Africa must act now to secure UN council permanent seats
Lea-Lisa Westerhoff, Agence France-Presse/Addis Ababa
Africa must speak clearly now and with one voice if it hopes to win the two permanent seats on the UN Security Council it is seeking, African Union (AU) chief Alpha Oumar Konare said on Monday.
Opening an AU executive council meeting on how Africa fits in to plans for broad reform of the United Nations, Konare said the continent had to act in unison or lose its chance to wield veto power in the UN's most powerful body.
"It is upon you ... to affirm Africa's position so it can be communicated soon to the UN secretary general because reforms are now or never," he told African foreign ministers at AU headquarters.
Last month, foreign ministers from 15 of the 53 AU states met in Swaziland and proposed that Africa have two permanent seats on the UN Security Council but made no decision on which nations should be put forward for membership.
The two-day meeting here aims to narrow the proposal, possibly identify African candidates and come up with proposals that can be forwarded to UN chief Kofi Annan who is now reviewing a report on overhauling the world body.
"These proposals must reflect Africa's vision for the future and its position in the world," Konare said.
"They must let the AU to speak with one voice, allow true representation of the continent so we can act collectively, negotiate as one and present a formidable strategy and true solidarity," he said.
Annan is now considering two competing Security Council reform proposals that would expand the body's current 15 members -- five permanent and 10 elected -- to 24.
Under one proposal, new permanent members would join Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. Under the other, a third tier of nations with four-year, non-permanent but renewable seats would be added.
Germany, Japan, India and Brazil have launched a joint drive for permanent seats and among African nations, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria have expressed interest in representing the continent.
Of the three, South Africa is seen as the frontrunner as the continent's economic giant and key mediator in crises in Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.
However, Egypt, with its key role in the Middle East and Sudan, and Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation which has led numerous peacekeeping operations, also have strong cases to argue.
AU officials have said they want rotating seats on the expanded council, to be held in turn by countries in each of Africa's five regions, and insist that new permanent members have veto power.
But AU leaders at a summit in Abuja in January sidestepped the issue and asked the 15-nation committee to come up with a proposal on behalf of the continent which the executive council will either endorse or reject.
In Swaziland, the 15 foreign ministers said Africa should have "at least two permanent seats with all the rights and privileges of permanent members, including veto power."
They also called for adding two non-permanent council seats to the existing three now set aside for African nations.
Security Council expansion is the most contentious issue in a wide-ranging blueprint to overhaul the United Nations released in November last year.
Two-thirds of the 191 UN member nations would have to approve a change to the council membership, but any of the permanent members could use its veto to block the move.
Of the current permanent council members, France and Russia have called for veto rights for all new members.
The United States, however, has only explicitly backed Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the council.