The Push for African Representation through UNSC Reform

Two competing visions for securing additional African membership seats on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) could shift the balance of power within the UN body to reflect today’s multi-polar world. To date, political divisions and opposing coalitions have blocked support for both the Ezulwini Consensus and the Annan Plan, which aim to increase African representation in the UNSC.

Since its founding in 1945, there have been only five permanent members on the UNSC: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Executive Director of the Institute for Security Studies Jakkie Cilliers has explained well the tension between the unchanging nature of the UNSC permanent members and the changing balance of power within the United Nations, explaining that, “Power is shifting, but not in the Security Council, where the victors of a war fought 70 years ago determine every important decision.”

Today, African countries account for over a quarter of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) seats. frican countries account for 54 votes, equaling 42% of the 129 votes required to pass a UNGA resolution that would expand the UNSC. Meanwhile, according to the Africa Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, 53% of UNSC resolutions between 2004 and 2014 were on issues related to Africa. However, only three non-permanent seats are reserved for African countries on a rotating basis every two years.

On the one hand, the Ezulwini Consensus has gained support from African leaders since its establishment in 2005. The plan calls for two permanent and five non-permanent member seats on the UNSC to be reserved for Africa. The plan also calls for the right to veto, a condition that has at times fueled contention. Despite vocal support, the plan has yet to gain traction within the larger international community and is unlikely to result in reform.

Pursuit of the Ezulwini plan tests the limits of diplomacy between African countries, as several key member states would vie for the coveted permanent member seats. Likely candidates include Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa. With a continent of 54 countries of such varied interests and priorities, the selection of two permanent member states at the UNSC will remain a divisive issue, detracting from the overall aim and objective of increased African representation on the UNSC. Described as a “hardline, maximalist position,” the Ezulwini plan has made little progress since it was initially proposed.

In an email interview, Peter Nadin, author of the recently released book on UNSC Reform, stated, “As we have seen over the last 70 years some power rise, while other fall. Permanency is forever; and here in lies the problem. We need a model that is flexible enough to cope with changing circumstances. Four-year renewable seats offer both the best compromise and best outcome in terms of accountability.”

An alternative approach, the Annan plan, which calls for semi-permanent seats allowing rotating membership as opposed to two new permanent members, offers the most realistic path forward to increasing representation from Africa. Accordingly, the Annan plan offers the most promising prospect to achieve the medium-term objective of increased African representation and leadership in the UNSC with minimal resistance from within Africa.

Nigeria is among the frontrunners for an elusive permanent member seat. Currently the most populous country in Africa, one out of every five people living in sub-Saharan Africa is Nigerian. By 2050, the population is expected to exceed that of the United States, reaching 440 million making it the 3rd most populous country in the world. By 2100, the population will reach a staggering 914 million, rivalling China and India. From the perspective of fostering inclusion, Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest economy and would represent the largest proportion possible of Africa’s population, seems like an obvious choice for a permanent member seat. However, a selection process for permanent membership based on political and economic consideration alone might actually perpetuate the current unequal power distributions within the UNSC. Furthermore, there is speculation that support for the Ezulwini Consensus is an intentional political move by some African countries to block leading countries from securing permanent membership status.

The Ezulwini Consensus and Annan plan are both concrete measures proposed to reform the UNSC in order to achieve greater regional representation among the world’s powers. Despite support for more inclusive global governance, competing demands and values continue to stymie efforts to incorporate more voices from Africa into the UNSC reform process. A compromise on permanent membership in the form of the Annan Plan offers a practical compromise to improving regional parity – between both rising and existing powers – within the UNSC.


Michelle DeFreese is an Academic Think Tank Member for the International Association of Political Science Studies (IAPSS). She completed an MA at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, Switzerland and is a Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP) Africa Fellow based in Tanzania.

Image Credit: UN/Flickr

Charged Affairs is a publication of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Views of the authors do not necessarily represent the views of the organization. All rights reserved.

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