African leaders today called on the United Nations to grant the continent a permanent seat on the Security Council, declaring that 65 years after its founding the world body remains mired in the legacy of the past.
“The exclusion of Africa from the permanent member category of the Security Council can no longer be justified,” President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country with some 150 million people, told the General Assembly on the second day of its annual debate.
“We urge the UN to quicken the pace of its reforms. Not only to better reflect the current global realities but also to ensure that it enjoys genuine legitimacy.”
Mr. Jonathan, who devoted much of his speech to the progress Nigeria has made while noting the challenges it faces regarding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) relating to reducing maternal and child mortality, recalled that just seven days after gaining independence in 1960, his country contributed to a UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended Nigeria for its support of UN peacekeeping operations in a bilateral meeting today with Mr. Jonathan, during which the two discussed forthcoming elections on the continent and the need to curtail the small arms traffic feeding violence in Africa.
Presidents Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and Ali Bongo of Gabon also called for African representation on the Security Council.
“To maintain at all costs the status quo is to turn one’s back on the radical changes in the state of the world and at the same time to expose the Council to more mistrust, more defiance and more criticism,” Mr. Wade said, seeking the right of veto for the continent..
He noted that from 51 Member States in 1945 the UN had now grown to 192, yet the Council, “the body intended to reflect the collective will” whose resolutions are legally binding while those of the Assembly are not, had increased its membership only once, in 1965, from 11 to 15.
“Are we prepared to define a new world order within which Africa and the emerging powers will fully play the role which the changing circumstances confer on them?” he asked.
“How indeed can one conceive of a credible role for our organization in world governance while Africa, comprising more than a quarter of its troops and occupying 70 per cent of the Council’s agenda, has no permanent seat on it?
“It is to end this anomaly and right a historical injustice that Senegal has proposed, independent of current reforms that will take time, that our continent be granted a permanent seat with the right of veto.”
At present only the five original permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – have veto rights. All five were victorious allies in World War II, part of what Mr. Wade called the legacy of a closed historical period.
“If numerous Council decisions are today questioned and their execution deficient, it is because they are perceived by the great majority of Member States more as the expression of national interests than the transmission of a mandate in the name of the community of nations,” he said.
Mr. Bongo called on the UN to adapt to the changed international context. “At a time when the democratization of world governance is a necessity, I wish to reaffirm from this tribune the aspirations of Africa to full occupy its place in the concert of nations,” he said.
“It seems to me the time has come for Africa not only to have a permanent seat on the Security Council but also to assume the full breadth of its responsibilities as a fully recognized actor on the international scene.”
Also adding his voice to the chorus of African leaders today calling for the continent’s permanent representation on the Council was Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
Comprehensive reform of the body will make it “more representative, democratic and accountable,” he told the Assembly.
“It is unjust that Africa remains the only region in the world without permanent representation on the Security Council,” Mr. Pohamba stressed.
Togolese Prime Minister Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo said that the noble goals for which the UN was founded are still far from being attained. “The work to be undertaken is still immense,” he declared. “Poverty and misery are not empty words, they are oppressive realities lived every day. They generate violence, instability, conflicts and other scourges that we combat today without success. Only international solidarity can allow us to overcome the world’s ills.”