Africa Aiming to Assert Position On UN Reforms During General Assembly

Addressing the Assembly's annual high-level debate, via a pre-recorded video, President Evariste Ndayishimiye stressed that multilateralism must "drive forward" the world's efforts to overcome massive obstacles (file photo)

As world leaders prepare for the 75th United Nations General Assembly debate that opened on 22 September, African leaders are once again expected to reiterate the continent's common positions, which include the reform of the United Nations Security Council.

The 75th UN General Assembly general debate starts on 22 September and, according to a statement from the United Nations, most leaders will not be appearing in person and meetings are going virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year world leaders will, therefore, not be converging at the UN headquarters in New York but will send in pre-recorded videos of their speeches which will be broadcast "as live".

The 75th session of the General Assembly will be preceded by a one-day high-level meeting where leaders from the 193 UN member states will reflect on the journey of the global organisation since its formation in October 1945 and look at ways of making sure that it responds more effectively to the aspirations of its members going forward.

This special event will take place on 21 September under the theme "The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism".

The UN was established in 1945 and will mark its 75th anniversary with what Secretary-General António Guterres has described as an extended "people's debate" that "promises to be the largest and furthest-reaching global conversation ever on building the future we want".

Africa in general, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region in particular, have common interests that they want addressed by the General Assembly, particularly on the contentious issue of the reform of the UN Security Council.

The council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It comprises 15 countries, out of which five are permanent members of the council and have veto powers.

The five permanent members are China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Africa's common position on the reform of the council is contained in the Ezulwini Consensus made in Eswatini in 2005 and adopted the same year at an Extraordinary Session of the Executive Council of the AU in Ethiopia.

The consensus calls for a more representative and democratic UN Security Council in which Africa and all other world regions are fairly represented.

Among other things, the consensus calls for the expansion of the Security Council from the current 15 to 26 members, with at least two permanent seats for Africa.

The AU position is that the reform of the Security Council should be comprehensive and stresses the importance for wide consultations with all State parties.

Although Africa is opposed in principle to the veto provision, the continent is of the view that as long as it exists and as a matter of common justice, veto power should be made available to all permanent members of the council.

The African Union (AU) position on the reform of the council is being spearheaded by a committee of 10 heads of state and government.

This committee comprises the presidents of Equatorial Guinea and Republic of Congo, representing Central Africa; Namibia and Zambia (Southern Africa); Uganda and Kenya (East Africa); Senegal and Sierra Leone (West Africa); and Algeria and Libya (North Africa).

During the 74th UN General Assembly in September 2019, several SADC leaders reiterated the call for the reform of the UN Security Council.

These included Zambian President Edgar Lungu who noted that for the UN to be effective and efficient, there was need to urgently address the concerns of all the regions that make up the global organisation.

"Zambia believes that within the United Nations evolution, time has come for meaningful reform, including of the Security Council.

"Time has come for the Security Council to be representative, democratic and accountable to all member states, irrespective of status," Lungu told the General Assembly last year.

He said such a comprehensive reform is essential for the integrity of the UN Security Council "as the custodian of international peace."

"Given that Africa constitutes the second largest bloc of the UN membership, proposals to reform the Security Council should heed Africa's call as espoused in the Ezulwini Consensus," Lungu said.

The immediate past Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe told the same meeting in September 2019 that the region is anxious for a more just UN system.

"The reform of the United Nations system making it more representative, empowered and responsive to fulfil its mandate is long overdue," Mnangagwa said.

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