Former Liberian President Wants Permanent African Presence on UN Security Council

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Madam Sirleaf said Africa’s interest is in building new, bold, people-centered and far-reaching partnerships that are committed to enabling the achievement of developmental goals, ending conflicts and lifting our people from poverty.

LONDON – Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says it is long overdue that Africa is permanently represented on the Security Council of the United Nations.

Addressing UK’s House of Commons Committee on Foreign Relations Thursday, the Nobel Laureate and 2018 Mo Ibrahim Prize recipient, averred that this overdue quest is not driven by a desire to exercise the power to veto but rather, a search for increased leverage and deserved credibility by which Africa is repositioned to end its wars, threats of terrorism on its shores, hold itself more accountable for its peace and development, and bring its collective experiences to bear in its added contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security.

The Foreign Affairs Committee examines the expenditure, administration and policy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and other bodies associated with the Foreign Office and within the Committee’s remit, including the British Council.

Sirleaf told the council that the African Continent is sensitive to this reality in forging new partnerships. “I would therefore offer that perhaps a good place for the UK to demonstrate this awareness in partnership with Africa is support for the Ezulwini Consensus.”

 The Ezulwini Consensus is a position on international relations and reform of the United Nations, agreed by the African Union. It calls for a more representative and democratic Security council, in which Africa, like all other world regions, is represented.

Africa Welcomes Investments

Sirleaf said the same could be said of Africa’s interests in building strong national democratic institutions and accountable systems of governance.

Said the former President: “Africa will welcome investments in building institutions and infrastructures intended to enhance national capacities that are required especially for economic transformations through industrialization. Africa seeks partnerships that will lead to job creation and more opportunities on the Continent so as to stem the tide of migration and improve the conditions for repatriation. Similarly, it is not enough that Africa is instructed in the art of democratic governance but that our institutions are built more resiliently to guarantee and continuously give realizations to our democratic aspirations.”

Madam Sirleaf said Africa’s interest is in building new, bold, people-centered and far-reaching partnerships that are committed to enabling the achievement of developmental goals, ending conflicts and lifting our people from poverty. “This, too, is why we encourage investments in Africa’s Development Bank, as well as support for the African Union and other regional bodies, so as to spur regional integration and Africa’s infrastructural development.”

Sirleaf said the continent has expanded the space for democracy, the peaceful transition of power, and democratic governance and continues to move away from military adventurism and dictatorship.

Nevertheless she averred, “it must also be said that democratic governance, and democracy itself, are being threatened globally by a growing wave of terrorism, wars, the existence of weak democratic institutions, and especially of recent, the lack of enviable examples from the West, and the opportunistic use of the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic to disengage, and accentuate unilateralism and authoritarianism over multilateralism and democratic practices.”

As a result, the former President said, the gains of democracy, and the peaceful transition of power on the African Continent can be reversed if powerful countries such as the UK disengage and retreat either for self-serving economic and political reasons, or the unwillingness to engage in the formation of global partnerships to expand freedom and democracy. “As we continue to see, from the health crises to the demand for equality before the law, no place is entirely save until all have a chance to be safe. Such is the nature of the umbilical cord of the human family that each weak link must concern all of us, as it invariably affects the undeniable bond that is our humanity.”

Speaking candidly about the immense human tragedies brought on by the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic and its effect on the global economy to the global protests against systemic racism, Madam Sirleaf said, the ongoing pandemic presents a new and urgent demand for change in our world. “This is a demand to which the UK, an established world power, and Africa, the Continent of the young and home to 16 percent of the world’s population, must respond.”

“Africa will welcome investments in building institutions and infrastructures intended to enhance national capacities that are required especially for economic transformations through industrialization. Africa seeks partnerships that will lead to job creation and more opportunities on the Continent so as to stem the tide of migration and improve the conditions for repatriation. Similarly, it is not enough that Africa is instructed in the art of democratic governance but that our institutions are built more resiliently to guarantee and continuously give realizations to our democratic aspirations.”

– Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President, Republic of Liberia

Rising Tension Between US, China Problematic

At the multilateral level, the former President said, the workings of the United Nations Security Council and other global institutions have become increasingly ineffective because of entrenched resistance to change. “This condition is further exacerbated by the rising tensions between the United States and China played out in our global institutions including the World Health Organization. The truth is that the threats we now face to global health as well as the maintenance of international peace and security are new, and will require our responses to be global, reformative and innovative. Accordingly,  the United Kingdom can play a vital role in amassing the weight of its global influence toward building the needed international consensus required to address the presenting global challenges.”

Sirleaf declared: “Let there be no doubt, despite the myriad challenges we face, Africa is willing to engage with the UK in willing partnerships to address our common problems. The African Continent understands that we cannot live peacefully, or hope to achieve our developmental goals in the face of perils to international peace, terrorism, imbalance in trade and increasing disregard for international law. And so, the real question is: Can Africa find a willing partner in the UK? Can the UK and Africa’s partnership prioritize both the interests of the United Kingdom, and Africa?”

Unfortunately, Sirleaf added, while Africa has and continues to be a reliable global partner, many of its bilateral and multilateral partnerships have left too many African countries poorer, exploited, and with weakened educational, security and health systems. “Too often, the structural conditions of the partnerships have so weighed against Africa that, rather than achieving a sense of development, independence and self-sufficiency, African countries are left with mountains of debt, increasing needs,  as well as wallowing in poverty traps and growing dependency.”

Addressing the scale of the challenge that COVID-19 poses to the African Continent, Sirleaf lamented that most Africa nations warded off the initial spread of the virus, there was not enough time to strengthen its weak healthcare systems. “Last week, the World Health Organization announced that confirmed cases in Africa had doubled in 18 days to reach 200,000; the first 100,000 took 98 days. This grim news comes at a time when two-thirds of Africa’s growth is focused on urban slums, where urban congestion exacerbates the risks to local transmission. In this sense, for many of our people, social distancing is impossible.”

Madam Sirleaf said, riding on the growing health crisis is also the significant issue of the limited fiscal space for African governments to implement the necessary health and economic measures to combat the pandemic. “The average fiscal stimulus package in Africa, in terms of GDP, is around 2 to 3% of total GDP. In comparison, the U.S. coronavirus response stimulus package was over $2 trillion – 10% of the U.S. GDP.”

Keeping Eye on Africa Recession

She added that it is important therefore to note that if Africa falls into recession for the first time in 25 years, the continent  risk erasing the gains of the last two decades. “Global economic cooperation through the G20, and strong multilateral responses are required, including the need to depart from the usual and provide financial support at scale, to address the looming debt and poverty crisis we face. In this regard, we commend the UK for being a strong supporter of the works of the International Monetary Fund in Africa, and the largest donor to IDA, including the recent replenishment.”

The reality, she said is that it is difficult to implement a number of policy measures in countries that are heavily reliant on the informal sector, a sector populated primarily by small and micro businesses that has been one of the most vulnerable sectors during this pandemic. In total, one third of all jobs in Africa will be somewhat affected by the pandemic, an alarming number for a continent that was already grappling with high youth unemployment.

Culling from our experience with the outbreak of the Ebola in West Africa, Sirleaf says there are many similarities. “For one, there is a common thread to be found in the successful leadership of women in the fight against these serious challenges to global public health. Despite being the worst affected, Liberia was first to be declared Ebola-free. We now see the remarkable accomplishments of women leaders in not just flattening the epidemiological curves of the pandemic in multiple countries but also reasonably opening their countries. The simple conclusion is that we must continue to open the space for increased women political participation and leadership.”

Secondly, she added, Liberia did not end Ebola on its own. “It was a global effort driven by local community ownership of the problem and its solution. This is also the lesson we must bring to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic – a global effort driven by community ownership of the problem and its solution. And in this regard, we need a united and supported World Health Organization as opposed to a fragmented and politicized one. It is unhelpful to shortchange the outcomes of our collective efforts and distract our attention away from the difficult fight.”

Disinformation vs. Health Pandemic

She said, Liberia also needed to end the wave of public disinformation about the pandemic. “As social media grows more ubiquitous, so also has the tendency to misinform. We have seen this explosion worsen dangerously in this health crisis. This tendency to disinform and misinform presented Liberia a difficult problem in fighting Ebola.”

At the heart of public disinformation, she decried,  is the looming lack of trust in public authorities and governments. “It is therefore important to understand that a fundamental duty of governance is to build trust with the governed by providing truthful information, however difficult it may be. Especially in crisis, our experience is that before citizens can trust their governments, governments need to trust their citizens – to trust them with the truth so that they make informed decisions about their lives and livelihoods.”

She said the lasting effects of COVID-19 may not be seen only in its tragic death tolls or paralyzing effects of the global economy but rather, the effects on humanity  and our societies may come to be measured ultimately by the new world order, or a reversion to the old, which could emerge in the painful trail of fear, trauma and human suffering wreaked by the pandemic. “Accordingly, will we move to explore new ways to strengthen the bonds of our humanity through multilateral approaches to our common challenges, or will we lend ourselves to unilateralism in retreats from our global responsibilities to each other?”

The challenge now she says is whether the world will \seize upon the opportunity to strengthen the pillars of democratic governance, decentralize political power and expand democratic spaces, or will we slip into authoritarianism and undermine our human need for freedom? “Will international law and justice be the burden of a few or the guaranteed entitlement for all? From science and technology to groundbreaking developments in medicine; will we encourage and share the genius of our developments so that we lift each other from conflicts and poverty, or will we continue to invest in the prolongation of conflicts, from which too many have died, millions more have been displaced, and vulnerable women and children continue to be the worst affected?”

According to Sirleaf, the past few months have revealed that a viral outbreak anywhere is a threat to health everywhere, and that injustice in a Midwestern city of the United States can not only inspire a global protest to end racial injustice but also demand a conscionable reckoning with our difficult past. In the end, ordinary people – black and white, old and young – are demanding their leaders to seek the good, safety and welfare of all peoples. “I can only hope that in this moment of history, those who are honored to lead at this time of change will boldly embrace the wind of change for the benefit of all of humanity.”

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