Harare - The United Nations marked its 75th anniversary this week, and what would ordinarily have been a celebration of three-quarters of existence of the world’s best yet attempt at multilateralism was instead an occasion to critique the failings of the international system and chart a better way forward.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant world leaders did not gather in New York as they have always done.
The first-ever virtual General Debate of the General Assembly – at least from the perspective of Southern Africa’s leaders – was dominated by discussions on how to reshape the UN and the need for co-operation in confronting the new coronavirus.
This was well within the scope this year’s theme of “The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism”.
UN Secretary-General Dr António Guterres set the tone when he said: “We face simultaneously an epochal health crisis, the biggest economic calamity and job losses since the Great Depression, and dangerous new threats to human rights. Covid-19 has laid bare the world’s fragilities.
“Covid-19 is not only a wake-up call, it is a dress rehearsal for the world of challenges to come. We must move forward with humility — recognising that a microscopic virus has brought the world to its knees. We must be united.”
Leaders from SADC, in their contributions to the General Debate, this year pulled no punches in demanding a reform of the UN system in general and the Security Council in particular.
Hinging their position on the Ezulwini Consensus, regional leaders called for an expansion of the Security Council from 15 to 26 members, which would be inclusive of at least two permanent seats for Africa.
Angola - President João Lourenço
President João Lourenço said the UN should move with the times and transform into a genuinely representative organisation.
“The United Nations, within the current world context, which portrays a reality totally different from the one that was on the basis of its establishment, should seek to reflect within its internal structures the characteristics of the geo-political reality of nowadays in order to render it into an organisation that is able to safeguard the balance of global interests,” he said.
“In this regard, we once more reiterate the urgent need for reform of the organisation so as to achieve a UN Security Council that attends better to representation of the peoples, nations and continents.”
He said multilateralism should always be at the forefront of tackling pressing global issues, including armed conflicts, terrorism, poverty and diseases.
“Thus, we think within this spirit we should focus our endeavours in the search for fair and long lasting solutions to the problems of the Middle East, that have to do with Security Council pertinent resolutions on the matter, as well as those that are afflicting the African continent, where conflicts and instability still prevail, such as the case of Libya, Sahel Region and others conflicts of minor scale in other regions of the continent.
“It is worth to recognise that the nature of security problems in Africa, in many cases, is associated with the phenomenon of international terrorism, expansion of religious fundamentalism and post-election conflicts that require redoubled surveillance and attention by the United Nations, without forgetting the support to be rendered to those countries faced with these circumstances. In light of the afore-going, the United Nations should seek to interpret with impartiality the underlying factors of the domestic political tensions arising from election processes and assume a position that does not ignore the legitimately established Government, while strengthening their capacity to intervene in resolving the problems to ensure the normal functioning of institutions.”
Mozambique - President Filipe Nyusi
President Fillpe Nyusi updated the General Assembly on the dire security situation in northern Mozambique, where armed Islamist insurgents have taken control of a port city in Cabo Delgado Province.
“The massive efforts we have been making in the framework of peace and security consolidation as well as in the implementation the socio-economic development programme aligned to the 2030 agenda have been put to the test by terrorist acts in some districts of Cabo Delgado Province and by armed actions by alleged dissident Renamo groups in some parts of Manica and Sofala Provinces,” he said.
“As a consequence of these phenomena, more than 1,000 people have been killed and some 250,000 are internally displaced. In the face of the terrorist attacks the government has responded firmly, on the one hand, with the support of the local people through actions to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as the protection of people and their property. On the other hand the government has mobilised humanitarian assistance for the internally displaced people.
“We have (also) sought to address these phenomena in co-operation with other countries, and regional and international organisations; in this context we welcome all initiatives and partnerships that will go a long way in complementing our ongoing efforts to curtail the harmful actions of terrorists in our country.”
President Nyusi underscored the need to prioritise climate change resilience and adaptation programmes globally, noting that developing countries shouldered the greatest burden of the phenomenon that is largely a result of activity in the industrial North.
Namibia - President Hage Geingob
President Hage Geingob – who along with President Edgar Lungu co-ordinates the Ezulwini Consensus lobby for the Southern Africa region - reminded the world that the UN would not achieve its global developmental aspirations as long as the strong continued to oppress the weak.
He also reiterated the AU’s position vis-à-vis reforming the Security Council.
“The 17 interconnected Sustainable Development Goals and their promise to leave no one behind by 2030 ring hollow for the peoples of Palestine and Western Sahara who still remain under occupation,” he said.
He also said: “As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, some member states face more obstacles in combating this virus than others including those which have sanctions imposed on them. In support of the pursuit of economic development, unity and prosperity for the sister country of Zimbabwe, I once again call for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.
“President Emerson Mnangagwa has been pursuing reforms that will enable the people of Zimbabwe to get on a path of sustainable development and peace, therefore the continued sanctions undermine these efforts to develop the people of Zimbabwe.”
On COVID-19, President Geingob commended the World Health Organisation for leading the global fight against the pandemic, adding that the US$2 billion multi-partner trust fund launched by the UN was a commendable initiative, though more needed to be done.
“The adverse socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic compounding existing challenges such as high debt burdens, reduced fiscal revenues, capital outflows and lack of adequate and sufficient access to financial markets does not bode well for the future of developing countries,” he said.
“I encourage all our partners to facilitate their emergency lending mechanisms and accelerate technical support to even so called, higher middle income countries such as Namibia. This is vital to ensure access to social protection and basic services, sustainable economic activity and protection of jobs and incomes.”
Seychelles - President Danny Faure
President Danny Faure said the world was faced with immense challenges to the UN system and multilateralism.
He said the painful lessons learned since the outbreak of COVID-19 underscored the urgent need for continued collective approaches.
“To be effective, our joint efforts need to be coordinated and delivered through a revitalised and more inclusive multilateral system, comprising of the voices of all stakeholders, including the youth, civil society and the private sector to ensure a global all-of-society approach. I say revitalised because the existing set-up has, despite the lessons of past outbreaks of viruses, failed to respond adequately to Covid-19 with devastating consequences,” he said.
South Africa - President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa – who is also the Chair of the African Union - said a reformed Security Council would make it easier to solve some of the world’s conflicts.
“The current composition of the UNSC does not reflect the world in which we live. On the 75th anniversary of the UN we repeat our call for greater representation of African countries on the Security Council, and that this is taken up with urgency at the intergovernmental negotiations. It is only through a reformed and inclusive UN Security Council that we will be able to collectively resolve some of the world’s most protracted conflicts,” he said.
South Africa’s leader also pointed out some of the injustices being perpetrated daily against small nations, such as the economic sanctions on Zimbabwe and Cuba and the occupation of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Palestine.
On COVID-19, President Ramaphosa advocated for increased support towards Africa in the fight against the disease.
“We call on the international community and our international partners to support the roll-out of a comprehensive stimulus package for African countries. This will enable African countries to not only mitigate the health impacts of COVID-19 but to aid us in the immense task of rebuilding our shattered economies to ensure that no country is left behind,” he said.
“Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the heights that can be attained when we work in the spirit of friendship and solidarity. If we are to build a common and inclusive future, in the aftermath of COVID-19 it is this solidarity that must endure.”