Speech by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr Ebrahim I Ebrahim, on the occasion of a Public Lecture on the Theme “South Africa and the United Nations Security Council: Promoting the African Agenda”, University of Limpopo, Turfloop, Monday, 12 March 2012.
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Honourable Guests; and
Ladies and gentlemen.
Please allow me to thank the management, staff and students of the University of Limpopo for inviting me to address you today. I bring warm greetings from all South Africa’s diplomats, some of the finest of whom are alumni of this venerable institution. I feel deeply honoured to be here at Turfloop, an African centre of excellence and innovation that played a historic role in the resistance against Apartheid and which has produced many of those who lead us today. It is Turfloop that opened their minds and moulded their characters. The training and skills that they acquired here endowed them with the much needed leadership abilities that would later help liberate this country and make it a beacon of progress for the whole world.
The focus of my lecture today will be on South Africa’s tenure in the United Nations Security Council, and particularly how the country has sought to advance and strengthen the African Agenda, our flagship foreign policy, in this world body.
For those of you who are not studying Politics or History, let me explain that the Security Council is the principal organ of the United Nations charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its wide-ranging powers, outlined in the United Nations Charter, include investigating disputes and recommending terms of settlement, the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the application of economic sanctions and other such measures, and even the authorization of military action against an aggressor. The Council has 15 members: five permanent members - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States - who have the special power to veto or block any decisions they do not like, as well as 10 non-permanent or rotating members without veto power who are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly, the main deliberative body of the UN comprising all 193 members. Under the Charter, all members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. While other organs of the United Nations make recommendations to Governments, the Council alone has the power to take decisions which Member States are obligated to carry out, giving it a singular pre-eminence in international political affairs.
Ladies and Gentlemen
It will be recalled that on 12 October 2010 South Africa once again stood for election to serve as a non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the 2011-12 term. Our candidature was endorsed by the Southern African Development Community as well as the African Union. I am pleased to report that our country received 182 out of the possible 191 votes of member states attending the meeting, a resounding endorsement of the positive role that our young democracy has played since re-entering the international community in 1994.
South Africa’s foreign policy remains firmly anchored in championing the African Agenda: the Vision of an African continent that is prosperous, peaceful, democratic, non-sexist, people-centred and united, and which contributes to a world that is just and equitable. Peace, security and stability are prerequisites for Africa’s socio-economic development. No factor has hampered and continues to obstruct the realisation of Africa’s vast potential more than the chronic outbreak of crises and conflicts on the Continent. Armed conflicts kill thousands every year, create humanitarian disasters, wipe out livelihoods and wealth that ordinary people have worked hard to accumulate over their lifetimes, make sustainable economic development impossible, and destroy hope for a better future. As long as conflicts persist, too many African peoples will be condemned to live in conditions of poverty, misery and underdevelopment. It is against this backdrop that we began our second term as a non-permanent member of the UNSC on 1 January 2011, eager to make the most of a golden opportunity to get this powerful global organ to put its weight fully behind the determined efforts that Africa has been making to deal once and for all with the scourge of violence and conflicts on our continent.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Security Council dedicates most of its time and energy to focusing on peace and security matters on the African continent. More than 70% of Security Council deliberations are centred around African conflict situations, while six of the UN’s fourteen peacekeeping operations and nearly 80% of its peacekeepers are deployed in Africa, including MONUSCO in the DRC (23,383 personnel) and UNAMID in Sudan (27,501 personnel). Despite this - and the fact that Africa is a huge continent that has 54 member states, representing more than one billion people - not a single African country is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. As President Zuma pointed out at a Security Council Summit Debate on 12 January 2012, ‘The failure of representation, on a permanent basis, of such a big part of the globe in an important body such as the UN Security Council, points to the necessity and urgency for the fundamental reform of the United Nations Security Council so that it can become more representative and legitimate. This body, which believes and preaches the culture of democracy and the will of the majority, which is the key element in a democratic system, cannot at the same time, in some of its key and decisive structures, practice something that contradicts the purposes and the principles of its founding Charter.’
In quoting the above statistics to make the point about Africa’s under-representation on the UNSC, I hope that I have not left you with the erroneous impression that the Continent is hopelessly mired in conflict and discord. On the contrary, Africa has in the past decade shown remarkable political will and commitment to rid the continent of all conflicts and wars. The African Union has operationalized a comprehensive arsenal of tools like the Peace and Security Council, Africa’s ‘UNSC’ of which South Africa is currently also a member, the Panel of the Wise, the African Standby Force and the Continental Early Warning System to deal with threats to peace and security. Furthermore, the AU has also adopted a number of instruments on human rights, governance, democracy, arms control and good neighbourliness, which represent a consolidated framework of norms and principles whose observance would reduce considerably the risk of conflict and violence on the Continent. Clearly, while our efforts have not always been successful, tremendous progress has been registered. In the mid-90s, a count by the United Nations Secretariat found that 14 of the continent’s 53 countries were afflicted by armed conflict. Since then notable achievements have been made in building peace in countries such as Angola, Burundi, the Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan. Thanks to the vigilance and determination of the AU and its partners, currently only a handful of conflicts persist.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The first year of our membership on the UNSC has been marked by the busy agenda of Council. South Africa has been entrusted with leadership roles, assuming the chairmanship the UNSC Ad-Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa, the chairmanship of the UNSC 1540 Committee on weapons of mass destruction and non-State actors, as well as serving as Vice-Chair of the Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia Sanctions Committees. Since the start of our term, the Council convened over 60 meetings in closed consultations and adopted more than a 100 resolutions, presidential statements and press statements, the majority of which have related to African issues, such as the holding of a referendum in Southern Sudan, the post-electoral challenges in Cote d’Ivoire, the war in Libya, the situation in Western Sahara, and debates around the possible draw-down or exit of key UN peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Chad/Central African Republic.
The policy positions adopted and pursued by the country since January 2011 have been guided largely by African Union positions, a linkage that has been immensely facilitated by South Africa’s simultaneous membership of both the UNSC and the AU Peace and Security Council. In doing so, we have followed the principle of continental ownership for the achievement of sustainable peace, which is grounded on the reality that Regional bodies are best positioned to understand the dynamics of a conflict because of their proximity to and stake in the situation, and know which solutions will work and how to implement them. In this regard, South Africa continued to cooperate and work with other representatives of Africa on the UNSC (Nigeria and Gabon in 2011, Togo and Morocco in 2012) to influence Council approaches to conflicts on the continent. SA’s experience as a non-permanent member in 2007-2008 showed the significance of this since the Council can sometimes take decisions that are not in Africa’s favour even on continental matters. Major international players like the USA, France, the UK, China, Italy and Belgium have strong and at times conflicting interests in the African continent. So, even though African issues dominate the agenda of the SC, African countries have difficulty in influencing decisions or decision-making on those issues. In all its engagements at the Council therefore, South Africa has worked hard to set forth the African perspective and act in concert with the other African members to be a countervailing force in defence of Africa’s aspirations.
Ladies and gentlemen
As you are aware, South Africa served as the President of the Security Council for the month of January 2012. The Presidency of the UNSC affords the country an opportunity to leave a positive legacy of its two-year term in the Council. This is particularly important for the non-permanent members, and allows them an opportunity to highlight and advance issues of particular national interest. In this context, the Presidency of the Security Council has the option of promoting a new or recurring theme of particular national, regional or international significance.
In keeping with our commitment to furthering the African Agenda, South Africa utilized the rotating presidency of the UNSC to again focus the spotlight on the question of how to enhance cooperation between the UN and the AU in the maintenance of international peace and security.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The country’s efforts aimed at bringing greater alignment to the work of both Councils is the intensification of the work South Africa has already undertaken in conflict prevention, resolution, management and post-conflict stabilisation in African countries such as Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi, the DRC, Lesotho, the Central African Republic and elsewhere. As part of this contribution, the SANDF currently has 1245 personnel deployed in the DRC, 808 in Sudan and 43 in the Central African Republic, in addition to 73 SAPS members deployed in Darfur.
In this regard, the South African delegation convened on 12 January 2012 a High-Level debate on “Strengthening the relationship between the UN and regional organizations, in particular the AU, in the maintenance of international peace and security." The High-Level debate was presided over by President Jacob Zuma and included participation of the UN Secretary-General, representatives of the AU and other members of the UNSC.
At the conclusion of the debate, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2033 (2012). Amongst others, this resolution reiterated the importance of establishing a more effective relationship between the AU PSC and UNSC, including in the area of conflict prevention, resolution and management, electoral assistance and regional conflict prevention offices. The resolution also encourages the improvement of regular interaction, consultation and coordination between the two bodies on matters of mutual interest in order to formulate cohesive positions and strategies in dealing with conflict situations in Africa.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Due to collective work of South Africa, African members in the UNSC and like-minded countries, progress has been achieved in enhancing and strengthening partnership between the AU and UN. Currently, the AU PSC and the UNSC convene annual meetings to deliberate on issues on their respective agendas. The two organs also collaborate on key peacekeeping missions and conflict situations, including in the Sudan (UNAMID) and Somalia (AMISOM). Both the AU Commission and the UN Secretariat have made significant progress in terms of supporting operational deployments and long term capacity building as well as the desk-to-desk cooperation. Another notable achievement has been the establishment of an AU-UN High Level Panel to explore the possibility of enhancing the predictability, sustainability and flexibility of financing for AU peace operations, a factor that remains the most important constraint that limits Africa's capacity to resolve its own conflicts.
Some big challenges remain, however, in efforts to strengthen cooperation between the two organisations. Even more needs to be done at improving interaction, consultation and coordination on matters of mutual interest. One particularly critical issue is the need to achieve greater strategic political coherence between the UN and AU. This was aptly demonstrated during the conflict in Libya, where the pursuit of other agendas by non-African actors resulted in attempts to marginalise an African solution to the crisis.
During the UNSC debate in January, President Zuma argued that; and I quote:
‘Critical to building a stronger relationship will be to avoid the situation such as that which transpired during the conflict in Libya last year.
As everybody is aware, the AU developed a political roadmap that would have assisted in resolving the political conflict in that country.
The AU’s plan was completely ignored in favour of bombing Libya by NATO forces.
The consequences of actions that were carried out in Libya in the name of the UN Security Council have spilled over into other countries in the region. A problem which was confined to one country, Libya, has now grown to be a regional problem.
Your Excellencies it is the view of the AU that the 1973 Resolution of the UN Security Council was largely abused in some specific respects.
The lesson we should draw from the Libyan experience is that greater political coherence and a common vision between the AU and the UN are critical in the resolution of African conflicts.
The views of the African Union must be listened to if we are to strengthen our relationship and prevent further conflict.’
In a candid report on the Causes of Conflict in Africa presented to the Security Council in 1997, the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan noted that even in this post-Cold War period, foreign interests continue to play a large role in sustaining some conflicts on the Continent in the competition for oil and other natural resources. Discussing the role of the big powers in his speech to the UNSC Summit in January, our President went on to say, and I quote:
‘Africa can prosper and stability be maintained if we also avoid what happened during the Cold War. We must never forget to take lessons from history.
As you are aware, a lot of destabilisation and conflict in the continent was condoned and sometimes actively supported by protagonists in the Cold War because the conflict furthered their interests.
This should never be allowed to happen again. Africa must not be a playground for furthering the interests of other regions ever again.
It is important to underline this point so that conflicts in Africa become manageable. They will be manageable if they are not promoted or aided from outside the continent.’
In conclusion, since its establishment in 2002, the AU has put in place the African Peace and Security Architecture, a guiding framework for preventing, managing and resolving conflicts, as well as for pursuing post-conflict reconstruction and development, which has revolutionised the manner in which the Continent deals with conflict. This is a considerable leap forward which we strongly believe deserves to be saluted by the whole world, not least the United Nations Security Council. Thus, during the remaining 10 months of our tenure, South Africa will again endeavour to utilise our membership to increase Africa’s voice in the Council, to promote respect for African ownership and priority-setting, to make space for African solutions, and inspire the United Nations to do more to support the renewed momentum in the Continent’s quest for peace and prosperity.
Ladies and gentlemen
As we celebrate the Centenary of the oldest Liberation Movement in Africa, the African National Congress, we shall continue to strive hard to create a more effective system of global governance that is responsive to and supports African aspirations, as part of our ultimate quest to translate our hard-won political freedom into a better SA, a better Africa and a better world.
I thank you all