Webinar on African multilateralism at the United Nations

Ambassador Adonia Ayebare
Ambassador Baso Sangqu
Ms Luanda Mpongose

On 9 September, a week before the start of the 75th UN General Assembly (UNGA) — the first to be held online — CACS and the UJ Library convened a webinar on ‘African Common Positions as a Tool for Multilateralism: Focus on the UN General Assembly’.

The presenters were Amb. Baso Sangqu, a former South African permanent representative at the UN, and Amb. Adonia Ayebare, his current Ugandan counterpart. The webinar was moderated by Luanda Mpungose, Programme Officer for African Governance and Diplomacy at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA).

Amb. Sangqu highlighted the historical and legal backdrop to the pursuit of a pan-African diplomatic approach to key international issues. This, he argued, is enabled by Article 52 of the UN Charter, which paves the way for regional solutions to regional issues. Since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the continent has sought to maximise its numerical advantage of more than 50 states into a one-state-one-vote platform in the UNGA and other international governmental organisations, while also seeking to put forward an agreed list of candidates (or even a single candidate) for key positions, as well as seats in the UN Security Council. The evolution from the OAU to the African Union (AU), effected in 2002, greatly broadened the continental body’s mandate.

The AU’s Agenda 2063 projects Africa as a unified global partner, with African countries acting in unison in terms of principles of solidarity. However, this raises the question: ‘How common are common African positions?’, with experience until now suggesting that they may not be entirely embraced by all African countries.

A next question would be: ‘How African are common African positions?’ Thus far, they have led to mixed results, with coordination mainly seen on issues of general global importance but not on Africa-centric goals such as Security Council reform. As is typical of politics everywhere, there are issues of conflicting interests, with some countries breaking with the consensus and posting their own candidates, or inserting their own agenda items and characterising these as common positions.

In closing, Amb. Sangqu noted that COVID-19 will be a major test for the continent’s collaboration and pursuit of common priorities at the UN and other global institutions, as vaccine nationalism is a major possibility.

Amb. Ayebare honed in on the issue of vaccine nationalism as a key concern for the continent’s agenda at this year’s UNGA session. It will be important to refine a common African position on the search for and eventual dissemination of a vaccine. However, the continent’s coordination – which peaked during the struggle for independence but has since declined – needs to be comprehensive, and inclusive of Brussels (the European Union) and Geneva (the site of many international organisations).

Many other countries are hostile to common African positions, as ‘54 countries united are a nightmare for powerful countries’. Given this, seemingly harmless labels of so-called anglophone and francophone African countries are used to promote the divisive agendas of the most powerful countries in an asymmetrical world order.

The question and answer session raised a number of key issues, including the impossibility of true collaboration among 54 countries with seemingly divergent agendas; Africa’s stance on events in Libya in 2011; and the continent’s apparent complacency about human rights issues.

Dr Khabele Matlosa, Director for Political Affairs at the AU Commission, who joined the webinar from Addis Ababa, argued that the lack of effectiveness of common African positions stemmed from the forces of globalism and sovereignty, with the former (led by world hegemons) creating the false impression that certain positions are common African positions when this is not the case.

Dr David Monyae, CACS executive director, thanked the presenters, the moderator, participants in the question and answer session, and the UJ Library.

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