Leonardo Munoz / AFP

Time running out for Africa’s input on the Summit of the Future

Africa can’t afford to continue being absent from the UN’s pivotal shake-up of global governance.

September’s United Nations (UN) Summit of the Future is touted as a crucial moment to forge a new pact that can better deal with global governance challenges. The UN calls the event a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvigorate global action, recommit to fundamental principles, and further develop the frameworks of multilateralism so they are fit for the future.’

Why should the summit matter to Africa?

The rate of global conflict events rose by over 40% from 2020-23, with a 12% increase in 2023 compared to 2022. Two of the world’s 10 most violent countries are in Africa – Nigeria and Sudan. In these and other conflict hotspots like eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sahel and Horn of Africa, insecurity is growing while the humanitarian situation deteriorates.

These challenges highlight gaps in global and regional peace and security frameworks. UN Security Council (UNSC) divisions have hampered its ability to resolve crises like the Ukraine-Russia war through, for example, mediation. The council also hasn’t authorised a new peacekeeping mission since 2014. Numerous missions have had to be reconfigured due to waning political support from the UNSC or host government.

Africa’s collective responses to conflict are similarly strained. African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat recently lamented that the Peace and Security Council’s (PSC) recurring decisions are ignored and violated, and have become unimportant and unimpactful. Diverging interpretations of the subsidiarity principle governing relations between the AU and regional blocs continue to hamper coordination when dealing with regional crises.

The UN Security Council hasn’t authorised a new peacekeeping mission since 2014

The summit could help address these security challenges. Since the zero draft of the Pact for the Future – the summit’s preparatory document – was released in January, negotiations have gathered momentum in New York, with UN member states robustly engaging on the various versions.

Africa has a unique stake in these discussions. It holds 28% of the UN’s membership, and the continent’s security issues usually dominate the UNSC agenda. The summit could be used to advocate for reforms that accommodate Africa’s changing security needs. But so far, both the summit and pact have received a lukewarm reception in Africa – including in Addis Ababa, the AU’s seat.

Among others, the draft Pact for the Future stresses the need for adequate, predictable, sustainable financing for AU and subregional peace support operations. It welcomes UNSC Resolution 2719 on peacekeeping and encourages better UN-AU collaboration to ensure implementation.

These discussions are especially relevant considering the recent withdrawals of UN peacekeepers in Africa and the pressing question of how to fill the security gaps they leave behind. The summit could even provide the impetus to implement the AU’s July 2023 decision to overhaul the African Peace and Security Architecture.

It is also an opportunity to discuss reconfiguring the UNSC and strengthening the UN’s role in dealing with contemporary crises. The draft pact includes a section on UNSC reform, which could redress Africa’s underrepresentation on the council. Text-based negotiations could help achieve the AU’s position that Africa has two permanent seats with veto power, and five non-permanent seats, as per the Ezulwini Consensus and 2005 Sirte Declaration.

Africa holds 28% of the UN’s membership and its security issues dominate the UNSC agenda

The pact’s zero draft also includes a section on reforming international financial institutions – a crucial step in crafting a global economic system that better serves Africa’s development needs.

The pact specifically refers to Africa and the AU, recognising the body and its subregional actors as partners in leading a new generation of peace enforcement missions and counter-terrorism operations.

And yet, there has been limited engagement with the topic at the AU or among member states. Although some AU officials have spoken about Africa’s priorities at the Summit of the Future, the last AU summit didn’t cover the event or its preparatory processes.

One pact co-facilitator said few African states were helping to shape Africa’s position. The most visible engagement came from the AU’s Economic Social and Cultural Council, which raised awareness and held consultations on inputs for the pact.

Perhaps the AU’s focus on the G20 since its admission in September 2023 has overshadowed preparations for the Summit of the Future. The limited interest from African countries may also reflect their scepticism that the event will deliver tangible changes in the face of unprecedented global divisions. Regardless, a failure to engage risks relegating African priorities in the final version of the pact and ultimately in the summit.

The summit is also a stepping stone for the UN peacebuilding 2025 review. Africa could use the opportunity to craft follow-on mechanisms that reflect the continent’s needs.

The summit has received a lukewarm reception in Africa – including in Addis Ababa, the AU’s seat

AU member states and other African stakeholders could engage with the summit in several ways. First, the PSC could organise a dedicated open session on the event, and mobilise Africa’s position according to the pact’s five chapters.

As a summit co-facilitator and PSC member, Namibia could brief PSC members on key matters and ways to secure inputs from African states. Namibia could also coordinate between its mission in New York and Addis Ababa to brief the PSC on developments.

The role of the UN African Group in New York in negotiations should be prioritised. Achieving strong continental positions requires coordination between the PSC in Addis Ababa and the group. The UNSC’s three non-permanent African members (Algeria, Mozambique and Sierra Leone) could also brief the African Group about the summit and its potential outcomes.

Civil society organisations can help broaden the coalition for the pact at the UN Civil Society Conference from 9-10 May in Nairobi, which focuses on the Summit of the Future. African think tanks and networks can provide analysis and advocacy using platforms like the AU Network of Think Tanks for Peace, which fosters strategic alliances between the AU and researchers.

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