No. 3: From Global Apartheid to Global Village / Linnea Bergholm /International Peacekeeping, June 2010

Published in: International Peacekeeping, Volume 17, Number 3, June 2010

Africa and the United Nations

From Global Apartheid to Global Village: Africa and the United Nations edited by Adekeye Adebajo. Scottsville: KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2009. Pp. 692 + notes + bibliography + appendices + index. ISBN 978-1-86914-172. R330 (pbk).

The presumed credibility and legitimacy crisis of the United Nations (UN) is an often discussed feature of international politics today. One perception is that the United States (US) and the other veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council (UNSC) dominate the global organization and its agenda in order to pursue national and geo-political interests. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example, raised alarm in many circles that the UN might sometimes be reduced to rubberstamping the policies emanating from Washington. The volume under review deals with the concerns about the possibilities of multilateralism and more democratic global politics. It importantly demonstrates under what conditions initiatives by African actors have played a significant role in shaping the UN's core principles and its engagement with the continent. Crucially, it pinpoints that the predominance of Western academic discourse, dominated by Western scholarship, means that certain values and norms are promoted and implemented in the UN's name (counter-terrorism) while others continue to be neglected (democratizing the UNSC and chronic poverty in the South). Yet, this is not depicted as an unchangeable state of affairs.

One of the core strengths of the volume is that all of the 31 contributors, most of them born in Africa, have been intimately and prominently involved with the processes and actors they describe. In that sense, they offer personal, relevant and sometimes 'memoir-like' views on what an 'African perspective' on the UN might entail. In his effective and masterly introduction, editor Adekeye Adebajo ties these contributions together. The first part contains two framing chapters, and the second, third and fourth parts are made up of well-crafted chapters that examine the UN's political, peacekeeping and human rights, and socio-economic roles in Africa, respectively. The second framing chapter, by the eminent Africanist, Ali Mazrui, might have been more tightly connected to the book's core themes, however. It might have made explicit how the relationship between the UN and the Muslim world could impact positively and negatively on the possibilities for Pax Africana, for example. Such a comprehensive volume on the UN and its relationship to Africa has been lacking in the literature. It should be of particular importance to scholars and practitioners in the fields of international politics and development studies, and should also be of interest to the general public.

The volume takes an unequivocal pro-UN stand: the goal is to strengthen the global body's role and continued engagement in Africa (p.4). This is because African countries need the UN's political, peace and security, humanitarian and socio-economic programmes and activities that have played an invaluable role to millions of people in Africa. At the same time, the argument is that this should occur within a relationship where African actors claim effective ownership. The authors argue for African actors to assume a more effective role in the conception and implementation of the UN's norms and purposes, the main conclusion being that while the Africa-UN relationship has always been hierarchical and imbalanced, it is not 'uni-directional'. Hitherto, the paucity of literature investigating how African actors have influenced the UN's work is in itself an indication of the strong assumption in much of the literature about the regional-global interactions that skills, funds and know-how flow from political elites in New York to more passive recipients in the South. In a welcome challenge to this assumption, the volume demonstrates multiple ways in which Southern actors have exercised power and influence within the UN (the UNSC, the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretariat and the Secretary-General's office as well as the Specialized Agencies), despite stronger states' strong hold on the global body's executive capacities. A key implication of the authors' main finding, relevant also for policymakers, is that African actors need to speak with one voice to influence the substance of the UN's norms. African state representatives, diplomats and public must henceforth act pragmatically and strategically to promote multilateralism and the overall legitimacy of the UN. Several of the chapters elaborate on how divisions among African actors have proven counterproductive to African interests, especially in the areas of UN reform and the development agenda (see especially James O. C. Jonah, Adekeye Adebajo, Chris Landsberg and Adebayo Adedeji). Through unity, Africans may challenge what Adebajo terms the 'global apartheid', the Western political, economic and cultural hegemony in international politics,that is deeply embedded within the UN's structures.

Chapters 11 and 12 are of particular interest with regard to the issue of international peacekeeping. Musifiky Mwanasali raises the concern that the UNSC's increasing invocation of Chapter VII of the Charter in its engagement with Africa is an ambiguous development in need of checking, arguing that more 'muscular' UN peacekeeping in Africa is not always a path to peacebuilding. Margaret Vogt analyses the UN's relations with Africa's regional organization in the area of peace and security. She argues that interventions by African actors in intrastate conflicts in their own regions during the 1990s and beyond have greatly affected the politics and policies of the international security agenda 'in ways that have only been rivalled by the end of the Second World War in 1945 and the creation of the United Nations itself' (p.252). These interventions came about partly due to the reluctance of UN member states to invest human and financial resources in African internal wars (p.256), and today efficiency demands that the UN endorse and legitimize the emerging regional norms. With African conflict challenges representing about 60 per cent of the UNSC's agenda, the broader international society is grateful for the increasing 'Africanization' of conflict management. Yet a viable partnership for ending wars in Africa is urgently required involving, for example, more delegation of authority and financial and political support to the regional level. Vogt stresses that mutual adaptation will be required — such as more focus on prior consultation and the empowerment of African institutions — especially towards conflict prevention and peace operations. The UNSC permanent members are reminded that solving conflicts is a global responsibility and that, in such a context, it is constructive to find common approaches and counterproductive to undermine presumed partners in their work. Apart from the focus on peace and security issues, the volume is to be commended for its holistic take on the UN-Africa relationship. The third part of the volume contends that African actors have long asked for structural changes in aid and trade policies and that there must be an ending of global apartheid in all respects for Africa to advance.

While the notion of global apartheid is likely to spark a fruitful debate, the idea of a global village is less clear. Despite the many strengths of the volume, its core argument raises some complex questions. For example, is the vision of how to end global apartheid a call for action on the part of today's African leaders and is this an 'achievable utopia'? Is it enough that more 'radical' African heads of state (in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Zimbabwe) step in line with other more pragmatic ones (in South Africa, Nigeria)? Do the pragmatic African leaders sign up to any notion of a global village? The volume emphasizes how the majority of newly independent African states within the UN General Assembly during the 1960s managed to delegitimize and sanction apartheid and, ultimately, promote decolonization as well as to help turn development into a key concern for the UN. But it does not address the issue that African leaders may have pursued these goals of decolonization and development because of a mix of interests (regime security) and humanitarian concerns. Additionally, by invoking the term 'apartheid', the volume powerfully calls for the need for unity and commonality of purpose — to preserve multilateralism. The term is associated with a uniquely vicious model of governance, however, and if the intention is to equate today's 'global apartheid' with the white racist government in South Africa this befuddles slightly the volume's pragmatic message. Are today's inequalities between Africa and the UN also racist and, if so, in what sense? Is apartheid embedded within structures or agents? If inequalities are so embedded, might transformative change be necessary? To sum up, the extent to which particularly 'African' perspectives on multilateralism are more humanistic or close to the UN's real ideals surely remains a matter of inter-subjective interpretations.

Linnea Bergholm

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