17. Africa Urgently Needs to Gain More Global Power

Author: Gie Goris
Publication: MO* Magazine (Belgium)
Date: 23 July 2020 

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Interview in Flemish

Interview with 5 voices on the international order 

The 1930s show why international institutions are indispensable, says political philosopher Adekeye Adebajo in Johannesburg. Nations must cooperate more, and the United Nations must represent the 21st century. ‘Dag Hammerskjöld summed it up well: the UN was not founded to make the world a heaven, but to keep it from hell.’

The dust from the BlackLivesMatter demonstrations and the iconoclasm on colonial monuments and statues of slave traders has subsided for a while when I speak to Professor Adekeye Adebajo in mid-July. We are therefore not talking about the monument men, whom he prefers to see fall, but about less emotional but all the more important themes such as international institutions, peace and development, and good global governance.

1. Less national sovereignty for more global governance?

Adekeye Adebajo: The EU is the most far-reaching example of transnational governance, but the EU is also about pooling national sovereignty, not abandoning it. In other words, national sovereignty currently remains the cornerstone of international relations and cooperation. Also in Africa, where colonial borders were confirmed in 1963, because the alternative was even more instability, war and conflict.

2. Should the UN be reformed?

Adekeye Adebajo: Absolutely. The UN is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and the Security Council has been enlarged only once, from 11 to 15 countries, five of which are permanent members with the right of veto. Africa urgently needs to gain more power and influence within the UN and within the Security Council in order to help shape decisions that are important to the continent. It is high time to give Brazil, India, South Africa and Nigeria a permanent seat at the table. But the current five permanent members can block reform plans with their veto, so everything stays the same.

3. What needs to be tackled as a matter of priority?

Adekeye Adebajo: Peace and security on the one hand, poverty alleviation on the other. And both are connected. Because without peace and security, development is not possible, and without development there is always the threat of instability or worse. And that is another reason to reform the UN Security Council and make it more democratic.

4. Can we work with fewer international organisations?

Adekeye Adebajo: I’m afraid that’s a rather irresponsible position. Of course IMF and WTO are anything but perfect institutions, but if they didn’t exist, someone had to set them up. Dag Hammarskjöld summed it up well: the UN wasn’t set up to take the world to heaven, but to save it from hell.

In Europe you know how dangerous it is to reject international cooperation, because it reminds us of the protectionism and the beggar-thy-neighbour competition in the interwar period, which created the economic and social conditions that led to the Second World War. If contradictions cannot be discussed in a multilateral context and settled peacefully, the consequences could be rather disastrous.

An international order that is not inclusive and does not represent global power relations loses credibility. As a result, decisions that matter are taken elsewhere. It sounds counterintuitive, but the interests of the most powerful countries must be served by an international system so that it can also work for the weaker countries.

5. Which international organisation should be established?

Adekeye Adebajo: We should not create something new, we should make the existing institutions work better. There is already a UN Peacebuilding Commission. It has far too few resources. Invest in it. Because today we see that half of the conflicts that are stopped will flare up again within five years. That has everything to do with a lack of resources to properly demobilize, disarm and reintegrate. A properly functioning commission would also contribute to greater and better administrative capacity, with better functioning social outcomes.

Adekeye Adebajo is director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg. Previously, he was part of UN missions in South Africa, Western Sahara and Iraq. He holds a DPhil from Oxford (Department of Politics and International Relations) and is the author of six books, including The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War; Thabo Mbeki: Africa’s Philosopher-King; and The Eagle and the Springbok: Essays on Nigeria and South Africa.