Matinyana Fund home pageSizwe Mjacu at United Nations Conference

This is the speech by Matinyana Fund student Sizwe Mjacu at United Nations Conference in Tshwane (Pretoria) on 20 and 21 October 2005




1. Promoting self-determination and independence
2. South Africa and apartheid
3. Peacekeeping, peacemaking and collective security efforts of the UN in Africa
3.1 Angola
3.2 The Burundi case
3.3 The Congo crisis
4. The International Court of Justice and conflict resolution in Africa
5. Economic and Social development
5.1 The IMF and the World Bank
5.2 The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
5.2.1 UNDP-protecting the environment, reducing poverty
6. Conclusion


The Africa of today is not pure in any meaningful sense of the word. This continent has experienced various changes over the years. These changes result from both international and domestic pressures. Colonialism has had a great impact on the way Africa is organized today. The borders that were created by imperial powers have led to some post-independence inter-state wars. The "divide and rule" system used by imperial powers has led to a number of civil wars. Because of these wars, economic development has been hindered; illiteracy rates are high and there is an urgent need for peacekeeping efforts to help resolve conflicts. But Africa cannot do this all on her own. There is a need for external assistance. This is where the United Nations comes in.

This paper will look at Africa's relations with the United Nations from the early days of the struggle for political independence up to the present time. Economic and social development through United Nations agencies and international financial bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will receive attention. Attention will also be paid to the incidence of civil wars and the United Nations peacekeeping efforts on the continent. In conclusion, there is a need to look at the aspirations of African states regarding future relationships with the United Nations.


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The United Nations played a major role in bringing about the independence of many African countries. These countries are now Member States of this organization. Nothing in the history of modern colonial empires was more remarkable than the speed at which these empires disappeared. Before the establishment of the UN, they were at their peak: by 1981 they had practically ceased to exist (Fieldhouse, 1982:238). Dewitt et al, (1993:302) argue that decolonization became the most significant development that demanded the attention of the UN. The Charter of the UN obliged Member States holding responsibility for dependent territories to facilitate the progress of these territories towards self-government and eventual independence. After 1945 the UN took over the League of Nations mandate and administered these territories as Trust territories. The principle that all subordinate peoples had the right to ultimate self-determination was popularized by the UN General Assembly. According to Fieldhouse (1982:238) the post-1945 period became "the age of decolonization". The world no longer consisted of colonies unable to participate in international politics. The United Nations provided a forum in which the new African states could challenge overwhelming power by appealing to alleged moral standards and the principle of one-state-one-vote.

The 1960 Assembly declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples called for a speedy end to colonialism. This declaration became an instrument that in many ways, expedited the independence process. It was difficult for the status quo powers to deny the Charter principle of "equal rights and self-determination" to African states demanding it. This proclamation of emancipation for dependent peoples in Africa was followed in 1961 by the establishment of a special committee on Colonialism (becoming known as the Committee of 24) to examine the way in which the declaration was being applied and to make suggestions on how it should be implemented (UN yearbook, 1990.vol. 44). After that the General Assembly adopted a series of action plans that further expedited the progress towards independence for many African states and also passed a number of resolutions decrying apartheid, racism and various forms of colonialism (Dewitt et al, 1993:302-3).

From this generalization there is a need to look at the South African case specifically. South Africa is selected because its case seems to be different from those of other African states. Although South Africa gained independence in 1910, all non-white racial groups were still "colonized" in one way or another and there was tension among these race groups. Blacks, inclusive of Indians and Coloureds, were still fighting for self-determination and independence. The United Nations played a major role in bringing about independence to black South Africans through debates in the General Assembly, which helped to create an international public opinion against colonial rule.


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One of the most intractable, most persistent, and least soluble problems confronting the United Nations became the question of the racial policies of the South African government. In one form or another, the problem had been debated since 1946. In 1952 the issue of apartheid, or separation of the races, was added to the agenda of the General Assembly (Bennet, 1995:128). The South African government consistently maintained that the matter was essentially within its domestic jurisdiction and that under the Charter the UN was barred from considering it. The Assembly in 1952 established a three-man Commission to study the racial situation in South Africa and called on all Members States to bring their policies into conformity with their obligations under the Charter to promote the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. South Africa refused to recognize the Assembly's repeated appeals to revise its apartheid policies in the light of the Charter (UN yearbook, special edition 1995)

On the broad aspects of apartheid, Bennett (1995:129) provides that the General Assembly adopted sweeping resolutions requesting the following:

In addition to this resolution the General Assembly, the Security Council adopted a sweeping resolution demanding, amongst other things, the following:


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Africa has experienced many wars both before and after independence. This created a need for external peacekeeping, peacemaking and collective security efforts. The United Nations contributed a lot to these efforts. By deploying peacekeeping forces, initiating negotiations and providing for such efforts, the United Nations managed to achieve success. "Since 1988, in fact, the United Nations has played an instrumental role in bringing about settlement to long-running Civil wars and foreign armed interventions such as those in Mozambique and Namibia. It has done this in part by some innovative forms of peacekeeping" (Holsti, 1995:354). General Indar Rktye, the former president of the International Peace Academy who has participated in several peacekeeping missions defines peacekeeping as "the prevention, limitation, moderation and cessation of hostilities between or within states due to the intervention of a third party which is organized and directed at the international level and which calls upon military, police and civilian personnel to resolve peace".

The countries that follow provide clarity to the above definition. The intention here is not to suggest that the story of one country is more important than those of others. But it was thought one would gain a better insight from reading one story thoroughly than by a shorter treatment of many stories. In addition, these stories clarify further the role the UN played in making and keeping peace in Africa.

3.1 Angola

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In Angola, the Angolan nationalist and Portuguese forces embarked on a conflict that lasted from 1961 until 1975 when Angola attained independence. Outside powers, including South Africa and Cuba became increasingly involved, as they attempted to influence the future political shape of Angola. In December 1988, Angola, Cuba and South Africa signed an agreement on a timetable for total withdrawal of Cuban troops. To verify their withdrawal, the Security Council established the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM) which was charged with the task of verifying the phased and total withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola in accordance with a time table agreed between two governments. Under a new and later enlarged mandate entrusted by the Security Council, UNAVEM 11 observed the first ever election in Angola. Soon thereafter, the situation deteriorated and hostilities resumed. The United Nation continued its efforts to facilitate the resumption of the peace negotiations that resulted eventually in the signing of the Lusaka Protocol (UN yearbook, special edition 1995).

3.2 The Burundi Case

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"Everything was thrown into chaos once more when Ntaryamira was killed in the Rwandan plane crash. By this point, the internal fragmentation of parties in Rwanda was also replicating itself in Burundi" (Nugent, 2004:458). The United Nations became involved in Burundi where widespread ethnic violence erupted following this plane crash. It was estimated that between 25,000 and 100,000 people were killed and some 700.000 fled to neighboring countries. Following reports of the rapid deterioration of the country's security situation, the Security Council dispatched a fact-finding mission. The Secretary General of the UN recommended the maintenance in Zaire of a military presence for rapid intervention if the situation in Burundi so required, the deployment of guards to protect humanitarian organization teams, and strengthening the office of his Special Representatives, which included helping organize a national debate on the problems of relations between the Hutu and Tutsi communities (UN yearbook, special edition 1995).

3.3 The Congo Crisis

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The Congo crisis of 1960 marked a new beginning for UN's peacekeeping operations in Africa. After attaining independence, Congo faced a major civil disorder. The situation got worse with Moise Tshombe proclaiming the independence of the mineral-rich province of Katanga. Upon request by the Congolese government the Security Council authorized Secretary General Dag Hammanskjold to provide the Congo with United Nations military assistance. The United Nations Operations in the Congo (ONUC) also included a civilian component of 200 experts who helped ensure the continuation of essential public services jeopardized by the large-scale departure of European personnel. As the internal conflict worsened, however, the Security Council authorized the use of force as a last resort to prevent Civil war, and later it authorized the use of force to remove mercenaries. With the United Nations help, the Constitutional crisis was resolved, the national parliament reconvened, and a national unity government was created. The ONUC was endeavoring to prevent the leaders holding the reins of power from using force to subdue their opponents. At the same time it intensified its efforts to induce the leaders to solve their differences through negotiation and conciliation (UN yearbook, special edition 1995).


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In summary, African states have had recourse to global organizations, notably the UN and International Court of Justice. The UN has played an important role of providing the technical assistance to give effect to the political decision to terminate conflicts. It relieved the OAU of its burden by preparing a referendum in the Western Sahara in 1987 to 1991 and provided the peacekeeping and referendum operation through the UN technical assistance group in Namibia in 1989 to 1990. It provided the mechanism for management of the conflicts in Angola in the late 1980's and 1990's through its UN Organization in Mozambique (ONUMUZ) mission. Other African disputes such as the Sahara issue in 1974, offshore territorial disputes between Libya and Tunisia in 1982 and between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal in 1989, boundary disputes between Chad and Libya in 1994 and between Mali and Burkina Faso in 1986- have been taken to the World Court, in some cases for final settlement and in other for opinions that help channel the course of the dispute by setting the parameters for a lasting solution (Keller and Rothchild, 1996:60-61). Although the Court has played a major role it happens that when two countries are in a state of high hostility, they will ignore the Court as mechanism for conflict resolution, or they will refuse to implement its decisions (Holsti, 1995:356). According to Axline and Stegenga (1972:34) this is because "there is no World Court with compulsory jurisdiction to rule authoritatively on disputes, and there is nothing approaching a world police force to enforce international law and court rulings"


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Article 55 of the United Nations Charter states that the United Nations shall promote:

This article is the basis for the international involvement of the United Nations in economic and social development matters. Several UN reports issued by the Economic and Social Council revealed that the Economic and Social situation in Africa continued to deteriorate, reflecting the cumulative impact of the effects of natural disasters, inadequate resources, slow economic growth, structural weaknesses, global economic recession, strife and adverse climatic conditions. The Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly for the first time included in their agendas an item on the critical situation in Africa. The General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Critical Economic Situation in Africa, calling for emergency relief on massive scale, but emphasizing support for the recovery and rehabilitation of African economies (UN yearbook, 1990 vol.44).

Deteriorating social and economic conditions in a large number of African states prompted the convening of a one-week special session of the UN General Assembly. As a result, a five year United Nations Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development was unanimously adopted at the session. This programme focused on the following five main areas:

The final assessment of the Programme termed the 1980's as the "lost decade for Africa" (Bennett, 1995:317).

This "lost decade for Africa" was a call for the UN to act. As a result, Africa became the highest priority. The UN instituted a system-wide task force to ensure that commitments made by the international community are honored and challenges met. The developed nations have a tendency of making promises and not fulfilling them. Africa does not have adequate force to ensure that promises made by the developed nations are fulfilled, so the UN acts on Africa's behalf in such cases. Through the UN, the Africa Project Development Facility has helped entrepreneurs in 25 countries to find financing for new enterprises. The facility has completed 130 projects which represent investments of $233 million and the creation of 13,000 new jobs. It is expected that these new enterprises will either earn or save some $131 million in foreign exchange annually (UN yearbook, special edition 1995).

According to some African leaders, Africa's monetary and financial problems result from "the failure of the international system to provide adequate balance of payments for financing the debt of African states, and the poor performance of the major donor countries in providing aid". The economic growth of many of the developing countries has declined- mainly because of price increase of investment goods, oil, fertilizer, and food. At the same time their exports decreased resulting in balance of payments difficulties which in turn hinders the development process (Africa Recovery, 1998:7).

It would be inappropriate for one to talk about Economic and Social development without looking at the functions of some international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) amongst others, in promoting Economic and Social development. This part of the paper will deal with the activities of the IMF and the World Bank followed by the UNDP.

5.1 The IMF and the World Bank

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It is sometimes stated that the main problems of the developing countries such as African states, lie outside the International Monetary realm and that the IMF can make only a marginal contribution in this regard. This is normally said on the ground that the IMF "is a monetary and not development organization" or because it is involved in short-term operations while development is a long-term undertaking. This is where the IMF differs with the World Bank. Through the years the IMF, nevertheless, had to take measures in favor of the developing countries. This had to result in some infringement on the non-preferential-treatment principle which declares all members equal and creates a "one world" conception, according to which all States have the same rights and duties (Erasmus, 1979:190). This shows that the IMF is playing a significant role in bringing about Africa's development.

The purposes of the World Bank, on the other hand, are to assist in the Reconstruction and Development of members' territories by:

The World Bank was from the start involved primarily in development assistance. The Bank is now only concerned with the developing countries most of which are African states. It is in fact, one of the most important international organization in this regard.

Since HIV/AIDS is a hindrance to development, the World Bank has also been on the forefront of providing funds to African states to combat the disease. The World Bank has been involved in HIV/AIDS work since 1986 and has committed over $800 million to more than 70 projects around the world aimed at preventing and controlling HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STD's). Nearly half of the funding allocated so far has gone to African countries. The Bank's HIV/AIDS activities in Africa are always carried out in cooperation with other partners including UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO and WHO. Currently there are five projects dealing specifically with HIV/AIDS in Burkina Faso ($15 million), Chad ($5 million), Kenya ($40 million), Uganda ($50 million), and Zimbabwe ($64, 5 million). Activities are also incorporated in other programmes, such as the sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS component built into the $3, 5 billion Chad/Cameroon oil pipeline project which will take 30 years to complete and involve thousands of single and unaccompanied male construction workers and truckers. Another project for road construction in Mozambique provides HIV infection education and condoms to workers and local populations. World Bank funding for HIV/AIDS-related projects is provided as "soft loans" to low-income countries through the International Development Association. These credits are interest free and have maturities of 35 or 40 years with 10 years grace period before payment of principal is required. Borrowers are subject to a small service charge, currently 0, 75 percent on undisbursed balance (Africa Recovery, 1998:10)

"The value of the money by the time it comes back to the Bank is really just 15 to 20 percent of the amount originally loaned. Not many countries understand that 80 to 85 percent of the amount loaned is actually a grant" Dr Zewdie said. These International Financial Institutions did not stop there. In addition to what they have done, they came up with Structural Adjustment Progammes (SAP's). According to Nel and McGowan (1999:162-3) Structural Adjustment Programmes typically involved a lifting of all market restrictions, such as the relaxation of tariffs and taxes, to encourage inward investment and external trade; a concomitant liberalization of the labor market, to lower wage costs; and a radical cutback of government expenditure, involving the abolition of price controls and subsidies on basics such as food and fuel, the raising of charges for services (such as health and education), the reduction of the number of government employees and the privatization of nationalized industries. The IMF and the World Bank insist that, despite the mistakes they have made, Structural Adjustment is working. In support of this argument, Nugent (1994:334) postulates that the evidence tend to support the contention that the fastest growing economies were those in adjusting countries like Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania.

5.2 The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

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The UNDP is concerned with the provision of funds to developing countries for technical development assistance. UNDP purposes are formulated as: "To organize universal international cooperation and to assist developing countries in their efforts to accelerate their economic and social development by providing systematic and sustained assistance, geared to their national development plans and objectives, including their pre-investment needs, with the purpose of creating a more just and rational economic and social order" (Erasmus, 1979:208).

5.2.1 UNDP- protecting the environment, reducing poverty

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Sustainable development, which balances economic development, social cohesion and environmental protection, is fundamental to the objective of lasting poverty reduction. Africa faces many challenges to sustainable development. Extreme climate variations already present a serious threat in Africa in the form of droughts and floods. Significant levels of land degradation, desertification and deforestation affect large numbers of people. In rural areas, more than 90 percent of the population still relies on traditional sources of energy, such as fuel-wood, charcoal and dried dung. Environmental protection and regeneration are, therefore, strategic components of UNDP commitment to poverty reduction in Africa. The focus is on promoting sustainable environment management and energy development, through among other things, the formulation of national policy and enhanced regulatory frameworks and capacity building in management and policy implementation. UNDP considers proper environmental management an integral part of an effective poverty reduction strategy. Efforts to help countries address land, air and water degradation in Africa have yielded encouraging results. For example, in Cameroon, UNDP provided key support in the formulation of the National Plan for the Management of the Environment. In Mozambique, the National Environmental Management Programme, which UNDP helped design, is now in operation. As the UN's global development network, UNDP plays a central role as network facilitator for capacity development, donor coordination and resource mobilization. The Mozambique initiative, for example, connected the country's government, through UNDP, to knowledge, experience and resources from Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, the UN Environment Programme and the World Bank (UNDP in Africa, 2004:18).

The United Nations at the close of the Millennium Summit noted the particular needs confronting Africa at the start of the 21st century. It pledged that the international community would provide full support to emerging African democracies, strengthen Africa's capacity to respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and take special measures to address poverty including debt cancellation, improved market access and increased flows of official development assistance and foreign direct investment. It also outlined a series of specific development goals, including:


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African states have found it very fruitful to continue to work with the United Nations and its various agencies. This partnership (bilateral and multilateral) is likely to continue to develop, expand and deepen in the decades to come as Africa works towards strengthening continental institutions such as the AU, NEPAD and the various regional functional organizations.

As much as African states have found it fruitful to work with the UN and its agencies, they also found that the "time for renewal" has come, especially in the Security Council. This is proven by Africa's attempts to gain two seats in the Security Council with veto powers. This shows that Africa would ideally like to have a sustainable relationship with the UN. This is what the struggle for Security Council representation is about.


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Bennet, A.L., 1995. International Organisations: Principles and Issues. Sixth edition, Prentice-Hall, Inc. New Jersey.

  1. Dewitt, D., Haglund, D. and Kirton, J., 1993. Building a New Global Order: Emerging Trends in International Security, Oxford University Press. New York.
  2. Erasmus, M.G., 1979.The New International Economic Order and International Organizations: Towards a Special Status for Developing Countries. Haag and Herchen Publishers, Germany.
  3. Gordon, A.A. and Gordon, D.L., (eds). 1996. Understanding Contemporary Africa. Second edition, Lynne Rienner Publishers, London.
  4. Holsti, K.J., 1995. International Politics: A Framework for Analysis, Seventh edition. Prentice-Hall, Inc. New Jersey.
  5. Keller, E.J. and Rothchild, D. (eds). 1996. Africa in the New International Economic Order: Rethinking State Sovereignty and Regional Security. Lynne Rienner Publishers, London.
  6. Nel, P. and McGowan, P.J. (eds). 1999. Power, Wealth and Global Order: An International Relations Textbook for Africa. University of Cape Town Press, Cape Town.
  7. Nugent, P., 2004. Africa since Independence. Palgrave McMillan, New York.
  8. Stegenga, J.A. and Axline, W.A., 1972. The Global Community: A Brief Introduction to International Relations, Second edition. Dodd and Meed. New York.
  9. Yearbook of the UN, Special edition. 1995. Marthinus Nijhoff Publishers. London.
  10. Yearbook of the UN. 1990. Vol. 44.Marthinus Nijhoff Publishers. London.
  11. Africa Recovery, vol. 12 no.2, November 1998. UN Department of Public Information.
  12. Africa Recovery, vol. 14 no.3, October 2000. UN Department of Public Information.
  13. UNDP in Africa: Supporting Africa as it meets Challenges of the 21st Century. 2004.

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