Home | News    Monday 12 September 2005

Nigeria, South Africa eye UN Security Council reform

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Sept 12, 2005 (LAGOS) — African heavyweights Nigeria and South Africa headed to this week’s historic U.N. meeting indicating they were prepared to compromise on Security Council reform, among several topics on a packed summit agenda that are of great interest to the continent.

Failure to compromise during negotiations in the lead-up to the three-day summit, which opens Wednesday, helped ensure that Security Council reform was relegated to the sidelines. There was more than enough to engage Africans, with poverty, peacemaking and other issues on the formal agenda. But many of the continent’s leaders see securing a permanent seat on the powerful council as a way to get listened to on the international stage.

The Security Council currently has 15 members. Ten are elected for two-year terms and five permanent members - the U.S., U.K., Russia, China and France - have veto power.

The African Union demands two permanent, veto-wielding seats for Africa. An A.U. summit in August failed to reach a compromise with the so-called Group of Four - Japan, Brazil, Germany and India - that has proposed Africa get two permanent seats but no veto power.

The A.U. stuck with its original demand, and even voted to reject any Security Council reforms that didn’t expand the number of veto-wielding seats.

The three main contenders for Africa’s seats are big powers on the continent: Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa. Others also have expressed interest, including Senegal, Algeria and Kenya.

Africa "is demanding more than it would appear that the U.N. members or the U.N. system is capable of giving," said Greg Mills, of the Brenthurst Foundation, a South African think tank.

Despite the A.U. vote, both Nigeria - which currently chairs the pan-African body - and South Africa concede compromise may be necessary.

"The issue of the veto or not is something that will be determined by the United Nations itself," said Femi Fani-Kayode, a spokesman for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. "Our position is that it is best for us to be there, rather than insisting on a veto."

Giving Africa Security Council seats, with or without a veto, "would recognize that Africa has come of age," he said.

In a speech before his Parliament on Thursday, South African President Thabo Mbeki said: "I don’t believe our approach would be that we are making a demand and if the demand is not met, we walk away and go home."

But Mbeki added he saw little chance of agreement at the summit on an issue that requires support from the five current permanent members. The U.S. has said it only wants "two or so" new permanent council members, while China opposes a permanent seat for Japan.

Hermann Hannekom of the Africa Institute in Pretoria, South Africa said that Security Council reforms are likely to be tackled after the other main issues on the agenda.

Chances for agreement on how to fight poverty, crucial for African and other developing nations, were increased by key compromises the U.S. offered last week.

The U.S. had been widely criticized for seeking to eliminate references in any summit agreement to the Millennium Development Goals, among them cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education and stemming the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015. But Washington now is ready to accept reference to the goals.

The U.S. also had sought to delete a call for rich nations to spend 0.7% of their gross national product on development aid. While U.S. President George W. Bush has almost doubled international assistance, the U.S. spent just 0.16% of GNP on development aid in 2004, according to a recent U.N. report.

The U.S. now says that while it doesn’t accept the 0.7% target, it accepts the importance of including a reference in the final document.

Leaders were also to consider committing the world to taking collective action to protect people against genocide.

The U.S., Russia, India and Brazil are either providing lukewarm support or openly opposing the proposal "designed to stop genocides like Rwanda from ever happening again," Oxfam, a U.K.-based aid and development group, said in a statement last month.

More than 500,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed in that 1994 African genocide.

Influential African nations - including Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya - back moves to ensure intervention in future cases of large-scale abuses, said Brendan Cox, an Oxfam spokesman in London. One African nation opposed to the idea, however, is Sudan, itself accused by some - including the U.S. - of carrying out genocide in its western Darfur region.

The summit will also be a chance for sideline talks on such issues as Zimbabwe, whose President Robert Mugabe was to address the meeting.

The U.N. is struggling to reach agreement with Mugabe’s government on an appeal for funds to help hundreds of thousands of people evicted from slums. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has indicated a willingness to visit Zimbabwe, and U.N. Undersecretary-General Ibrahim Gambari has said the trip might be arranged during the summit.

Gambari also said the U.N. will address Somalia, an eastern African nation in disarray since clan-based warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. A transitional government formed in exile in Kenya last year raised some hope, but its attempts to even move to Somalia, let alone lead the country, have been undermined by internal feuding.

(AP/ST)

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