Will Africa Be the Key to United Nations Security Council Reform?

Africa,United Nations, Security Council Reform,Nora Gordon

© Nora Gordon

After nearly a decade Africa has decided to revisit its common position on United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reform at a summit in Brazzaville, Congo this week. In 2005, Africa established a united position on UN reform in the Ezulwini Consensus. Ezulwini calls for the inclusion of two permanent and five non-permanent seats for African countries on the Council and extension of veto powers (should they remain) to new permanent members.

Most of us who have followed the painfully slow pace of UNSC reform over the last decade don’t expect any major change to surface from the summit. But even the emergence of dialogue on Ezulwini is an extraordinary step. With 54 member states Africa has the most countries in any member state reform grouping and the potential for major influence on UNSC reform discussions. Support from all African group countries on a reform initiative would provide 54 votes, making up 42% of the 129 votes required to pass a UN General Assembly resolution expanding the UNSC.

While collaboration has given Africa the power of a strong collective voice, Africa has managed to do little with that power thus far. And non-African member states have failed to gain the full support of Africa on any reform proposal. Internal divisions have limited the African Group from building upon Ezulwini or collaborating with other member state groupings, which can be viewed as straying from African unity.

In the past, non-African member states have contributed to the inability of African states to build upon their position. They have done so by either overlooking the significance of African support or leveraging economic and political power to pressure African countries, which has had a negative impact on African unity.

Engaging with regional groupings such as Africa could help member states build support for reform initiatives and approaches. For example, promoting dialogue about limiting the use of the veto in mass atrocity situations could foster collaboration between African countries and France, (which has called for such limitations) or other P5 members.

The Committee of Ten Heads of State on United Nations Security Council Reform (C-10) which represents Africa on the reform issue will gather at the May 15-16 Summit. This will be the first C-10 meeting since the decision was made to revisit Ezulwini at the African Union Summit in January 2014. The suggestion came from President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

The burning question for this week’s summit is whether Africa will reconsider its insistence on extending veto powers. Africa has held strong to its stance on the veto for the past ten years and African countries continue to see the importance of continental unity on the reform issue. While it is unlikely that Africa’s stance will change drastically, African states may consider an evolution of Ezulwini. If Africa maintains its principled view on the veto while exploring other practical options, the possibility of further cooperation with other member state groupings could emerge.

If Africa reveals new openness to further collaboration with other member states, this week’s summit meeting has the potential to be the biggest little step toward UNSC reform progress in the last decade – but only if non-African states harness Africa’s interest through supporting rather than pressuring African leadership on the path to reform. 

See CIC’s recent publication, “Pathways to Security Council Reform,” for detailed research, analysis, and recommendations on UNSC reform with a particular focus on discussions in and around the African Union.

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May 15, 2014
Nora Gordon
United Nations