Many African leaders who spoke at the United Nations General Assembly so far seem to all want the same thing: a permanent seat at the Security Council table. “Africa has waited long enough and will not wait any longer,” Ali Bongo Ondimba, Gabon’s president, said to the gathering on Sept. 21.
The continent of 54 countries is battling an unfair multilateral system, many Africans say, as it struggles to recover from Covid-19 and deal with the consequences of climate change and with conflict. These issues were predominant in speeches this week by at least five African countries from across the continent: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.
The African quest for a permanent seat in the Council has gone on for decades. The African Union reached an agreement in Eswatini in 2005, demanding that the Council expand to include two permanent members and five elected seats for Africa. (The bloc now has three elected seats.) Since then, no concrete step has been taken by the Council or the General Assembly to carry out the Ezulwini Consensus, as it is called. The disparate realities created by the imbalance of the multilateral system has grown much sharper since the pandemic struck in early 2020, according to several African leaders.
“Let me express the strong collective conviction of my country that the relevance, legitimacy and moral authority of the United Nations will forever remain deficient, undermined by the absence of comprehensive reforms of the United Nations Security Council,” said William Ruto the newly elected president of Kenya, on Sept. 21. “Threats to democracy will not be credibly resolved by an undemocratic and unrepresentative Security Council.” (Kenya is currently an elected member of the Council.)
The lopsided nature of international systems go beyond the Council. Many economies across the globe have been hit hard by increased costs of energy and food and other spikes in the cost of living. The economy of the United States has contracted twice in 2022, and inflation reached a 40-year high in June, before dropping slightly in July. The situation has been similar in the European Union and in Britain. These inflationary pressures have caused central banks to raise interest rates. When interbank lending rates are heightened in developed countries, however, investors pull money from developing and emerging economies and the cost of borrowing for developed economies rises.
“It has become clear, if ever there was any doubt, that the international financial structure is skewed significantly against developing and emerging economies like Ghana,” Nana Akufo Addo, Ghana’s president, told the General Assembly. The latest inflation figures from the nation put price hikes at 33.9 percent, the highest in 21 years.
“The avenues that are open to powerful nations to enable them take measures that will ease pressures on their economies are closed to small nations,” Addo added. “To make matters worse, crediting rating agencies have been quick to downgrade economies in Africa, making it harder to service our debts.” These debts are denominated in dollars, and the more that the currencies of African countries depreciate, the more they need to buy dollars to service the loans. Which is why Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Gabon’s Ondimba, the Congo’s Félix Tshisekedi and Ruto of Kenya each called for the current debt relief scheme formulated by the World Bank and implemented through the Group of 20 to be extended or canceled.
As of July 2020, only four of the 25 African countries eligible for such relief had agreed to the plan. The World Bank said the debt-service moratorium lasted from May 2020 to December 2021 and that it helped 48 countries save $12.9 billion in interest payments. Under the terms of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, money that would have been used to service the debts must be spent on specific socioeconomic program tied to dealing with Covid-19 shocks, thus shrinking the fiscal policy space of these countries.
As much of Africa continues to face a debt crisis, the continent is also battling droughts, floods and climate-induced insecurity. The continent emits only about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is highly vulnerable to climate shocks. Paradoxically, some estimates say that Africa received only 3 percent of available green funding last year.
African countries need money not only for debt servicing and climate mitigation but also to buy weapons to defend their territorial sovereignty from terrorists. Akufo Addo of Ghana reminded the Assembly that resource-driven conflict in the Sahel region is spreading and that his country, located in West Africa, is surrounded on all sides by militants. Ondimba of Gabon said that his country would continue to support the defense of the Gulf of Guinea, while reminding diplomats that his country, situated in Central Africa, has not experienced armed conflict.
On Sept. 20, Macky Sall, Senegal’s president and the first African head of state to speak to the Assembly this week, set the tone for other leaders from the continent to push for more control of its destiny, that Africa needs to be better represented on the global stage: namely, the UN and G20. This sentiment was echoed by Ruto of Kenya, who said on Sept. 21: “It is time for multilateralism to reflect the voice of the farmers, represent the hopes of villagers, champion the aspirations of pastoralists, defend the rights of fisherfolk, express the dreams of traders, respect the wishes of workers and, indeed, protect the welfare of all peoples of the Global South.” — DAMILOLA BANJO
Today’s roundup of Assembly speeches includes Somalia on Sept. 22, as well as Kenya, Gabon and Britain the day before.
• Somalia will never negotiate with Al Shabab Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia’s president, said that negotiating with Al Shabab or any other terrorist group is off the table. His statement, delivered on Sept. 22 to the Assembly, came after the Al Qaeda-affiliated militants killed 21 travelers in central Somalia on Sept. 2. Mohamud told a think tank in Türkiye in July that the militants have found coping mechanisms to deal with counterassaults. At the UN, the Somali president, who resumed office for a second term in May, said that the strategy of containment and degrading the militants is not working. “The most important lesson we have learned in the long modern war against international terrorists and terrorism is that neither can be contained and degraded, they need to be comprehensively defeated,” he said. “We are fully committed to doing the heavy lifting to secure our future. ” He said the government’s new strategy was to militarily, ideologically and financially defeat the militants. But the Horn of Africa country does not have the money to execute the plan. Somalia’s economy is recovering from a 2020 recession and experiencing debt distress, according to the Africa Development Bank. Progress has been stalled by persistent insecurity, locust invasions and drought. The country is one of 39 heavily indebted poor countries receiving support from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Mohamud asked his fellow UN member states and international financial partners to help the country deal with its chronic climate shocks and provide it with the resilience it needs to eliminate the terrorist threats. “Without predictable and committed national and international financing, it is not possible to realise a transformative solution to the interlocking challenge we face today,” he said. — DAMILOLA BANJO
• Kenya’s new president calls out the Security Council’s lack of inclusiveness William Ruto made his first appearance at the UN as Kenya’s president on Sept. 21, calling for comprehensive reforms of the Security Council. “A just and inclusive world order cannot be spearheaded by a United Nations Security Council that persistently and unjustly fails the inclusivity criterion,” Ruto said. “Similarly, threats to democracy will not be credibly resolved by an undemocratic and unrepresentative Security Council. It is vitally important for this critical institution to reflect the values it is entrusted to protect, defend and uphold on behalf of humankind.” He joined the call by US President Joe Biden to increase the membership of the Council, saying it is a step in the right direction. Ruto just won a keenly contested election in the East African country and said that the “pan-Africanization” of multilateralism can ensure more equity for Africa, as the continent has always been at the wrong end of history. “We are all witnesses to admirable demonstrations of effective solidarity in response to crises in various parts of the world,” Ruto said. “Our knowledge of the possibility of spontaneous yet resolute global solidarity reinforces the African exception as particularly repugnant.” He further stated that Kenya and the rest of Africa, like other developing countries heavily burdened with external debt servicing, needs greater international partnerships and cooperation to avert an economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. He called on the G20, World Bank and International Monetary Fund to suspend or reschedule debt payments during the recovery period. “Whenever human life, security and welfare are in jeopardy, it is immoral to administer interventions through frameworks that are anchored on fundamental inequality,” he said. He also declared his country’s resolve to develop a blue economy to help develop agriculture, which remains the bedrock of the development of many nations. He further called for international partnerships to help end droughts, while disruption of food-supply chains, stemming from the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, have left the country food insecure. — DAMILOLA BANJO
• Gabon aims to restrict arms proliferation President Ali Bongo Ondimba stated that international peace remains threatened by arms proliferation, so restricting access to weapons will be his country’s focus when it holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council in October. Ondimba declared this goal while addressing the General Assembly on Sept. 21. “Threats to international peace and security continue to increase exponentially with the proliferation of armed groups,” he said. “Restricting the access to arms will be at the heart of my country’s priorities during our Presidency of the United Nations Security Council in October.” The small Central African country will inherit the continuing crisis in Ukraine and other catastrophes around the world in its presidency in the Council next month. Gabon, alongside Ghana, joined the body in January 2022, each for a two-year term. After Kenyan President Ruto raised the issue of more inclusiveness in the Council in his Assembly speech on Sept. 21, Ondimba reiterated his country’s readiness to take on the challenge. He also restated his country’s resolve to adopt best practices as humanity faces an unprecedented triple environmental crisis, climate change, biodiversity extinction crisis and pollution. “Gabon is a low deforestation country par excellence,” he said. “Since COP 15 in Copenhagen, Gabon has net absorbed over a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. We have absorbed over 100 millions tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. In other words we have already achieved and indeed exceeded the Paris agreement objective for carbon neutrality.” Gabon is ready to sustain this achievement till 2050 and urged other countries to increase funding for investments to save the planet. “The time has come to transition from billions to trillions by mobilising 1 percent of global GDP for nature,” he said. — DAMILOLA BANJO
• Britain’s new prime minister pledges continued commitment to Ukraine The newly elected Prime Minister Liz Truss said the founding principles of the UN are “fracturing” and called for those who believe in it to “stand up and be counted.” In a late-night speech to the Assembly on Sept. 21, when Truss’s slot was slipped in at the last minute, she said: “For many decades, the UN has helped to deliver stability and security in much of the world. It has provided a place for nations to work together on shared challenges. And it has promoted the principles of sovereignty and self-determination even through the Cold War and its aftermath. But today those principles that have defined our lives since the dark days of the 1940s are fracturing.” She added: “For the first time in the history of this Assembly, we are meeting during a large-scale war of aggression in Europe. And authoritarian states are undermining stability and security around the world. Geopolitics is entering a new era — one that requires those who believe in the founding principles of the United Nations to stand up and be counted.” She called on democratic countries to deliver on economy and security for their citizens in order for democracy to trump autocratic governments worldwide. “We need to keep improving and renewing what we do for the new era, demonstrating that democracy delivers,” she said. Truss also touched on energy, global security alliances and condemned the aggression of Russia in Ukraine. “In Ukraine, barbarous weapons are being used to kill and maim people, rape is being used as an instrument of war, families are being torn apart. And this morning we have seen Putin trying to justify his catastrophic failures. That’s why we must act. That’s why the UK will spend 3 percent of GDP on defence by 2030, maintaining our position as the leading security actor in Europe. And that’s why — at this crucial moment in the conflict — I pledge that we will sustain or increase our military support to Ukraine, for as long as it takes.” — DAMILOLA BANJO
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Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.