South Africa’s Election to the UN Security Council

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In 1945, states gathered at the San Francisco Conference to discuss the creation of a smaller UN body that would act as a defense advisor and operations executioner. As a result, the Security Council was created and charged with the mandate of maintaining international peace and security. Also, the Council was given the legislative right to settle a particular dispute and make agreements with any and all parties involved. This right was written in the UN Charter between Articles 37 and 39. The permanent members, also known as the P-5, were to remain on the Council, while, ten non-permanent members were to be elected for a two-year term period. The non-permanent seats were to be assigned geographically.

Recently, South Africa was elected as a non-permanent member in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the term of 2019-2020 with 183 out of 190 member states’ votes in its favor. This will be South Africa’s third time serving as a non-permanent seat for the Security Council. The nation’s candidacy was heavily endorsed by the African Union. South Africa, in particular, has a unique history with the UN. For one, the nation was one of the 51 founding member states of the United Nations. But also, the nation was expelled from the UN during its apartheid era. However, Africa’s relationship with the United Nations (UN) has always been challenging. African member states have consistently faced challenges with being involved in UN decision-making and setting the agenda.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa, stated that “South Africa’s tenure will be guided by our commitment to resolve regional, global and international conflicts and promote inclusive growth as part of the effort to ensure a better Africa in a better world. We are committed to addressing the root causes of conflict, including inequality and underdevelopment, and promoting inclusive political dialogue.” President Ramaphosa went on to state that South Africa’s membership would be used to advance the African agenda, specifically the priorities of the African Union Agenda 2063.

President Ramaphosa further went on to state, “This comes with a huge responsibility. Africa now looks up to South Africa to at least do the extraordinary to end conflict on the continent. South Africa needs to be bold but obviously its powers as a non-permanent member are very limited. Being elected for the third time really is a good sign that the country is influential and has got the ability to mediate during conflict. The election is really something worth celebrating.”

However, South Africa’s election has once again opened up further criticisms of the UN’s inefficiencies specifically its institutional persistence. The Security Council no longer reflects the changing global reality of international politics. Currently, the council lacks representation from Africa, Latin America and economic powers such as India. The UNSC is representative of Western powers. Many nations have criticized the permanent member seats lacking global representation. The former Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe criticized the UN for a lack of African representation. He questioned why not a single African state had a permanent member seat on the Council. The UNSC’s institutional persistence in the face of a changing global community is very surprising because of the institution’s scope and activities.


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