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As the United Nations General Assembly opens on Tuesday, September 20 in New York, what place can Africa claim in a world marked by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine? Comfort Ero, president of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict prevention organization, discusses the consequences for the continent of this new global disorder.
War in Ukraine, food crisis, climate change… Are the new challenges of the moment giving rise to African diplomacy as such?
African diplomacy has always adjusted to the situation of the moment. It adapted to the post-cold war, to the serious financial crisis of 2008 and did not wait for the United Nations to guide it in reacting to Covid-19. In fact, the pandemic has served to once again expose inequality, backwardness and insincerity in terms of global cooperation. You will also notice that the African Union (AU), through its Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has begun to define its own conception, its own rules and its own policies to manage the health crisis, since the system international was not able to scale fast enough to meet its needs. The AU is doing the same with Ukraine.
Should we see precisely an affirmation of independence in the visit to Russia, in June, of Macky Sall, president in office of the AU, and of Moussa Faki Mahamat, president of the AU Commission, then in the opportunity offered to the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to address the heads of state of the continent?
I don’t believe that the will is to affirm independence or rejection vis-à-vis the West. But today, Africa is showing that it can make choices. This testifies to its complex relations with the rest of the world and its desire to immunize itself in a context of increased geopolitical competition between great powers. Africa wants to be able to defend its own interests without having to choose one side against the other. Macky Sall never said: “We chose Russia. He asks for a helping hand, while reminding the world of the consequences of the war in Ukraine.
African leaders increasingly denounce Western hypocrisy. What are the springs of this criticism?
There are several of them. To begin with, many leaders on the continent worry about the economic consequences of the war, in particular the difficulties in purchasing grain and fertilizer. And while many sympathize with Ukraine’s plight, they don’t want to be drawn into a confrontation they perceive as pitting Russia against the West. Some of them also denounce the bias of Westerners by pointing the finger at what happened during the wars in Iraq and Libya.
“Criticisms from the continent should be a subject of introspection for Western capitals”
They also see the contrast between the way Europe welcomes refugees and refuses Ukrainian Asians, Arabs and Africans. Finally, another reason for denunciation is the unequal treatment shown by the West in the distribution of the vaccine against Covid or on climate and financial issues. The criticisms coming from the continent, the fact that Africa is no longer necessarily willing to follow the same positions, as during the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, should also be a subject of introspection for the capitals Western.
What is the strategy of African countries in this new world order marked by the crisis of multilateralism?
The relationship that was built between Moussa Faki Mahamat and Macky Sall made it possible to maintain Africa’s place. They invested themselves in the defense of multilateralism with the United Nations, which itself sought to strengthen its partnership with the AU. The continent recognizes – despite inequalities, some frustrations and mixed results from the UN – that multilateralism has served it well. And as we enter this period of uncertainty, it is crucial to support the United Nations, the institution that upholds this principle, to see peace and security progress on the continent.
Is the current framework adequate?
There are real questions to be asked about how small these institutions are at times and how poorly they perform. One may wonder if the multilateralism promoted by the UN is the one we want. We must also consider the reform of the UN to ensure that the organization is closer to those it is supposed to represent.
“Can the Security Council be considered to represent the balance of power in today’s world? »
So, can we consider that the Security Council, born of the Second World War, is still relevant and truly represents the balance of power in today’s world? These questions are legitimate and do not mean that we are questioning the United Nations. It is therefore important to remember that the first major initiative of the United Nations, when it was created, was to support decolonization, to help bring about the birth of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of new States. It is crucial to preserve these values.
Why has Africa never obtained this permanent seat on the Security Council which is regularly promised to it?
Simply because the place is good guarded by the five permanent members. Whenever the question of reform is put on the table, it is the same people who talk about reform and who, at the same time, block this opening. The United States, the United Kingdom and France jealously guard their special status. China and Russia, which evoke their solidarity with the continent, also deserve their position.
Don’t certain crises, like in the Sahel or in Ethiopia, think of being neglected because of the current context?
They say so but I haven’t seen it. Truces were thus concluded in Ethiopia and Yemen, when the Ukrainian crisis had already erupted. Hostilities have now resumed in Ethiopia, but the Security Council cannot be blamed for that. Regarding the Sahel, the region was already in crisis before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, and it was added to it in a context of rivalry between France and Russia in Mali. What these countries lack is not international attention, but a clear strategy to address their problems.
Doesn’t the new international rivalry play into the hands of autocrats, who can, as in the days of the Cold War, haggle over their support?
It is true that the rules-based order is being tested and that we are potentially entering a multipolar world. Autocrats or others will take advantage of this. But it is about international relations. That’s how it works. And crisis management on the continent is still done in a transactional way. In Mali, the leaders developed an anti-French discourse and turned to Russia, considering it as an alternative security umbrella. The fact remains that the country’s political problems can never be solved by outside intervention.