As the battle for permanent seats on a reformed United Nations Security Council heats up, Wafula Okumu treads the minefield of politics and internal dealings over the African contenders in the race. The battle ahead, he writes, is likely to be “long, nasty and brutal” and is sure to lead to increased tensions between African power brokers.
The campaign for the proposed new permanent seats in the reformed United Nations Security Council (UNSC), while producing fireworks around the world, has also opened up old historical wounds and heightened regional rivalries.
Although the hottest rivalries are in Asia, particularly between India and Pakistan, and between Japan, South Korea and China, Africa is also exhibiting deep divisions along regional and language lines as countries scramble for the coveted seats.
Senegal is the latest African country to put forth its name for a permanent seat on the UNSC, should the body be expanded. Other African countries jockeying for the permanent seats are South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Libya. The African Union (AU) is flummoxed as to which of its member states to endorse, and has yet to establish the criteria to be used for selecting African countries to the reformed Security Council. The entry of Senegal into the race has only increased the dilemma, and is an indication of the AU’s indecision. In creating this leadership vacuum, the AU is leaving the selection of who will represent Africa on the expanded UN Security Council to be determined by foreign busybodies and regional power struggles.
Among the criteria laid down by the UN ‘Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change’ (the Report on UN Reforms) is that the new members of the UNSC must have contributed “most to the United Nations financially, militarily and diplomatically,” particularly through contributions to United Nations assessed budgets and participation in mandated peace operations. The other conditions spelt out are that new members should represent the broader UN membership, increase the democratic and accountable nature of the Security Council, and should not impair its effectiveness. A working group that was appointed in January 2005 during the Abuja Summit of the African Union to come up with recommendations on the proposed UN reforms presented its report to the Foreign Ministers on March 7 in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, but was deafeningly silent on the selection criteria for Security Council permanent seats.
What the AU stands to gain from a reformed Security Council
According to the “Ezulwini Consensus,” which was adopted by the AU Foreign Ministers as Africa’s common position on UN reform, “Africa’s goal is to be fully represented in all the decision-making organs of the UN, particularly in the Security Council, which is the principal decision-making organ of the UN in matters relating to international peace and security.”
The UNSC is now more important than ever to Africa, particularly concerning matters of intervention in the conflicts occurring within the region. These decisions will become more legitimate and easier to implement if they are made through democratic processes.
The major criticism of the UN from the South has been that a few powerful members have dominated its policy-making process and frequently used the veto power to enhance their interests. This has been deemed undemocratic. It is now surprising that critics of this arrangement are now seeking to strengthen it rather than to reform the UNSC. It is a classic case of “Animal Farm” where the oppressed join the oppressors, and behave just like them.
The position of the AU
When the AU Committee was formed in January to propose a common African response, its terms of reference included consideration of the two models relating to the reform of the UN Security Council. These models were recommended to reflect the 4 global regions: Africa, Asia/Pacific, Americas and Europe.
Model A provides for six new permanent seats, with no veto being created, and three new two-year term non-permanent seats; bringing the total to 24. Africa would have 2 no-veto permanent seats and 4 two-year non-renewable seats. The balance of power would still tip in Europe’s favor as the UK, France and Russia would retain their veto powers as would the US and China. Africa would still be the only region without veto power.
Model B provides for no new permanent seats but creates a new category of eight four-year renewable-term seats and one new two-year non-permanent (and non-renewable) seat. All the regions would get 2 four-year renewable-term seats. Although Africa would get the most (4) of the two-year non-permanent seats, Europe and the Americans gain most, as they each get two four-year renewable-term seats. Additionally, all regions will have at least one member with veto power, except Africa.
AU has rejected both of these models and instead demanded “not less than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership including the right of veto.” Although the AU opposes, in principle, the veto, it strongly feels that it be extended to all permanent members “so long as it exists.”
The AU has also demanded the right to select African representatives to the Security Council and to set up its selection criteria for African members of the Council. In this regard, the AU seems to be overlooking the proposed UN selection criteria, in favor of some criteria of its own. According to “Ezulwini Consensus,” these criteria will be based on “the representative nature and capacity of those chosen.” However, these criteria have still not been explicitly defined.
The selection criteria of UNSC permanent seats
Taking into consideration the criteria of the Report on UN Reforms, some of the African candidates put forward so far are better qualified than others.
1. Contributions to the promotion of peace, security and stability in Africa
In the UN’s assessments of present troop contributions for peacekeeping efforts, Nigeria is ranked 7th, South Africa is 10th, Senegal 12th, Kenya 13th and Egypt 49th. However, taking the past into consideration, Kenya claims the distinction of being the second top African nation troop contributor to all UN missions. Libyan troops are currently not serving on any UN peacekeeping mission.
South Africa, Kenya, Senegal and Nigeria have all played crucial roles in promoting and maintaining peace and security in their respective regions. South Africa’s record in promoting peace on the continent includes playing leading roles to end conflicts in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and most recently in Ivory Coast. Nigeria has earned praises for playing leading roles in the peacekeeping missions in the Sierra Leonian and Liberian civil wars. In the case of Liberia, in 2003 Nigeria was instrumental in ending the conflict by offering beleaguered president Charles Taylor a safe haven.
Nigeria also played an instrumental role in reversing a coup in the tiny oil-rich nation of Sao Tome in 2003 and is currently leading the AU troops in Darfur. The Nigerian foreign minister has argued further that a permanent membership seat on the Security Council would ease the country’s burden of peacekeeping in Africa and inevitably reduce the pressure on resources to the benefit of all Nigerians.
Kenya played a central role in ending Sudan's 21-year north-south civil war, Africa's longest running conflict. The peace efforts in neighboring lawless Somalia have also been maintained through Kenya’s support as host, first to the peace negotiations, and subsequently the government in exile. Kenya’s foreign minister, Chirau Ali Mwakwere, in his announcement of Kenya’s candidature for the permanent seat in the Security Council, called for these achievements in the region to be recognized. He also cited Kenya’s peacekeeping efforts worldwide and peaceful nature as additional qualifications.
2. Are they democratic role models?
All the contenders have contributed positively to emerging African values and practices in peace, justice and governance. Senegal is selling itself as a model for religious tolerance and justice. South Africa was the first country to disarm its nuclear arsenal and has broken through the barriers to give Africa permanent access to the Group of Eight most industrialized countries. Both Senegal and South Africa have commendable records on democratic transitions and consolidation. Kenya also, in December 2002, underwent a democratic process that saw the defeat of an incumbent ruling party and peaceful handover of power to a coalition of opposition parties. Nigeria in April 2003 held national elections whose results were generally accepted. Libya and Egypt are not known to practice universally accepted democracy.
Nigeria’s biggest minus is its corruption reputation. Corruption has not only stigmatized the country as untrustworthy but also earned it a third ranking as the world's most corrupt nation on Transparency International’s corruption index. Despite President Obasanjo’s declared war on corruption, Nigeria has yet to sign the UN and AU conventions targeted at enhancing greater transparency in the fight against organized crime and corruption. In particular, Nigeria has refused to sign international conventions such as the 2003 UN convention on trans-national crime. Most damning is the fact that despite being the chair of NEPAD’s Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee (HSGIC), Nigeria has not ratified the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. Only two HSGIC members, Libya and Rwanda, have ratified this convention. South Africa, Kenya Senegal and Egypt have also not ratified the AU convention on corruption.
3. Are they representative of Africa?
There has been much debate concerning what it means to represent Africa. This is often confused to mean to have a large African population. Nigeria, as the most populous African country would win on this count, even though, 7/8 Africans do not live in Nigeria, and would therefore be unrepresented. What is needed, however, is a selection that is not based on national size and composition. Whichever country is chosen to represent Africa has to see itself as African first, and seek to promote the interests of the whole continent equally.
It has been sarcastically noted that were it not for Egypt’s interest in the Security Council permanent seat, President Hosni Mubarak would never have attended an AU Summit. Egypt had very strong Pan-Africanist orientation during Gamel Nasser’s rule but has over the years paid more attention to Middle Eastern issues, particularly the Palestinian question, than to African problems. Many watchers of Egyptian African foreign policy have noted that it is mainly driven by its interest in the waters of the Nile. Many Africans also resent how Egyptians regard themselves as being “non-Africans.”
Nigeria, on the other hand, has played leading roles in the promotion of pan-Africanist ideals enshrined in the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA), NEPAD and the AU. Libya too has a strong claim to represent Africa. Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi is widely regarded as the father of the African Union. South Africa has played an active role of promoting Africa’s development through the NEPAD initiative and heading the AU at its formative period. President Mbeki was the brain behind NEPAD and the first Chairman of the AU after hosting its inaugural summit in Durban in July 2002. Kenya has given shelter to refugees from many other African countries, and is currently hosting almost 300,000 refugees, not only from its war-torn neighbors, but from different parts of the continent.
4. Financial contributions to the UN
An indication of the various countries’ level of commitment to the UN is their fulfillment of financial obligations. The amount of the membership dues is assessed according to a country’s ability to pay. However, payments are often still not made on time. African countries are notorious for late payments and delinquencies only matched by the United States, which intentionally withholds payments as a way of exerting pressure on the UN or to make political points.
South Africa and Egypt have already paid their dues, $5,196,166 and $2,135,411 respectively, for 2005 by the end of January, as established by UN Financial Regulations Rule 5.4. Since 1996, South Africa has consistently paid its UN dues on time. Between 1991 and 2004, Egypt paid its dues in time six times, Libya two times, and Senegal once. As of 16 December 2004, South Africa, Senegal, Egypt, Nigeria and Libya had paid their full dues to the UN regular budget. While Nigeria has always paid late, Kenya has been chronically delinquent.
5. Financial Capability
Financial capability is not listed amongst the UN selection criteria, however it clearly cannot be ignored, and may end up as a de facto criteria unless adequate provision is made to enable poor countries to participate as permanent members of the Security Council. Among the qualities expected of a country to be an active and productive member of the Security Council are financial resources to enable it to staff its New York and Geneva UN Missions with adequate and highly qualified people. The resources needed to maintain and run a full permanent representation on the Security Council to match the other Big 5 are enormous.
South Africa is widely seen as a favorite to fill one of the “permanent seats” that will be set aside for Africa at the Security Council, should the UN adopt model 1. South Africa has credibility among the G-8 nations that the other contenders do not have. South Africa accounts for nearly 40 percent of Africa's economy, while Nigeria, with its vast oil reserves, is saddled with a national debt of $34 billion. Egypt’s $2 billion aid from the US has caused uneasiness on the continent as it is an incentive to kowtow to US agenda rather than promote Africa’s interests, which are in many cases at odds with Washington’s.
Libya, despite its oil wealth is still recovering from the UN isolation that ended in 2003. Kenya has a weak economy and is presently too bogged down in domestic politics to carry out a credible continental and international campaign. Senegal’s late entry will also be costly as it is already experiencing difficulties in selling itself on a continent where it is seen as a French proxy. These three seem to be positioning themselves as regional picks should model B be adopted.
South Africa’s emergence as the clear favorite has not been well received by its rival, Nigeria, which has emotionally invested enormous hopes in the “African permanent seat” on the Security Council. To check South Africa’s well-oiled diplomatic machine, Nigeria has launched a desperate and dirty campaign aimed at stemming what is appearing to be a sure victory. Davo Oluyemi-Kusa, a close confidante of President Obasanjo, has dismissed South Africa and Egypt as not being “black enough” to represent Africa, compared to Nigeria that has “true blacks.” Nigeria not only sees itself as “the only true African candidate” but is also prepared to back Egypt as “a compromise” should there be strong disunity over the “African candidate.”
In view of the AU’s indecision to establish selection criteria and to endorse two candidates, some African countries have sought “strategic partnerships” with countries from other regions and on the Security Council. The African campaign for UN Security Council seats is being watched very closely and with great interest by other countries that want to trade their support with Africa’s to shore up their own interests. The other regional candidates, Germany, Japan, India and Brazil have declared their support for Africa to have seats with veto power and have indicated their willingness to engage in mutual backing for the seats in exchange for increased trade.
South Africa has gravitated towards a partnership with Brazil, India and Japan. Nigeria seems to be angling towards China and Russia while Egypt is banking on the US support. Senegal seems to have very strong backing from France but its candidacy will automatically be vetoed by China as it is one of the few countries in the world that has established diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Although the US has not endorsed any of the models it is openly supporting only Japan’s bid, with veto rights. While France and Russia have called for veto rights for all new members other Permanent Members have kept their counsel on the issue.
The new members of the Security Council must first be approved by two-thirds of the 191-member General Assembly. Then the Council’s five permanent members - the US, UK, France, China, and Russia - must ratify the decision. If the UN General Assembly is left to decide for Africa, its decision would be most favorable to South Africa. Nigeria, with a poor international image, would lose to Egypt.
In the Security Council, South Africa is guaranteed all of the votes while Egypt will have to rely on the US to muster the needed support. There is no doubt that the US would prefer Egypt over Nigeria, given its close historical relations and partnership in seeking solutions to the Middle East problems.
The US, in its effort to engage and include the Arabs in the world’s highest decision making body, has chosen a method and means that will be hard fought by Africans. In the process, it is guaranteed to increase conflict rather than to promote dialogue between civilizations in Africa.
Role of African Union
The AU has not only failed to pick candidates for potential African seats on the UNSC, but has also been unable to forge a consensus on how Africa should be represented at the top decision-making body. This indecision is only likely to increase the nasty undertones among those countries campaigning for the seat.
There is widespread concern on the continent that the fight for permanent membership would lead to bad blood between the leading African candidates - Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa - with many of the other countries choosing sides for reasons that would not promote Africa’s interests. It is because of this fear that the AU is being looked to for Solomonic wisdom to break the deadlock.
Traditionally, the AU decides such issues through regional and linguistic balancing. However, this is not an option that will be available in deciding on the UN Security Council seats. As a result of the failure of the African Union to resolve the issue of which countries should occupy Africa's two permanent seats on a reformed UN Security Council it is now inevitable that the campaign between South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Libya and Senegal is going to be long, nasty and brutal.
* Dr. Wafula Okumu is a Canadian-based analyst of African Affairs
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