African nations will put a spirited fight this week to get a permanent seat in the most powerful United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as the institution celebrates its 70th anniversary.
The Security Council (SC) currently comprises: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The council also has a provision of ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the general assembly. Some of the countries which comprise the non-permanent members are: Angola; Chad; Chile; Jordan and Lithuania. These countries do not have veto powers.
US president Barack Obama early this year said, “As a matter of principle, I think that there should at least be one representative from the African continent on the Security Council, along with representatives from the other regions of the world and some of the other powers that have emerged.”
Obama was responding to questions on composition of the UNSC and the need to reform the body.
The continent with over a billion people has no voice or veto powers in the SC leading to criticism from within the region especially from South Africa.
“It is unfortunate that a continent with more than one billion people is not represented with a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. South Africa will continue to use her participation in the UN to call for the reform of the Council,” President Jacob Zuma recently said at a briefing he held at his guest house in Pretoria.
(READ MORE: Why SA's president Zuma attacked Obama and EU over migration crisis)
The statement by President Zuma suggests that, by the virtue of numbers, Africa deserves the powerful Security Council seat with veto powers which could have been used to veto NATO powers’ attacks on the late Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.
The weakness of the numbers argument is that India would equally deserve a permanent seat as the country has a bigger population. India has an estimated 1.252 billion people. Africa is not the only continent without a seat; Latin America is also without a permanent seat at the Security Council.
Law professor at Kent University Alex Magaisa says United Nations Security Council needs to be reformed.
“It goes without question that the UN Security Council should be more representative than it currently is. There is no good reason why an entire continent is not represented in that body whose decisions impact on the rest of the world.”
He also believes that the continent of Africa deserves a seat.
“Why should some animals be more equal than others? The world has had an animal-farm scenario for far too long and there is no justification for it. That Africa should have at least one representative is long overdue.”
Maxwell Saungweme, a development economist and political analyst based in the Middle East says the region should be given a number of seats in the Security Council.
“Africa should be given a seat, not only one permanent seat but several. Africa is not a country but a continent with 54 countries. Why can't all the countries have permanent seats in the SC if certain individual countries have permanent seats? The UN needs reforms. It needs to stop treating other countries as more equal than others. It also needs to start respecting Africa and treat it as a continent and not a country.”
Hong Kong based political researcher Obert Hodzi argues that Africa should be given a permanent seat in the Security Council.
“In 1945 when AU was formed there were no African countries, today there are 54. UN SC needs to reflect that reality. The geopolitical context has changed significantly,” he says.
“The challenge however is that African countries cannot agree on which state to take the seat. Until they decide on whom to support, the UNSC seat remains a dream never to come true.”
Hodzi lashed out at African countries’ failure to foot the African Union bill adding this compromises the region’s desire to be involved at a far much bigger body like the UNSC
“It’s a disgrace for African countries, they cannot foot their own AU bill, and they could not build themselves decent headquarters until China came to the rescue. The implication is that the African voice does not matter in global issues. Take the migrants crisis, despot Africans dying in the seas all that African states through the AU could do is issue a statement. Statements need to be backed by money.”
He adds that, it’s not that Africa countries cannot meet the bills, but that they are used to being provided for by the US, EU and now China.
“Global power comes with global responsibilities that need to be financed.”
President Obama in the past has warned that a permanent seat comes with responsibilities.
“One thing I will say, though, about the United Nations -- everybody wants a seat at the table, but sometimes people don’t want the responsibilities of having a seat at the table. And that’s happening even now. And the one thing I’ve learned, both in my personal life and in my political life, is that if you want more authority, then you also have to be more responsible. You can’t wear the crown if you can’t bear the cross.”
Other than Africa, there are calls for Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil to get a seat in the Security Council. Japan and Germany are the second and third largest contributors to the UN budget respectively, this make their proposition more credible than Africa which still, largely depends on handouts.