Peter Fabricius Correspondent
Nigeria and South Africa, Africa’s largest and second-largest economies respectively, have emerged as rivals for supremacy on the continent. It is clear Nigeria intends to become a de facto permanent member of the AU PSC. South Africa, it seems, now harbours the same ambition.
We complain about certain powers having permanent seats on the UN Security Council and now we have certain powers in Africa trying to do the same.”
This was a rather wry, wise and seasoned regional diplomat speaking in the corridors of the AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week.
He was talking about this week’s elections at the summit for the 15 members of the It was an unusual election for a few reasons. One was that all 15 seats on the council became vacant at the same time for the first time in the AU PSC’s 12-year history.
The more significant thing about the election was that it was the most hotly contested one so far. The council reserves four seats for West Africa, two for North Africa and three each for Central, East and Southern Africa. Usually each of these five regions divvy up the seats on a rotational basis beforehand and the elections are a mere formality.
But this time there was a genuine contest in some regions — especially East Africa — and also intense horse-trading within regions.
As the authoritative Peace and Security Council Report of the Institute for Security Studies has noted, the elections were fiercely contested because the council is becoming increasingly important in Africa, as a result of the many conflicts it has to deal with.
Last month, for example, the council flexed its muscles in an extraordinary way by making an unprecedented decision to send a peacekeeping force to curb the growing violence in Burundi — whether or not Burundi wanted such a force (which it doesn’t). The AU summit has been struggling to digest that rather indigestible decision.
And so South Africa, which had already been on the council since 2014, but which had indicated it might stand down this year, decided instead to bid for re-election. It was successful but not quite as much as it had hoped, apparently. It had wanted a three-year seat but only got a two-year seat.
The seasoned regional diplomat, like many others, believes Pretoria decided to remain on the council because Nigeria was going to. Nigeria has been on the council without interruption since it was founded and this week was re-elected — to a three-year term.
Nigeria and South Africa, Africa’s largest and second-largest economies respectively, have emerged as rivals for supremacy on the continent.
It is clear Nigeria intends to become a de facto permanent member of the AU PSC. South Africa, it seems, now harbours the same ambition.
This is where the seasoned diplomat’s wry observation above kicks in. As he remarked, South Africa — and most other African countries for that matter — complains about the disproportionate power which the P5 — five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US, China, Russia, UK and France — wield in world affairs.
But now South Africa and Nigeria also seem to want to wield disproportionate power in African affairs. Of course, the AU PSC, even with de facto permanent members, would not be as unrepresentative as the UN council.
Each African region would still be represented on the AU PSC, whereas we know the UN Security Council basically represents just the victors of World War II, excluding vast regions of the globe, including Africa. And no member of the AU PSC, however permanent and powerful, has the veto which is what gives the P5 their ultimate power.
Nonetheless, a permanent presence on the AU PSC does confer disproportionate power.
The diplomat noted when the protocol to establish the AU PSC was being debated in 2002, South Africa wanted the AU PSC to have five permanent seats. Smaller countries indignantly shot down the proposal, insisting on the equality among nations which is supposed to be a basic principle of the AU (and indeed the UN).
It is also true though that the Southern African region, despite such reservations, did in the end choose South Africa to represent it on the council (along with Botswana and Zambia).
The reason is South Africa has much more clout than other regional countries. The formal criteria for membership of the AU PSC do implicitly favour stronger countries.
They stipulate members should have the means to fulfil their duties, including a large enough presence at the AU in Addis Ababa and the UN in New York, to conduct peace diplomacy and the heft to contribute financially, militarily and otherwise to peacekeeping operations.
Might not be quite right but it’s getting there, slowly but surely.
And so, as it evolves, the AU PSC is converging in its character, with the UN Security Council.
All states are equal, as they say, but some are more equal than others. — Sunday Independent