Assessing UN Effectiveness in the Wider Horn of Africa Security Complex

United Nations (UN) members states will start meeting today as the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) opens at the UN in New York to discuss issues of international concern, including peace, security, and development. This year’s session will take place after a year of ineffective responses to crises in Venezuela, Myanmar, Kashmir, Libya, and Sudan. Several African-based UN Missions in Central African Republic, Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Libya, have been heavily defunded, lack clear achievements and punching power, have overambitious mandates, and are met with discontent from locals. The 74th UNGA therefore provides opportunities for states to reflect on existing and emerging concerns over the UN’s effectiveness, veto powers, and the organization’s limited focus on the ‘global South,’ particularly UN’s inability to reflect and adapt, its failures and successes in Africa, the UN’s exact role in the future, and to debate the assembly’s power vis-à-vis the UN Security Council (UNSC).

For Kenya, this UNGA is especially important. Part of UNGA’s role is to elect non-permanent members of the Security Council, and, in collaboration with the Security Council, elect the judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). First, Kenya has recently won the African Union’s backing for its bid for a seat at the UNSC, beating Djibouti. However, Djibouti has stated that it would press for non-permanent membership, even without African Union support. Kenya thus needs to get its diplomatic machinery into overdrive to solidify its bid. Second, it is in Kenya’s interest to have a say in elections for ICJ judges. Kenya is currently in the Court with Somalia over a maritime boundary dispute, which is up for proceedings on November 4, 2019. Finally, to solidify its position as regional hegemony, Kenya needs to use the 74th UNGA session to demonstrate its commitment to Pan-Africanism, and developing African solutions for African problems. With the whole world watching, the 74th UNGA session poses a significant opportunity for Kenya to present itself in a good light.

UN’s ability to reflect and adapt

The UN’s ability to adapt is notoriously limited. Ever since its creation, there has been debate on the UN’s effectiveness, veto powers, its limited focus on the Global South, and the UN’s security and peace architecture. Kofi Annan ended his tenure in 2006 and called for an extensive debate on reforming the UN. Despite Annan’s tireless efforts, 13 years later, little has changed. One of the few tangible outcomes of the 2005 World Summit for example, was the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, which, according to participants at a 2008 conference organized by the Friedrich Erbert Stiftung (FES) New York in association with the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) conference, was like “an elephant giving birth to a mouse.”

Reforming a cumbrous international organization is possible, however. In May 2008, 159 recommendations were submitted to the African Union’s Executive Council. The Council accepted 72 out of the 159 recommendations, and referred 61 to the Commission for appropriate action. To that extent, UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés also voiced support for reforming the UNSC during the general debate of the 73rd session of the General Assembly and said that at least 80 world leaders supported reform. This shows that there is significant political will to reflect, adapt, and reform, but it is questionable whether that will amount to any significant change due to the UN’s rigid and cumbersome structure, and the power vested in the permanent five (P5) members of the UNSC.

International Crisis Group argues that the P5 members are using their influence to protect clients and partners, and try to keep the UN out of theaters of operation where they wish to operate freely. To that extent, Adam Roberts and Dominik Zaum, authors of Selective Security: War and the United Nations Security Council since 1945, argued in 2014 that the UN is a selective security body that big powers use and ignore, depending on their own interests. This situation of selective security has remained the same ever since the founding of the UN, and shows that the UN is struggling to be a representative body for the whole world, not just for a select and powerful bunch.

Interestingly, the UNGA, per the landmark ‘United for Peace’ Resolution, has the power to override the all-powerful but often clogged Security Council when it “fails to exercise its primary responsibility” for maintaining international peace and security. The Council on Foreign Relations notes that the UNGA acted on this resolution during the 1965 Suez Crisis, where it bypassed a biased Security Council to intervene, which resulted in a cease-fire, a troop withdrawal, and established the first UN Emergency Force. UNGA has used this power only a handful of times though, and there is an opportunity in this regard.

The UN’s inability to reflect and adapt, and to push for comprehensive internal reform, is a common and recurring problem. There has been ample discussion and dialogue on the effectiveness of the UN, especially the UNSC, but the actual structure has changed little since 1945. The 74th UNGA session represents an opportunity to discuss and debate the effectiveness of the UN, but it will produce limited results if it is not followed-up by commitments, policies, and actual reforms.

UN Missions in the wider Horn of Africa security complex

Several UN missions are currently deployed in the region. The UN Assistance Mission to Somalia (UNSOM), UN Support Mission to Libya (UNSMIL), the UN Organization Stabilization in Congo (MONUSCO), the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), UN Assistance Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Together, these missions are budgeted in 2017 at around USD 5.5 billion, and employ hundreds of national and international staff. However, some of the missions have not produced tangible results so far, are facing budget cuts, and have limited, unrealistic, or insufficient mandates that are running out soon. In Somalia for instance, UNSOM is designed to support “the Federal Government’s capacity to promote respect for human rights and women’s empowerment, promote child protection, prevent conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, and strengthen justice institutions”. Albeit a crucially important goal, a full-blown Islamist insurgency is still raging, and Somalia’s political landscape remains fractured and unstable. This has caused concerns that when UNSOM and its partner, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), will exit in 2020, Somalia could be further destabilized.

In others, what the missions set out to do is a gross mismatch with local realities. MONUSCO has been in the DRC since July 1, 2010, and its predecessor, the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), since July 1999. The DRC is arguably in a better state than two decades ago, but it still faces significant insecurity in the eastern provinces, almost a million internally displaced persons, outbreaks of infectious diseases such as Ebola, and a fractured, corrupt, and militarized political elite who utilize armed groups to gain political negotiating power in Kinshasa. MONUSCO’s three main priorities, protecting civilians, stabilizing the country, and supporting implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, are far from being met, but in 2016, the Security Council already started talking about exiting the DRC. Billions of dollars and two decades of operations later, it still remains to be seen what MONUSCO’s exact legacy will be.

Rigorous debate and discussion is necessary on the effectiveness of the UN in African conflicts, its timelines, mandates, budget, and modus operandi. UNGA provides an opportunity for such debate, but only if African countries are truly heard, and if the discussions are followed by actions.

The role of Africa in the UN

Historically, the UN and its agenda have been dominated by countries from the northern hemisphere. For example, of the Security Council’s (UNSC) five permanent members, none hail from the southern hemisphere or from Africa. The majority of issues the UNSC deals with are about Africa.  Of the 55 resolutions in 2018, Africa was the main topic of the resolution 32 times, while resolutions on East Africa and the Great Lakes region made up about 21 of those.

Additionally, around 1.3 billion people live on the African continent, a seventh of the global population. UNICEF predicts that in 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people will inhabit Africa. In 2050, two in five of the world’s children will live in Africa, and half of Africa’s population will be under 18 years old. In the run-up to the 2017, 73rd UNGA session, Tiamiyu Arobani, North America Bureau chief for the News Agency of Nigeria argued on CGTN Africa that “a UN that promotes democracy also needs to be democratic” and representative of changed global dynamics and demography. This would mean that in the coming years, the UN needs to critically reflect on its own democratic merit and on the role of Africa in the UN. This could entail that African countries will get a permanent seat in the UNSC, either as a bloc or as individual countries. Rigorous debate needs to be conducted to establish future guidelines and options on keeping the UN representative to global dynamics. Unfortunately, the current relationship between Africa and the UN is paradoxical. There is a lot of talk about Africa, but not so much with Africa. The 74th UNGA sessions represents a possibility to reinvigorate this debate. This possibility should be explored.

Jules Swinkels is a Research Fellow at the HORN Institute.

(Photo: One of the sessions at the United Nations headquarters in New York (Photo Credit United Nations))

Comments are disabled.