Remarks At the Africa Summit of the Future Dialogue: The Africa We Want and the UN We Need by Dr Donald Kaberuka

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Remarks At the Africa Summit of the Future Dialogue: The Africa We Want and the UN We Need by Dr Donald Kaberuka

Abuja, Nigeria

Good morning.

Thank you very much, Professor Gambari, for your kind words and for the invitation to this event; THE AFRICA SUMMIT OF THE FUTURE DIALOGUE, and for what you do at the Savanah Center. I am very pleased to see so many old friends and colleagues here to deliberate on this urgent matter of Africa we want and the UN we need at this testing time for multilateralism.


In September of this year, the Secretary-General of the UN will convene a special event – The Summit for the Future or “of the Future.” As he clearly articulated at the 75th UN anniversary, it is not a Summit limited to the reform of the UN, but global governance at large.

In preparation for that Summit, the Secretary-General put together the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism. I was privileged to be a member of that group chaired by the former Prime Minister of Sweden.

Stefan Löfven and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I presume this is not unrelated to why you invited me. I cannot pretend to speak for the two Co-Chairs, but I hope my remarks today are an accurate reflection. of the Advisory Board’s thinking.

So why is the forthcoming Summit of the Future a turning point? “A moment of breakthrough or of breakdown” We have just heard from Richard Panzio about the whys and wherefores of the Summit and a draft summary of the outcome document. What is evident is that there is much work to be done to build momentum and narrow the differences before September.

The challenge we are confronted with is straightforward: The multilateral system in place since 1945 is in crisis. For some, it is broken; for others, I think it was the Indian foreign minister who said, I cannot recall where, but he rightly said, the battery is very low. No one disputes that many aspects of the multilateral structure are still working, but they do so in silos. For the rest, at least from the viewpoint of the majority of countries, the system is not delivering.

A digression here is needed. While multilateralism is indeed in crisis, part of it has actually been extremely successful. Up to a few months ago, I was Chair of the Board of the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Malaria & TB. Together with GAVI — the Alliance for Vaccines; the two organizations have registered achievements to celebrate. This shows what the global community, when “networked” , is capable of achieving; in this case, reduction in the disease burden, such as HIV/AIDS, the fastest decline in infant mortality in human history etc… Remarkably, it was a combined effort, not just Governments, it was Business, Private Sector, Civil Organizations and Communities.

That said, the crisis in multilateralism we face is dire and real: Let me paraphrase Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, speaking at the Munich Security Conference last month: He made a number of very pertinent and chilling points. Today’s global order is NOT working for everyone. In fact, it is NOT working for anyone.

We face existential challenges ranging from climate, pandemics, geopolitics and technology at a time when the World is “fragmented” than at any time in the last 75 years. He added, “Even the days of the Cold War now look less dangerous”; even though nuclear war was avoided because of the doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction” between the two superpowers, today, the risk of some form of nuclear war has not disappeared.

The consequences for all are a less secure World. In the absence of an effective solution, multipolar centers of power will sometimes attempt to resolve such challenges alone — some powerful countries have often gone for unilateral solutions because “they can”, with no accountability. As SG Guterres put it, such multipolarity in the absence of strong institutions is not only ineffective, but in the long run, it is outright dangerous.

In San Francisco, when the basic structure of the multilateral system was built, only 51 countries were present, not the 193 countries in the UN today. Naturally, those who were not there feel sometimes technically “disenfranchised” because they were not yet part of the overall deal designing of the “rules” and the framework that was put in place.

For that reason alone, there is really no other choice today. It is necessary and urgent to establish a new equilibrium:

  • Great power rivalry has attained frightening levels.
  • Division between the global north and global south is widening — as was demonstrated during COVID.
  • SDG’s — Agreed upon in 2015 are now largely off track.
  • Technology is generating new opportunities but also new risks.
  • Nationalism and populism of both the right and the left are on the rise.
  • The Security Council is “gridlocked.”
  • Even managing the downside of globalization while maximizing the upside is showing cracks, as demonstrated by the problem of global supply chains during COVID and increased reappearance of protectionist tendencies.

Therefore, hopefully, as a new equilibrium is established, we must reaffirm the foundations of international cooperation and rules which are transparent and are universal. Not rules that are selectively applied, or implemented only when convenient by those who are powerful. Not rules that are ignored or manipulated to suit national interests. Invariably, this means that frequent call for a return to a “rule-based order” rather than a “power based” one often rings hollow. We must reaffirm that it is not always about “loser and winner” , who gets what at whose expense; national interests can often be best served by collaboration rather than confrontation. The Summit of the Future will need to avoid what typically happens in such international diplomatic gatherings, raise expectations and then simply end by a reaffirmation of the existing principles and processes. That will hardly do. It has to be a paradigm shift.

The High-Level Advisory Group proposed SIX transformative shifts, anchored on the principles of multilateralism that is inclusive, effective, and networked. These are:

  • Legitimacy and Effectiveness — striking a balance between the two principles away from the hegemonic, exclusive structures, that may sometimes look effective but in fact, lack legitimacy because they reflect only the interest of the powerful few.
  • Planet – People and Energy for All — give meaning to common but differentiated responsibilities, in the context of mitigation, adaptation energy for all especially the 1.2 billion people without access and above all a just energy transition.
  • Sustainable Global Finance — Repurpose DFI’s, reengineer global financial safety nets, ensure equitable representations at Bretton Woods Institutions, design effective global debt architecture and enforce fairer global taxation rules.
  • Digital, Data Governance.
  • Anticipating Emerging Transnational threats, including pandemics.
  • Peace, Prevention and Collective Security.

The view of the High-Level Panel was that stopping fragmentation and bringing about an equitable global system will not be easy, but there is really no choice. What is certain, in any case, is that those who feel left out will not stop looking for options, even if that leads to further fragmentation. This is not new. After all, the most powerful nations have been doing exactly that for decades. Let me take you back to 1971 when the U.S. decided to end the dollar convertibility and the fixed exchange rates regime. The results and shocks in the financial market and the global oil crisis of 1973 that ensued resulted in informal arrangements by a few powerful countries, G7, then G8 with the purpose of looking for stability in the currency market and energy security for themselves. Further down the road, in 2008 during the global financial crisis, even the G8 was no longer adequate, so an expanded framework, (but still informal and exclusive) was put in place: the G20. That remains the reality.

The multilateral system in place since 1945 tends to be “glorified” by some and “vilified” by others. Both positions need nuance. The idea that 1945 created some form of “nirvana” is an illusion. Equally, the suggestion that nothing of any good came out of it is not realistic. It is often asserted that whatever its imperfections the 1945 architecture avoided nuclear war. That is true; because of the two superpowers mutual deterrence. On the other hand, the two superpowers fought “very hot proxy wars” elsewhere, In Africa or in Asia.

Here is another angle we must bear in mind: There will never be a perfect solution agreeable to everyone at the same time. There will be domains of collaboration across a whole range of issues, but there will also be areas of competition, even vigorous confrontation – in accordance with national interests. The aim this time, as the late Henry Kissinger would have probably put it, now is a search for a “balanced dissatisfaction” rather than “absolute satisfaction”.

If one side looks for absolute satisfaction, all you generate is absolute dissatisfaction on the other side.

That said, whether it is the reform of global finance (to make it fair, universal and inclusive) or dealing with climate change, energy access for all, or a debt resolution mechanism fair to borrowers and lenders; these are all domains, which no one country, however powerful can resolve on their own.

 Attaining that “sweet spot” that is reasonably inclusive, safer for all, just for each nation, and that strengthens our collective economic, social and ecological wellbeing, will require efforts to align the incentives. After all, those who hold the levers now, whom we need to agree on the global reforms, are often part of the problem and have very little incentives for change, since the status quo would appear to pose the least challenges to them.

So let me conclude by responding to the issue of what are the vital interest of Africa in that conversation.

As Ambassador Bankole just spelt out, the overall Africa’s continental and global ambitions are spelt out in the AU Constitutive Act in its Article 3. The Agenda 2063 articulates how that is implemented, every 10 years; that accurately reflects what Africa is looking for in dealing with her own challenges, legacy issues and global inequities. Whether Africa fulfills its own commitments or falls short of her own internal agenda is another matter and is an ongoing challenge.

On 25 June 1945, when the Charter of the UN was adopted in San Francisco, only three African countries were independent: Liberia, Ethiopia and Egypt. Africa’s voice was missing then, and it is still missing 79 years later. There are attempts, now and then, to address this by various acts of tokenism, such as a seat for Africa in the G20. The reality, though, is the absence of a real, meaningful Africa voice on the table. How can one explain the absence of a permanent African seat in the Security council, or for that matter that of India, the most populous nation in the whole planet, or the Arab World, or even the entire Latin America?

Let me reiterate that despite all these inequities, Africa remains solidly and always committed to a more equitable, inclusive and effective international system. The continent has never overlooked the importance of multilateral cooperation. A stronger UN, a stronger Global Governance is in Africa’s interest. What the Summit of the Future has to address is the issue of justice and legitimacy for a continent which is numerically the single largest group in the UN system. We must aim for a global architecture that works closely with Africa’s own institutions in a meaningful and harmonious partnership. To that end, the African Union is the key partner here on matters social, economic development, as well as peace and security.

Whatever may be the AU’s own internal weakness, aligning with Africa’s own priorities, with the AU in the driving seat is primordial. Needless to say, Africa itself has its internal issues it must address to ensure that the partnership is meaningful; through a peaceful, stable continent, economic transformation, justice, integration, the CFTA, etc… That is the whole task of AU reform entrusted to President Kagame by his peers and which has charted a way forward.

A key consideration, in fact a “mega-trend” must be the kind of future emerging on the horizon, where Africa’s demographics will be a decisive factor. As it is often pointed out, today, the African population is 1.46 billion, in 2050 it will probably be 2.5 billion, comprising a quarter of the global population. They will be mostly young, urbanized and digitally connected. This is at once a chance, an opportunity for the World experiencing major demographic shifts. On the other hand, the resources needed to make the social investments needed in developing that human capital are enormous. Only a fair global governance structure would deliver the necessary trade, investment and transformation opportunities to bring that to fruition.

Let me finish where I began. As the UN Secretary-General pointed out, we are at an inflection point, the biggest opportunity since World War II. Humanity faces a stark choice – “a breakthrough or a breakdown. ” Time will tell whether “the Summit of or for the future” can be a new San Francisco. No one expects the Summit to resolve everything on the day; contradictions among nations will not entirely disappear, and rivalries between different powers and groups will not be extinguished. However, at the very least, the Summit must restore hope, and rekindle the ambition set in motion an irreversible process, a clear road map for that global governance architecture fit for our time. Provided there is real global leadership, I am convinced Africa will not be found wanting. We have work to do, with realism, and pragmatism, a step at a time, but with confidence and ambition in pursuing this just and historic cause.

Thank you.

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