77. SA wants a hand in drafting Security Council Resolutions on Africa

Business Day (South Africa)
20 May 2019
Professor Adekeye Adebajo

South Africa is currently serving a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the 15-member United Nations (UN) Security Council following earlier stints in 2007-2008 and 2011-2012.  Early priorities include: pursuing “The African Agenda”; seeking to co-draft Security Council resolutions on African cases (which are currently dominated by France, Britain, and the United States [US] in 10 of 12 African cases); and  pushing for closer cooperation between the UN Security Council and Africa’s regional organisations.

South Africa has about 1,200 troops deployed in UN peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Darfur, and South Sudan. Tshwane strongly supported the Equatorial Guinean-led “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” debate in February, an Agenda 2063 initiative originally driven by South Africa’s former African Union (AU) Commission chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in 2013. On the issue of peacekeeping, during Indonesian-led debates this month on improving the training and safety of peacekeepers, Tshwane joined China and Russia in insisting on the centrality of the Nigerian-chaired UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations in policymaking in this area.

In January, South Africa took a strong line over the Congo’s elections. As France and Belgium criticised the electoral process, Tshwane cautioned that the Council await the official announcement of election results,   and along with Beijing and Moscow, insisted that this was a sovereign issue to be resolved internally. This situation eventually culminated in the controversial installation of Félix Tshisekedi as president. In neighbouring Burundi, South Africa played a praiseworthy peacemaking and peacekeeping role in the country between 1999 and 2006, but has maintained a cautious approach, warning against the Council becoming embroiled in a domestic issue in which a fitful peacemaking process has been led by the East African Community. Tshwane appears – along with Moscow – reluctant to place Burundi on the Council’s agenda.

The recent revolution in Sudan that toppled the three-decade autocracy of Omar al-Bashir has focused Council attention on peacekeeping missions in Darfur and South Sudan. While Western powers on the Council – the US, France, Britain, Germany and Belgium – have expressed caution in reducing UN peacekeepers in Darfur, South Africa – along with Russia, China, and Indonesia – have argued that the Sudanese protests are an internal affair, and that the improved security situation in Darfur – in a mission led by South African diplomat, Kingsley Mamabolo – should be the main determinant of troop levels. In South Sudan, Tshwane has worked to support the country’s peace accord, and along with Moscow and Beijing, opposed Western efforts to credit sanctions with contributing to stability in the country.

Moscow, Washington, and Paris have been accused of partisan meddling in Libya. South Africa has insisted on a peaceful resolution to the bloody invasion of Tripoli by the warlord Khalifa Haftar. In the Western Sahara – which Morocco “stole” in 1975, and has occupied since with the strong support of Paris and Washington – Tshwane has been one of the few consistent backers of the Algeria-based POLISARIO Front liberation movement, which has lost many of its former African supporters.

South Africa has also insisted on making its voice heard on issues beyond Africa. It has adopted a tough stance on Venezuela, siding with Moscow and Beijing in refusing to support the Washington-led “regime change” agenda on the basis that this approach is unconstitutional and the issue is strictly internal. Tshwane has further criticised America’s politicisation of humanitarian assistance, insisting that such aid be managed by the UN.

As South Africa prepares to chair the Council in October, some of the themes it is mulling include Women and Security, and Strengthening the UN’s relations with African regional organisations. Tshwane should adopt an approach of three “concentric circles” in pursuing its goals on the Council. The first circle involves crafting strategic alliances on continental issues with the other two African Council members: Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea. The second involves courting the Council’s Great Powers on strategic issues. These include South Africa’s BRICS partners – China and Russia – and, where possible, the US, France, and Britain. Finally, fellow regional powers – Germany and Indonesia – could be important partners, as well as the Dominican Republic, using Tshwane’s Afro-Caribbean connections.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo is Director of the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation.