UN Secretary-General & heads of state call for permanent Security Council seat for Africa

By The Africa Report

Posted on Sunday, 19 February 2023 11:51
FILE PHOTO: African heads of state pose for a group photo together with Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations during the opening of the 36th Ordinary session of the Assembly of the Africa Union at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia February 18, 2023. REUTERS

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for the African Union to be granted a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, adding his voice to the chorus pushing for Africa’s representation at major international organisations.

Guterres spoke at the annual gathering of Africa’s heads of state on Saturday. He said that granting a permanent seat to the AU “is a decision for member states to take, the Secretary-General has not the power to implement such a programme”.

“It is my deep belief that the biggest injustice that exists today in the Security Council is the lack of at least one African permanent member,” he added.

Hot-button issue

Africa’s lack of a permanent seat on the Security Council has been a hot-button issue at this year’s AU Summit, with several delegations saying that the continent is not properly represented, even though many of the body’s discussions centre on Africa.

Gambia’s Foreign Minister Mamadou Tangara told The Africa Report that permanent representation is a “matter of justice”, but said he didn’t know when it would happen. “We have a common African position and we align ourselves with that,” he said.

Addressing the meeting, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Africa should have “at least one permanent seat” and “double” the number of non-permanent seats it currently has. The statement was met by resounding applause from the delegates.

“It is time for Africa’s leadership to both be recognised and institutionalised,” said Abiy, referencing trade and clean energy initiatives taken by countries across the continent.

For his part, African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said there was an “urgent need for reform” at the Security Council, describing Africa’s omission as an “injustice”.

In recent months, several world leaders have backed calls for Africa to be granted a seat at the world’s biggest multilateral institutions. The US, Germany, and France have all put their weight behind Africa’s bid for permanent Security Council representation as great power competition for African diplomatic support heats up amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Security Council mostly deals with security issues that affect Africa, so we need a space at the table, we need our voice to be heard

“Africa belongs at the table in every room – in every room where global challenges are being discussed and in every institution where discussions are taking place,” said US President Joe Biden at the US-Africa Summit held in Washington in December.

Biden has also pushed for African representation at the G20, another demand from AU member states and something that would help the continent push for the implementation of pledges to help it deal with climate change effects.

Points of contention

This weekend, Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio was due to update leaders on efforts to push for the reform of the Security Council. His country chairs a 10-member committee that is coordinating this effort on behalf of the AU.

“The Security Council mostly deals with security issues that affect Africa, so we need a space at the table, we need our voice to be heard,” says an official from Sierra Leone’s foreign ministry, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The Sierra Leone official said talks with UN member states have dragged on.

AU members are pushing for two seats, but sticking points include how they will be occupied and whether these seats will carry a veto, like other permanent ones, which several developed countries are believed to oppose.

‘Double victim of colonialism’

The Security Council was established in the wake of World War II, when few African nations were independent. Its five permanent members – the UK, the US, China, Russia and France – reflect the status-quo of that era and not the “current reality in today’s world”, Guterres said.

Guterres linked Africa’s exclusion from the Security Council to its lack of representation at financial Bretton Woods bodies. He said this situation means the continent is a “double victim of colonialism”, subject to an international order created before most African countries became independent.

To address this, Guterres called for a “new Bretton Woods moment to radically transform the global financial architecture” to fix a “broken” system that locks African countries out of finance and leaves them “with one hand tied behind their backs” while trying to achieve development goals.

“Vital systems are starved of investment — from health and education, to green technology, social protection and the creation of new, sustainable jobs,” he said.

Comoros President Azali Assoumani, the new AU chair, echoed similar sentiments, calling on Saturday for the “total cancellation of African debt”.

In his departing speech, Assoumani’s predecessor, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, hit out at “unfair, high interest rates” set by “industrialised” lenders. “All our development efforts cannot prosper unless and until these practices end,” he said.

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