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Understanding Africa’s position on UN Security Council Reforms

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  • April 13, 2012
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Lt Gen Satish Nambiar (Retd)
    Discussants: Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia and Ambassador H H S Viswanathan

    Reform and democratisation of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council, has been the focus of global attention in recent years. However, progress on UNSC reforms has proven to be quite elusive, mainly due to multiple and competing proposals by various groups like G-4, Uniting for Consensus, L-69 and S-5. Separately, within the UN process, through the Africa Group the African countries have tried to project their common position for permanent representation from the African continent at the Security Council.

    In this context, Ms. Ruchita Beri analysed the African position on UNSC reforms and provided some historical and political context necessary to situate the Africa’s debate over Security Council reforms. She argued that the continent’s inflexibility and failure to reach a compromise on the common position while negotiating with other like-minded groups is the single most significant roadblock in the African countries’ plans to acquire permanent position on the high table. Further, while India’s quest for African support for its UNSC candidature may have been one of the factors fuelling India’s engagement of African countries in recent years, doubts remain on India and Africa convergence at the negotiations on UNSC reforms in future.

    Highlighting the anachronistic structure of the UNSC, Ms. Beri mentioned that there has been an engaging debate on the need for UNSC reforms since the end of the Cold War. Many countries, especially from the developing world, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the unrepresentative character of the UNSC and presented various formulae and proposals addressing three issues:

    • The size of the reformed Security Council,
    • Limitations on the scope and use of veto rights, and,
    • The UNSC’s working methods.

    However, the new permanent membership has proven to be the most contentious issue in the debate on Security Council reforms.

    Among different groups formed across the world to put forward the cases for permanent membership to the Security Council, the Africa group remains the only geographical group to have reached a common position when, after considerable deliberations, the African countries agreed to a common position on the UNSC reforms called the Ezulwini Consensus (2005). Further, the Sirte Summit of the African Union in July 2005 set up a follow up mechanism on the reform process and mandated to negotiate with other regions of the world and stakeholders to attain Africa’s aspiration with reference to the UNSC. However, there was a lot of criticism of the African common position:

    • The Ezulwini consensus was based on the idea of regional representation, while the current UN system focused on representation of countries on the basis of their individual merit.
    • The Ezulwini consensus was an inflexible negotiating position that was doomed to fail at the onset.

    On their part, the G-4 and the Africa group opened negotiations in London in 2005 in order to reach a consensus as they would be unable to muster the required support independently. Nevertheless, negotiations revealed fissures in the unity of the Africa group and the leading African countries failed to convince other member states that it was practically impossible for Africa to attain a permanent representation at the UNSC without support from other players. Several factors influenced these events:

    • Failure to name the possible African representatives in the African common position because of intense rivalry amongst them and severe criticism of their candidature within Africa.
    • Only 36 of the 53 African countries voted in favour of the Sirte Declaration, meaning that even if the Africa group had managed to join in a coalition with G-4, it would still not have got the votes of all members of AU.
    • It appears some of the P-5 countries also fuelled these differences among the African countries.

    On India-Africa convergence, Ms. Beri mentioned that in recent years, India has been engaging African countries in a big way, at bilateral, regional as well as pan-African levels. The need for a new paradigm encompassing diverse areas such as political, economic, science and technology, human resource development, social, cultural and strategic was highlighted during the India-Africa Summit held in April 2008. Also, India’s increasing engagement of Africa coupled with its involvement in UN peacekeeping in Africa can be viewed as a strategy to win support of the African countries for its candidature to the UNSC. In turn, on various occasions, individually or as part of a regional grouping, African countries have gone on record to support India’s candidature to the reformed UNSC.

    In conclusion, she opined that currently it seems the Africa group cannot agree on suitable candidates to fill the permanent seats allocated to the region. It is also doubtful whether other groups will negotiate with African countries without identification of the possible African candidates. At the same time, without African support it is inconceivable that any proposal or reform package could succeed in the General Assembly. Therefore, at the moment, Africa seems to be holding the key to further progress on the UNSC reforms debate.

    Major Points from Discussion and Suggestions to the Author:

    • The world is putting unnecessary faith in Africa and its role in the expansion of Security Council. At the same time, amongst the P-5 only UK and France are inclined for expansion and the other three are not in favour of the same. Therefore, Africa becomes a minor bloc in any such expansions.
    • Some consider arriving at the Ezulwini Consensus was the mistake committed by Africa as it could not move freely beyond the set position. At the same time, the question is whether Africa has the power to go back on the consensus. Hence, Ezulwini Consensus should be considered as the starting point of the process. It is the opening position of Africa wherein it has expressed its opinion on a major issue as Africa does not have such diplomatic leverage with the world.
    • Unlike Asia and Latin America, but like Europe, Africa does not have probable candidates as the continent is too divided. Therefore, it is very difficult to get consensus among African countries. Of late, there have been new cases of Kenya and Ethiopia to be considered for membership of the UNSC.
    • There is no clear strategy of Africa and India as to how to proceed on the subject of UNSC reform. The current approach fails to deliver desired results. In this situation, the only solution is the transitional solution between permanent and non-permanent category, i.e. creating a rotational membership.
    • There is no clear support from Africa for India’s position. They only note India’s candidature. Their position could come out clearly when there are few contenders from the continent.
    • It is also important to look at the position taken in groupings like BRICS and IBSA by its member states.
    • For some time, the issue of reforming the UNSC is has moved to the backburner in the world dominated by economic issues and it is time to pursue the same along with other impending issues.
    • Permanent seats in the Security Council are not decided on the basis of regional representation. Therefore, it is a non-starter and this practice has to be discarded. At the same time, deciding criteria for new members is like deciding a country’s candidature well in advance.
    • The question of veto power for new members is a non-starter for negotiations as the current P-5 is in no mood to offer it to new members. There should be some compromise on this contentious issue and final push has to come from the P-5 in this regard. Separately, there is a debate on the use of veto power, conditions under which it was introduced, and the current need to retain it.
    • Some critics are of the opinion that it is time India starts its candidature campaign as an individual country, leaving behind the G-4 because the G-4 is not getting full support because of opposition to the candidature for some of its members like Japan and Germany.
    • There are doubts over Africa’s ability to reach consensus ever because of mutual suspicion and jealousy among African countries. Recently, Senegal put forward its candidature for the UNSC membership as the only francophone African country.
    • It is natural for African countries to think that the UNSC lacks credibility and legitimacy as there is no permanent representation for Africa which is home to 54 countries.

    Report prepared by Babjee Pothuraju, Research Assistant, IDSA.