91. Overview of SA’s 3 Stints on UN Council
Author: Oluwaseun Tella
Date: 15 November 2019
Publication: The Star
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_map_of_South_Africa_(United_Nations).svg.
South Africa chaired the UN Security Council (UNSC) last month. In a bid to assess the country’s activities in the three terms it has served on the council – 2007/08, 2011/12 and 2019/20 – the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC), in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), organised two public dialogues in Johannesburg in March and September this year.
During its first tenure on the UNSC, South Africa sought to promote the principles of its foreign policy, including the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and respect for human rights and international law. However, Tshwane’s first term on the council was also controversial.
South Africa opposed resolutions critical of human rights violations in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran and Myanmar. This significantly tarnished the country’s image in the eyes of many Western states, and some South African civil society and media actors.
South Africa’s second stint on the council in 2011-12 sought to promote its foreign policy principles. President Jacob Zuma chaired the meeting of the council in January 2012, which strengthened the South African-led resolution in April 2008, on co-operation between the UNSC and the AU Peace and Security Council.
Tshwane was criticised for its positions on Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. In the latter case, South Africa was diplomatically isolated in pushing for a political settlement after the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, had rejected the results of the 2010 elections that saw Alassane Ouattara declared president.
South Africa’s quest to serve on the UNSC in 2019/20 coincided with the centenary celebrations of the birth of Nelson Mandela. The challenges Tshwane and the other nine non-permanent members of the council face involve lack of institutional memory and working within the constraints of the geopolitical contestations among the veto-wielding five permanent members (the US, China, Russia, France and UK).
Last month, South Africa chaired the UNSC. Under this country’s presidency, the council also considered resolutions relating to mandate renewals such as the Joint Border Verification Monitoring Mechanism in Abyei, Sudan/South Sudan; and migrant smuggling in Libya. Tshwane further led the annual UNSC meeting with the AU Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa, which discussed the cases of South Sudan, the Sahel, Central African Republic, Libya and Guinea-Bissau.
However, reform of the UNSC has been scuttled by a lack of consensus between African countries and the Group of Four (G-4) – Japan, Germany, Brazil and India – as well as by China’s opposition, and American and Russian vacillation. The UNSC’s five veto-wielding members also dominate key departments in the UN secretariat. South Africa believes it is one of the potential holders of a permanent seat on the UNSC, from Africa. It has often noted the double standards and distortions that have arisen from the inequality and unrepresentativeness of many global institutions, such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Dr. Oluwaseun Tella is a senior researcher at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC), University of Johannesburg.