Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

There are genuine concerns that the United Nations Security Council should be reformed to increase African presence and influence. But power intrigues within and outside Africa suggest that the process of inclusion of African nations in the UNSC could have grave consequences for continental unity


The calls for United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reform and inclusion of Africa with two permanent seats come at the wake of the reality that more than three quarters of UNSC’s engagements are on African affairs. However, the 54-nation continent has a representation of only three non-permanent members without veto power in the UNSC. [1] The call for African inclusion in the UNSC were intensified through the Ezulwini Consensus of the African Union (AU), which stands to demand two non-permanent seats and two permanent seats with veto for the African continent. Though some scholars have observed that practical, substantive and substantial reform is impossible, this has not ceased calls for UN reform by the African continent through the African Union (UN). [2] Hence the AU has agreed through the Ezulwini Consensus that Africa’s goal is to have full representation in all the decision-making organs of the UN, particularly in the UNSC, which is a key organ of international peace and security. [3] At any rate, the question that props up is how Africa’s candidates for an enlarged UNSC would be selected. This policy brief examines Africa’s quest for permanent representation in the UNSC and the involvement of external forces in the process with a focus on its implications for continental unity and solidarity.


In 2005 the AU adopted ‘the common position on the proposed reform of the United Nation’ which is commonly known as ‘the Ezulwini Consensus’. The Ezulwini Consensus advocated that Africa be fully represented in all UN organs, specifically the UNSC. The full representation for Africans meant that the continent should be granted not less than two permanent membership of the UNSC with all privileges including veto power and an additional five non-permanent member seats. [4] Though the Ezulwini Consensus indicates that the AU should be responsible for selection of African representatives in the UNSC, it is silent with regards to which African state should occupy the two permanent seats. To this effect the essence of hegemonic contests for UNSC seats between dominant African state such as South Africa and Nigeria becomes a probability.

South Africa and Nigeria’s Hegemonic contest

The ascendance of South Africa and Nigeria as non-permanent members of the UNSC was coupled with the dilemma of both states leading the African agenda jointly or working in separate and different political directions in the UN body. [5] Nevertheless, as dominant players in the African political dispensation [6] both states are obliged to advance the continental agenda of the Ezulwini Consensus. Though Nigeria is no longer a non-permanent member of the UNSC, there are threats of the two countries pulling in different directions rather than working on a common African goal. This is based on the fact that both countries as dominant actors in the African political dispensation have been at loggerheads with each other on various continental issues. [7] Fawole [8] raises two issues that have seen hegemonic contest between Nigeria and South Africa through his inscription that South Africa tried to upstage Nigeria in West Africa by projecting itself as a peace broker in Cote d’Ivoire beyond and in opposition to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) plan. In addition the two countries held opposing positions regarding the recognition of the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the Libyan interim government. On the one hand Nigeria recognised the TNC as the interim government of Libya, while on the other hand South Africa wanted a more inclusive interim structure. The fact that both Nigeria and South Africa are often locked in hegemonic battles poses a risk of having fragmented positions on the African agenda of UNSC reform. Thus a common continental position on reform of the UNSC is highly likely to be compromised because both countries have on many cases not supported one another on continental issues, for instance ‘the South African diplomats had cited Nigeria as a major impediment in South Africa’s wish to obtain the African Union (AU) commission chair’ [9]. This is also coupled by the recent deportation of Nigerians by the South African government and the retaliation of the Nigerian government. The fierce hegemonic and hostile diplomatic contestation between South Africa and Nigeria seem to be uncontrollable and have become a destructive rift between Africa’s two influential and leading states.

Besides their continental hegemonic battles, both South Africa and Nigeria are seen as possible candidates for permanent seats in the UNSC since the evolution of the discourse on UN reform and African representation in the UNSC. As a result though the Ezulwini Consensus requires serious support and commitment by all African countries, it is silent with respect to which country amongst the African countries should occupy the seat should UNSC reform become a reality. In this regard though African states are harbouring the rhetoric of African unity in advancing for UNSC reform with the ultimate goal of having a seat(s) for the continent in the UN body, there are realistic threats of power politics and national interests. As such the two countries are likely to exercise a realistic and national interests approach to the question of UNSC reform thereby seeking to gain a seat for themselves rather than pushing for a continental approach driven by unity and African interest (and not individual country interest). In this process the politics of South Africa and Nigeria out-manoeuvring one another comes into play even if it translates to retrogressive rather than progressive UNSC reform. The latter argument is pointed out clearly by Ikome and Samasuwo [10] who state that the magnetism of securing a permanent seat even without the significant veto power could possibly be a satisfactory motivation to bring divisions between Africa’s dominant states, in particular Nigeria and South Africa.

In this process the unity needed for the Ezulwini Consensus which should be driven and intensified by both South Africa and Nigeria as two leading African states would not be realisable because of the hostile diplomatic and hegemonic contest between the two states which has existed since the demise of apartheid. The prospect of South Africa and Nigeria opting to advance their interest with regards to UNSC reform poses extreme danger to African unity and cohesion. Thus the long-term objective of African continental integration will be retrogressively affected by both countries pulling in different directions rather than advancing the common African position.


The question of UNSC reform appears to build diplomatic antagonism between continental regional blocks. This is because at the heart of the battle for UNSC seats is South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Francophone African states. Hence Ikome and Samasuwo assert that in the African continent, the struggle for influence in the reform process has created a negative split that has brought into sharp relief how the continent’s lead states view each other. [11] Thus the UNSC reform question poses a serious threat to the hopes of African continental integration in that there are external forces seeking to take advantage of the reform process to advance their interests; in addition there appears to be divisions within the AU sparked by RECs who’s interest is to ensure that they are represented within the UNSC. On a point of departure South Africa for instance is surely to rely on SADC for support in ascending to a permanent seat in the UNSC. The support by SADC for South Africa is quantified by the fact that SADC threw its weight behind South Africa to get a second term for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC for the period 2011-2012 and that most recently SADC has stood behind South Africa in its bid to ascend to the AU Commission chair seat. Above and beyond SADC countries, BRICS countries will also express support for South Africa primarily because of the close ties amongst its members. Considering that both Russia and China are members of BRICS and also permanent members of the UNSC, clearly and undoubtedly the two states will throw their weight behind South Africa’s corner. To add more weight on the support for reform and South Africa’s inclusion in the UNSC, both Russia and China [12] have expressed the importance they attach to South Africa in global politics and support the country’s desire to find space of a greater role in the UN. [13] Though the support by SADC and BRICS is significant for South Africa, the question that remains is whether other African states are considering South Africa as a candidate for one of the permanent seats should reform be possible.

Bearing in mind what is posited by Ikome and Samasuwo [14], that the penetration of South Africa into the rest of Africa coupled with perceptions that South Africa views itself as only being part of Africa geographically but in contrast culturally part of Europe, have not endeared it to the rest of the continent. It is quite doubtful that some African states will support South Africa’s candidacy for UNSC. The recent battle for the African Union Commission Chairpersonship between South Africa and Gabon (a francophone country) has shown that not all African countries see eye to eye with South Africa.

From this perspective it is precisely clear that South Africa is out to face fierce opposition from Francophone Africa on the question of permanent inclusion into the UNSC, not only on the basis of the political contestation within the AU but also because former French colonies also seek to gain a seat in the UNSC. This clearly finds expression through the suggestion by Senegal that UNSC reform should provide two seats for Africa, one for Francophone and the other for English speaking countries. [15] In this regard fierce opposition by Francophone countries evidently advocates opposition by France (a permanent member of the UNSC) which most obviously would prefer a Francophone country occupying the UNSC permanent seat rather than any other African country. This is based on the premise that France is keen on increasing its power in the UNSC through its former colonies as it wields a big stick on the political affairs of Francophone Africa. The major reason for France’s control on its former colonies is that Francophone Africa has an unhealthy reliance on France’s aid and other forms of political and financial assistance. Hence it is undoubtedly not surprising that France’s advocacy for Africa’s permanent inclusion in the UNSC is based on the notion that one of the permanent seats should be occupied by a Francophone state in the process increasing and advancing France’s power and interest in the UN body while compromising critical African peace and security issues.

Besides the candidacy of South Africa and any of the Francophone states, considering Nigeria’s political and economic dominance in West Africa and ECOWAS, surely Nigeria will count on the support by ECOWAS in its bid to get the UNSC permanent seat. Ikome and Samasuwo [16] point out that the fact that Nigeria has oil places it under significant consideration for the UNSC seat, specifically in the eyes of the United State of America (USA). As a result Nigeria does not only count on ECOWAS for support, but also has the potential support of the USA because of its oil reserves. In support of the above despite President Obama’s lack of position on UNSC reform and Africa’s inclusion it appears USA is leaning its support towards Nigeria’s candidacy given the important contribution of Nigeria in peacekeeping operations. [17]

The fourth candidate in seeking a permanent UNSC seat is Arab Africa particularly Egypt. The candidacy of Egypt is motivated by its ‘heavyweight role in Arab, African and Islamic arenas’. In this regard domestically Egypt’s occupation of UNSC permanent seat will rely on support by the Maghreb. Most significantly the MENA region might stand to support Egypt’s permanent inclusion in the UNSC. However, it is noteworthy that in the wake of the Arab spring, a shift of old to new leadership has been experienced across the MENA region. Thus the political vacuum created by the Arab spring has opened political opportunities for Islamist organizations which had been previously banned, in the process shifting the locus of power and the dynamics of the political spectrum. [18] As a result the heavyweight role of Egypt hangs on the balance considering unfavourable domestic political affairs and regional dynamics that may arise. On the global political front, the importance of MENA as an energy rich region suggests that multiple powers such as the USA will employ extreme measures to have influence over the region. Such measures could possibly be the question of UNSC reform and support for inclusion of a North African state as a permanent member of UNSC. To this end the likelihood of contestation for UNSC candidacy by Arab African countries is an inevitable possibility. Undoubtedly should this possibility be a reality, divisions are eminent within Arab Africa and more broadly within the MENA.


From the above inscriptions clearly the question of UNSC has overwhelming potential to further disintegrate an already fragmented continent. This is primarily because though on paper Africa seems to be singing one tune of the Ezulwini Consensus, in reality the wishful ambition of having two permanent seats in the UNSC has the continent pulling in four different directions as outlined above. What seems to be central in this equation is that the long term vision of African continental integration will be dealt a seriously negative blow by the different forces of behind UNSC reform. Though African countries have voiced out that who represents Africa in the UNSC should be an AU decision, it appears that the five permanent members of the UNSC have a great say on which African countries should represent the continent in the UNSC. In this regard these countries will significantly add weight in the process of undermining continental integration. BRICS and Middle East countries will also have detrimental and negative impact on continental integration through their influence on South Africa and Maghreb states respectively. To this end solidarity and unity between African states hangs in the balance as a result of advancing UNSC reform and democratic space for Africa on global affairs. From this perspective advocating for UNSC reform has introduced four forces of African continental disintegration.


• In democratising the UNSC the AU should develop a strategy and approach that deepens, strengthens and promotes African unity and solidarity.
• Though UNSC reform is crucial for Africa, much focus and emphasis should be on increasing the capacity of the AU and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) on peace and security, peacemaking, peace keeping and peace building.
• African countries and leaders should prioritize reclaiming their political independence to avoid control and influence by external forces on critical political issues of the continent.
• South Africa and Nigeria as Africa’s lead states should cooperate rather than compete for dominance in advancing critical continental issues, specifically on UNSC reform.

* Jonathan Oshupeng Maseng is lecturer in the department of History, Politics and International Relations at the North West University Mafikeng Campus. He is also a PHD candidate at University of Fort hare, East London Campus.


[i] Ikome, F.N and Samasuwo,N.W (2005) UN Reform: Towards a More [In] Secure World?. Global Insight, Issue no 48, April 2005

[ii] Weiss, T.G (2003) The Illusion of UN Security Council Reform. Washington Quarterly, 26 (4), pp.147-167.

[iii] African Union, The Common African Position on the Proposed Reform of the United Nations: the Ezulwini Consensus (Ext/EX.CL/2 VII), Addis Ababa, 8 March 2005,

[iv] Ibid

[v] See Kornegay, F.A. (2012) South Africa’s Second Tenure in the UN Security Council: A Discussion Paper. South Africa in the UN Security Council 2011-2012:Promoting the African Agenda in a Sea of Multiple Identities and Alliances, A Research Report.pp13

[vi] Maseng, J.O. (2012) Advancing UNSC Reform and its Implications for Africa. The Thinker Magazine, Volume 41, pp. 48-49. July 2012

[vii] Ibid

[viii]Fawole, A (2012). Nigeria and South Africa locked in hegemonic contests. (Accessed: 12 April, 2012)

[ix] Mail and Guardian (2012) Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the Win, January 28 2012, Staff Reporter, Johannesburg, South Africa. (Accessed: 19 April, 2012)

[x] Ikome, F.N and Samasuwo,N.W (2005) UN Reform: Towards a More [In] Secure World?. Global Insight, Issue no 48, April 2005

[xi] Ibid

[xii] The fact that both Russia and China are permanent members of the UNSC elevates South Africa’s continental hegemonic status with regards to occupying a seat for Africa in the UNSC.

[xiii] Official Communique of April 14, BRICS leaders meeting in Sanya on Hainan, People’s Republic of China. Bihat Samachar.

[xiv] Ikome, F.N and Samasuwo,N.W (2005) UN Reform: Towards a More [In] Secure World?. Global Insight, Issue no 48, April 2005

[xv] The Economist (2004) Room at the top table? Africa wants a seat, but can’t agree who should sit in it. (Accessed: 03 July, 2012)

[xvi] Ikome, F.N and Samasuwo,N.W (2005) UN Reform: Towards a More [In] Secure World?. Global Insight, Issue no 48, April 2005

[xvii] Warlick, J (2009) Acting Sectretary of Biureu of International Organisations Affairs, during a question and answer session held at the Foreign Press Centre in Washington the 20th March 2009 about ‘US Reengagement with the UN’. (Accessed: 03 July, 2012)

[xviii] Antola, M and Hassan, H (2012) An Energy-Rich Region of Increasingly Energized Citizens: The Interplay between Democracy, Politics and Energy in the Shadow of Political Upheaval in the MENA Region. Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). ONS SUMMIT 2012 THE GEOPOLITICS OF ENERGY. (Accessed: 04 September , 2012)