Harare - In a logical world, the 75th General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly, which started virtually on September 15, 2020, would have presented an opportunity to make serious headway in advancing the cause of multilateralism.
But there has rarely been anything logical about geopolitics for a long time now.
The theme for the landmark General Assembly – “The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism” – speaks volumes about what the majority of the world’s largest intergovernmental organisation desires.
Instead, the handful of superpowers will continue to ignore, or at best pay lip service, to the need to advance multilateralism.
In July, United States President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw his country from the World Health Organisation, even as COVID-19 has proved that the greatest challenges of modern times will require international co-operation as opposed to unilateralism.
More than 962,613 people globally have succumbed to COVID-19. But superpowers still feel the UN is a playground on which to flex muscles.
Sami Hamdi of International Interest says: “The United Nations reflects the power dynamics of the time of 1945 … The members of the Security Council reflect the dominant spheres of influence in the US, Europe, Russia, and China, with the remaining members considered as operators under or in between one of these spheres.”
Therein is the biggest problem in the view of Africa, Latin America and much of Asia: the all-powerful five-member Security Council has given itself the authority to overrule the democratic expression of the other 188 members of the General Assembly.
Britain, China, France, Russia and the US (the P5) can veto any UN decision as permanent members of the Security Council. The rest of the world shares 10 rotational Security Council seats that have no veto power for two-year terms.
Officially, the Security Council is mandated with “international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations, co-operating in solving international problems and promoting respect for human rights”. It also describes itself as “a centre for harmonising the actions of nations”.
The reality is much different, with the P5 using their veto to shape geopolitics in their own image, for their own individual interests, with little to no consideration to what the General Assembly says.
Often, developing countries have had to rely on the goodwill of China and Russia to protect them from harmful superpower encroachments, but history has time and again proven that goodwill alone is scant surety in international affairs.
What is needed is an institutional restructuring that gives Africa and Latin America – the unrepresented parts of the world in the Security Council – a real stake in global matters.
Africa has come up with a common position on the matter, as captured in the Sirte Declaration and enshrined in the Ezulwini Consensus.
The Ezulwini Consensus calls for expansion of the Security Council to 26 members with at least two permanent seats for Africa.
Africa has said it is in principle opposed to veto power and would prefer that it is removed as part of the UN reforms. However, should that instrument be retained, then the two permanent seats reserved for the continent should come with veto power.
This is a position reached back in 2005, but the continent has been sluggish in pushing for its implementation.
This year, the leaders of Namibia, South Africa and Zambia – among others - have forcefully brought the issue to the General Assembly and observers hope their reiteration of the Ezulwini Consensus will rally the continent to press for a more equitable world order.