Over the past 70 years, the scope of the work of the United Nations has expanded greatly, to include issues such as climate change, sport for development and peace, and road safety. When I look back however, I feel that the United Nations has played the most significant role in those areas that are at the core of the Charter of the United Nations: the maintenance of international peace and security, the promotion of human rights for all and self-determination of peoples, and other economic, social and cultural issues including governance and development-related concerns. It has also proven itself relevant in providing hubs aimed at mobilizing and harmonizing efforts of Member States towards achieving its thematic goals.
This is probably nowhere more true than in Africa. Following the establishment of the United Nations and the adoption of the Charter in 1945, various peoples in Africa gained awareness of their fundamental rights and felt empowered in their respective struggles for self-determination. Article 73 of the Charter, calling for "self-government" and "the progressive development" of "free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples" gave African peoples new hope to be masters of their own future. The United Nations General Assembly gave them a forum in which their political aspirations could find voice and support.
The year 1960 was crucial for both Africa and the United Nations with 15 African countries gaining independence. In September of that year, 17 new States were admitted to the United Nations, 16 of which were from Africa. Also in 1960, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, a landmark document which states that all people have a right to self-determination and proclaimed that colonialism should be brought to a speedy and unconditional end. Beyond self-determination legislation, the United Nations General Assembly was looking for a comprehensive and efficient framework that could lead new independent African countries to effective political and economic sovereignty, as illustrated by the adoption in 1962 of the resolution on "permanent sovereignty over natural resources". (1)
The post-colonial era, however, proved a challenging time. Newly independent States lacked strong democratic institutions, and became the theatre of civil conflicts whereby rival ethnic, religious or other groups fought for access to power and resources. Aware of the threat such conflicts posed to regional peace and security, the United Nations sought to address them, including through the good offices of the Secretary-General and his Special Envoys and through the deployment of increasingly complex peace operations.
A key moment in the history of Africa and of the United Nations is the establishment of the first peacekeeping operation on the continent, that is the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC), on 14 July 1960 (by Security Council resolution 143 (1960)). Deployed in response to the political upheaval and conflict that marred what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the dawn of its independence, the operation counted, at its peak strength, nearly 20,000 troops.
Fast-forward 55 years and West Africa has the highest concentration of United Nations actors of any region of the world, including four peacekeeping operations (in Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Mali and until recently Sierra Leone), a peacebuilding office (in Guinea-Bissau), a regional operation addressing the Ebola...