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How will South Africa use its seat on the UN Security Council?

 SW Radio Africa News 19 October 2019

South Africa says it wants to use its newly acquired non-permanent seat on the United Nations (UN) Security Council to fight for the reform of the powerful world grouping. (1147 Words) - By Alex Bell

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Ayanda Ntsaluba, the Foreign Affairs director-general, is quoted by South Africa's Times online news service as saying that the country's focus, and that of the African continent, was largely on reforming the Security Council, to make it more representative of all the world's nations.

Ntsaluba said challenging the current status quo was a slow process that they were hoping would "bear fruit in future." He said part of the slow pace was down to a "dilution of the powers" held by the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Russian Federation and China.

Ntsaluba said South Africa had learnt a lot after its first tenure as a non-permanent Security Council member, which was marred by accusations that it was siding with countries that have bad human rights records. During its first term, South Africa joined Russia and China in blocking the Security Council from taking action against the military regime of Burma. The country also frustrated efforts to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe before the signing of the Global Political Agreement and the formation of the unity government there.

Ntsaluba said South Africa would now communicate its positions with more clarity, blaming what he called the "aggressive nature" of the use of the media.

During South Africa's two-year term as a non-permanent Council member, which begins on 1 January 2019, the Security Council is bound to tackle a series of African conflicts, including Sudan, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Somalia.

But how will South Africa approach its leadership role on the continent?

Instead of using its weight to rein in African leaders like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, as the West has previously hoped it would, many observers expect South Africa to act as a pragmatic broker that treads lightly with ruling despots.

I spoke with noted South African political analyst Professor Adam Habib and asked him what approach the country will take.

AH: Well I think that their performance in the last round was particularly underrated. I know there was a large amount of criticism about South Africa's role particularly because of the fact that it had, was seen to have defended rogue states like Myanmar, Iran, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Somalia and therefore there was a lot of criticism of South Africa. But it's worth bearing in mind that on the majority of issues, something like 80 to 85 per cent of the issues, South Africa was with the diplomatic main stream. It put an enormous amount of focus on Africa. It brought, it made a major push, it together with other players made a major push for UN reform and on all of those kind of questions, South Africa was really on the right side.

On the other issues however is what it has been remembered for. It seems to me the same issues are on the agenda today as much as they were two years ago and that's what South Africa needs to learn from - is how to articulate a message on those five questions that will enable it to be seen as a progressor, will enable it to be seen as endorsing progressive values and not undermining the agendas of the liberal, of what is broadly seen as the human rights community international. And that is the great challenge that South Africa confronts.

AB: There must be some confidence though that South Africa has learnt its lesson or else it wouldn't have gotten this seat?

AH: Well South Africa's got the seat largely because of the African Union and the support of the African Union and the African Union, it is seen to have an independent line. South Africa was very, very concerned that it must not be seen as simply, it mustn't get caught up in the machinations of big powers like the United States, like the UK, like France etcetera. France, China and even Russia. So the big question is how can South Africa chart an independent path but one that is still consistent with progressive value. Now it seems to me that the two things that it needs to do in that regard is the first, is it needs to have an independent role.

It is important to have an independent role. But in its independence it mustn't be seen to be defending rogue states, it must land up articulating a message that says look we may have to adjust this in places like Sudan, we may have to cut a deal with somebody like Mugabe but the only time we can do that is if we get peace as an exchange dividend. I mean that's the interesting story of the South African transition. There are a whole range of apartheid generals who sit on farms today and who have not been prosecuted. But the trade off was that South Africa did have, did get a peace, it did move and progress towards a peaceful settlement. And it seems to me that that's the message that South Africa needs to say. There may be cases where we have to temper justice with autocrats because that's just the reality on the ground. There are autocrats with guns. But the trade off has to be the peace dividend, that people must progress, there must be a cessation of violence, there must be the establishment of peace in these contexts.

That's the message that South Africa needs to send and it needs to do that firstly by mobilising support from its allies and in this round it's going to be India and Brazil who are both in the Security Council. But it also needs to start winning the human rights community to this agenda and so it needs to develop a message that can be attractive to diplomatic allies like Brazil and India. But it also needs to be a message that can attract the human rights community to that agenda. And that's what South Africa really confronts. Until now it's begun to see its natural allies as diplomats. It sees diplomacy as simply occurring in UN circuits and government circuits but it needs to realise that that's a hopelessly old fashioned idea and that the human rights community and the international civic movement is as relevant to its foreign policy agendas as a diplomatic alliance. That's what it needs to think through.

Finally it needs to make a significant investment in a communications strategy. Its communications were particularly disastrous the last time round in the Security Council so it could never articulate a message to the broader world. Its message was simply understood by its own internal players rather than by the international community. Clearly it needs much greater investment in a communications arm that can communicate the message that it needs to with regards to its role in the Security Council.

Extract from 'Southern Africa Focus', a programme produced and presented by Alex Bell for SW Radio Africa.

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