and scholars at a high-level webinar last week to assess how the two-year rotating Elected 10 (E10) members of the UN Security Council can influence decisions to strengthen Africa’s security architecture, given the dominance of the veto-wielding Permanent Five (P5) of the US, China, Russia, France, and Britain. Since a majority of nine states is needed to pass resolutions, the E10 effectively has a blocking minority, if it can muster the unity to act.
About 85% of the UN’s 71,500 peacekeepers are deployed in Africa, while 70% of its resolutions are related to the continent. Perversely, France, Britain, and the US are “penholders” drafting all the resolutions in 12 out of 14 African cases. More positively, the three African non-permanent members (the A3) are now reporting monthly to the Africa Group in New York, and liaising closely with the AU PSC in Addis Ababa. There were, however, calls to increase the capacity of A3 members and to have consistently strong African states on the AU PSC in order to be able to engage the UN Security Council more effectively. The A3 has further collaborated closely with the Caribbean island of St.Vincent and the Grenadines to promote Pan-African security interests.
The E10 strongly pressured the Council to take action on Syria and Yemen from 2015, but its effectiveness has declined over the last two years. Ironically, the presence of large regional powers like South Africa, Germany, Indonesia, and India has not resulted in a more cohesive E10, as these powers often have their own parochial agendas. While Afro-Caribbean and European Union (EU) states within the E10 have issued joint statements, the E10 as a whole has recently struggled to act collectively. Sweden is said to have sided with the West against the African majority on imposing sanctions on South Sudan’s parties, while Belgium also backed the West on the Congo’s controversial 2019 polls.
The divisions within the P5 have also created gridlock, with Washington, Paris, and London (the P3) often at loggerheads with Beijing and Moscow (the P2). E10 countries have thus frequently been forced to steer a careful course between the two rival blocs. Russia’s growing military assistance in the Central African Republic and Mali has allowed it to challenge the Gallic neo-colonial role in Africa. China’s economic clout as Africa’s largest trading partner has also increased its influence. Both powers have further sought to coordinate their efforts through the BRICS. Smaller countries like Niger, Dominican Republic, and Estonia have not always been able to withstand great power pressure. Though firmly in the Western bloc, Germany often used a network of key African embassies to obtain information to enable it steer a more independent course. Along with Indonesia, Berlin was able to serve as a co-penholder on the Council. However, the P3 remains hostile to giving up the pen to E10 members, often derided as two-year “tourists”. Departing E10 members were thus encouraged to coordinate their efforts closely with incoming members to ensure continuity.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.
Professor Adekeye Adebajo