Magazine article New African

Africa in the UN: More Can Be Done

Magazine article New African

Africa in the UN: More Can Be Done

Article excerpt

On the sidelines of this years highly anticipated United Nations General Assembly in New York, David Thomas spoke to Maged Abdelaziz, special advisor to the Secretary General on Africa. He discusses a range of issues including the ever hot subject of Africa's exclusion from the all-powerful Security Council.

Every year in late September, Africa's diplomatic corps descend on the bars, embassies and hotels of Manhattan for a frenetic week of cheek-by-jowl activity.

For Maged Abdelaziz, special advisor to the UN Secretary General on Africa, a 32nd-floor office at the UN's headquarters provides a rare moment of calm away from the chaos of the 70th General Assembly--but there is no escaping the fact that this is one of the busiest weeks on his calendar.

As Africa begins to chafe against the constraints on its development and its limited role in UN decision-making, part of the veteran Egyptian diplomat's role is to help turn the continent's ambitions within the UN into workable goals. Nowhere is that gap more evident than in Africa's continued exclusion from the UN Security Council--a crucial talking point at this year's General Assembly.

"The issue of the reform and enlargement of the Security Council is one of the major issues at the 70th session of the UN. Africa is the only region without permanent representation on the Security Council," says Abdelaziz.

That frustration with the status quo--it is a council dominated by China, France, Russia, the UK and the US--was echoed throughout the General Assembly by leaders from across Africa.

In a trenchant speech reiterating his long-standing push for a South African presence on the Council, President Jacob Zuma argued that it was "unfair and unjustifiable" that one billion Africans were denied their say in attempts to mediate and resolve major international security disputes.

But Abdelaziz counters: "The differences are very wide ... I don't think it's a matter related to Africa. It's a matter related to the structure of the Security Council and the centres of power of the Council."

Abdelaziz shows a formidable grasp of the thorny details that will have to be waded through before any progress can be made on African membership--including debates over the number of seats on the council, the power of the veto, and the question of whether African countries should represent only themselves or their wider regions.

And despite the glacial pace of progress, Abdelaziz stands by Africas demand for two permanent and five non-permanent seats on the council, which he says will provide a crucial voice for Africa's five sub-regions. But there is evident dissatisfaction with a reform process that is decided at the whim of the very nations that have the most to gain under the existing order.

"I'm an optimist by nature, I believe that we have to continue doing our share and then we will see. Many African countries spoke about it because there is a growing frustration that we have been trying to reach this objective and we cannot," he says.

It is not only at the Security Council where Africa's goals are coming up against a hardheaded international order weary of vaulting ambition. The newly-launched UN Sustainable Development Goals--a set of targets intended to build on the Millennium Development Goals --in some respects fall short of existing targets set for the continent by the African Union. …

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