Diplomacy and decolonization
Trevor Lwere | Monday, January 24, 2022
Last week, the ninth ministerial meeting of the African Union Committee of Ten Heads of State and Government (C-10) was held in Kampala, Uganda. The C-10 was set up in 2005 by the African Union (AU) with a mandate to advocate and canvass the African Common Position on United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reform. The African Common Position reflects Africa’s goal to be fully represented in all decision-making organs of the UN particularly the Security Council. Africa seeks to secure two additional seats in the category of the non-permanent members and two seats in the category of the permanent members with full rights and privileges as other permanent members, including the right to veto. The primary reason for Africa’s claim to full and equal representation on the UN Security Council is to correct the historical injustices endured by the continent.
At the time of the founding of the United Nations in 1945, Africa was under total colonial domination with the lone exception of Ethiopia. At its inception, the UN, despite being founded on principles of mutual respect and equality of all nations large and small, did not recognize the right to self-determination of Africans and other colonial peoples. As such, Africa, like other colonized peoples, had no one to speak for her interests. Having fought and defeated colonialism, independent African states eventually joined the UN system. Yet, the marginalization of the continent especially within the UNSC that is at the center of the UN system has remained basically unchanged over the life span of the UN. This is significant because the UNSC makes decisions that affect Africa albeit without African input. A case in point was the assassination of Muammar Ghaddafi in 2011. Despite the African Union indicating a plan to intervene in the Libyan crisis at the time, NATO and the UNSC acted without conferring with the AU. The fall of Ghaddafi triggered the emergency of militias and armed groups that now wreak havoc across the Sahel in countries such as Mali, Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. The example of the overthrow and assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the independence prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, also stands out. Since Lumumba’s departure, the Congo has been dogged by incessant political, economic and military crises that the UN has utterly failed to resolve. In both cases of Libya and the DRC, Africans continue to bear the brunt of the decisions taken by the UN without the input of Africans.
For Africans who know the experience of colonialism all too well, the continued marginalization of Africa in the UNSC smacks of colonial paternalism. The colonialists administered the colonies with little or no input from the colonized, yet these decisions affected the daily lives of the colonized. While we can say that the colonialists marginalized the colonized because they did not acknowledge their essentiality as full human beings capable of managing their own affairs, the same cannot be said of the UN, a body founded on principles of mutual respect and equality between all nations and all peoples. The Africans who won their freedom and independence through sweat and blood know that this situation must be remedied and have set out to do so through the C-10 that has been at work since 2005.
This attempt by the Africans, through their leaders, to reform the UNSC must be understood as a part of the protracted struggle for Africa’s decolonization that started with the founding of the African National Congress in South Africa in 1912. But how are we to understand decolonization? Franz Fanon described decolonization as a process of disorder in which “the last shall become first.” Amilcar Cabral, one of the icons of Africa’s liberation struggle defined decolonization as the re-entry into history by a people that has been purged out of history. Colonialism stripped Africans of the agency to contribute to history — Africana and human history. Decolonization seeks to reclaim this power and control over one’s own existence. Permanent representation of Africa on the UNSC with full rights, privileges and obligations of other permanent members, including veto power, will give Africa control over what happens to her in the world of international affairs so that the historical injustices previously sanctioned by the UNSC without African input or happened under its watch do not happen again. This will bring an end to the paternalism of the permanent members of the UNSC and their illegitimate monopoly of power over what happens in the world. Conversely, Africa’s legitimate stake in the ownership of the world and contribution to the direction of world affairs will be secured.
Yet, we must careful not to imagine that securing permanent membership on the UNSC would guarantee Africa’s security from non-interference and the adventurism of greedy, aggressive actors. The U.S invasion of Iraq ought to be a stern reminder that while we stay committed to a peaceful world, we should not lose sight of the fact that the world still operates on the principle of might makes right. Representation won’t be enough; Africa must build continental capacity to defend itself and deter aggressors and adventurers.
Trevor Lwere is a senior from Kampala, Uganda, studying economics and global affairs with a minor in PPE. He is a dee-jay in his free time and can be reached at [email protected] or @LwereTrevor on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.