88. South Sudan Transitional Government a Priority in Talks

Publication: Business Day (South Africa)
Author: Adekeye Adebajo
Date: 3 November 2019

South Africa chaired the United Nations (UN) Security Council in October 2019, focusing on themes such as “Women and Security,” “Silencing The Guns by 2020”,  strengthening the UN’s relations with African regional organisations, conflict prevention, and organising an open debate on the Middle East, focusing on the Palestinian question. During its presidency of the Council, Tshwane also oversaw discussions on the renewal of the mandates of UN missions in Abyei, Darfur, Western Sahara, Libya, and Haiti.

South Africa further led the 15-member UN Security Council mission that convened in Addis Ababa for the annual meeting with the15-member African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) last week. Discussions focused on South Sudan, the Sahel, Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, and Guinea-Bissau. There was urgency on both sides for the transitional government of national unity to be established in South Sudan by the 12 November deadline. On the Sahel, both sides expressed concern at the worsening security situation, and called for strengthening the UN mission in Mali, as well as the French-led Sahel force.

On CAR, both praised the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, though instability continues to wrack this militia-infested country. Both Councils further expressed concern at the fragile political situation in Guinea-Bissau ahead of 24 November presidential polls, calling for support for ECOWAS’s efforts. Based on the unhappy experience of a joint UN/AU Special Representative in Darfur, UN Security Council members rejected the AU PSC idea of a joint AU/UN special envoy in Libya.  A thematic issue discussed was the AU campaign of “Silencing the Guns by 2020.” Both sides, however, disagreed about the mechanism for sending joint field missions to conflict zones, with UN Security Council members complaining about the size and cost of deploying large missions.

About 85% of the UN’s 85,678 peacekeepers are currently deployed in 11 African theatres (the the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC], South Sudan, Mali, CAR, Darfur, Abyei, Western Sahara, Somalia, Libya, the Sahel, and Guinea-Bissau). South Africa is the 17th largest contributor to UN peacekeeping with 1,162 troops,  97 percent of whom (1,137) are deployed in the Congo, while others are based in Darfur (19) and South Sudan (6). These three countries have thus been a major focus of South Africa’s efforts in the first year of its two-year tenure on the Council.

South Africa has also been active this year on the Congo where most of its peacekeepers are deployed. Along with China and Russia, Tshwane insisted on respect for the independence of Congolese national institutions during presidential and parliamentary polls in January. Council members now appear to have been won over by president Félix Tshisekedi’s efforts to work with the UN to promote regional stability. The security situation in the eastern Congo – especially in Ituri (where 230,000 people have been displaced since June) and the Kivus – however remains dire.

Along with Russia, China, and Indonesia, South Africa has argued that the internal security situation in Darfur should determine UN troop levels.  In South Sudan, Tshwane has backed the AU position against punitive sanctions. In Abyei, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, and Equatorial Guinea – backed by Beijing and Moscow – have pushed back against American efforts to reduce the number of Ethiopian-led UN peacekeepers. In the Western Sahara – which Morocco annexed in 1975 – South Africa 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. Tshwane unsuccessfully pushed on the Council for a human rights monitoring mandate for this UN mission.

During its first year on the Council in 2019, South Africa has worked closely with the two other African Council members, Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea, as well as BRICS partners, China and Russia. In 2020, it should also, where possible, engage the P-3 of America, Britain, and France, as well as regional powers such as Germany and Indonesia which are drafting Council resolutions. In 2019, Tshwane has avoided the controversies of its two earlier stints on the Security Council in 2007/2008 and 2011/2012, when it became embroiled in human rights disputes in Zimbabwe and Myanmar, as well as widely criticised actions in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya.

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