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UN Security Council elections reveal divisions in Africa

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Rebone Tau is a political commentator and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL. She is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.

You can’t have Africa Free Trade and not have a politically stable continent, which is why it was important for South Africa to ensure it got support for Kenya at the Security Council.

The United Nations Security Council elections are always highly contested and a lot of lobbying happens behind the scenes. Making deals between countries to secure a seat as a non-permanent member is never easy. You have to field your best diplomats to lobby other countries in support of the position of your country. This time around, Africa was divided over the bids by Kenya and Djibouti, despite the African Union position in support of Kenya. 

In the first round of voting both Kenya and Djibouti did not reach the required threshold to get a seat, which meant there needed to be a rerun, as Kenya got 113 votes and Djibouti split the votes by getting 78 votes. This election continues to show the divisions in the African continent. 

At the same time, the debate on deeper reforms at the United Nation Security Council, including giving more countries a permanent seat, with veto powers, is still ongoing.

South Africa, as the outgoing non-permanent member for its second term, also holds the position of chairperson of the African Union and a member of BRICS. 

On the other hand, you also have India taking up a new position, and of course Russia and China, who have permanent seats at the Security Council.  

While India and South Africa both have an interest in having a seat as permanent members of the Security Council should the reforms take place, the question is whether the other permanent members would support both India and South Africa should the time come. 

With regards to China’s position at the Security Council, in the end it was clear that it was not supporting Kenya and Russia, and no one seems to know why Russia was very mute. South Africa’s strategic allies seem not always to agree on the issues of peace and security. 

In March 2011 there was the issue of Libya and African countries supporting Resolution 1973, while Brazil, Russia, India and China abstained. South Africa had a non-permanent seat and voted for the resolution, alongside Nigeria and Gabon. Today, largely as a result of what took place, Libya remains politically unstable. In that contentious vote on Resolution 1973, the Arab League, on the other hand, supported the no-fly zone by the Security Council and was very active in lobbying for it.

These issues raise the question of what the real areas of cooperation are between the BRICS countries, as they seem to be engaging on economic issues, but in reality, you can’t separate politics from the economy. Politics shape the economics approach; without peace and security, you can’t achieve what you want to achieve. Political stability is important to advance the economic interests for any country and is essential for effective international cooperation.

With regards to China’s position at the Security Council, in the end it was clear that it was not supporting Kenya and Russia, and no one seems to know why Russia was very mute. South Africa’s strategic allies seem not always to agree on the issues of peace and security. 

What does this mean for South Africa when it comes to BRICS countries?

Kenya is very strategic for South Africa, compared to Djibouti, looking at the fact that in East Africa Kenya is economically strong and is very involved in fighting terrorism and the threat posed by Al-Shabab. The AU aspiration of Silencing the Guns depends on these actions, so it made sense for South Africa to support Kenya as this would help to advance the engagements at the Security Council.

South Africa might have to review its area of engagements within the BRICS countries, and assess the ongoing value of this coalition. You can’t separate the politics from economics to advance any vision. Alliances that only focus on economic diplomacy miss the point of this essential connection and the critical importance of balancing the two. 

You can’t have Africa Free Trade and not have a politically stable continent, which is why it was important for South Africa to ensure it got support for Kenya at the Security Council.

Peace and security need to remain high on the agenda of the AU in order to make sure that Agenda 2063 is fully implemented by member states. If the implementation of Agenda 2063 is in the interests of South Africa, then it needs its allies in the AU and BRICS to recognise the political imperatives this entails, and act accordingly.

Congratulations to Kenya and the AU for putting up a fight under very difficult circumstances. This must be a lesson learned on how South Africa should approach things moving forward. DM 

Rebone Tau is a political analyst writing in her personal capacity.  

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