India’s Modi fuels UN reforms demand by African leaders

Monday September 28 2020

This UN handout photo shows Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, as he virtually addresses the general debate of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, on September 26, 2020, in New York. PHOTO | AFP


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday added fire to Africa’s demand for reforms, telling the audience at the United Nations General Assembly that the global body needs to change immediately.

Mr Modi said the UN has already achieved a lot in its 75-year history, including a full-blown world war III.

But he did say the proxy conflicts around the world reflect weakness, which it must respond to in order to keep up with the times.

"If a century changes and we don't, the strength to bring changes becomes weak. If we assess the last 75 years of the United Nations, we see several achievements but at the same time, there are several instances that point to a serious need for introspection," he said.

PM Modi referred to conflicts with Pakistan, most recently over the Kashmir region, which the UN has been unable to resolve.

He said India is ready to negotiate bilaterally with Pakistan to resolve any issues, as long as Pakistan is willing to come to the table.


With a population of 1.3 billion people, about 18 per cent of the global population, Modi argued India deserves seats in UN's influential bodies, to reflect India's contribution to global peace.

The PM’s call resonated with Africa's demands. 

Mr Modi said the UN must reform its responses, especially in pandemic or other emergency situations, as well as the way it conducts its processes so as to be fair and accommodative to every member state.


The UN is celebrating 75 years since its creation, shortly after World War II, but while most countries have agreed to discuss reforms, the type of changes have often bred differences.

There are those who want reforms in the agencies. Others want reforms on the powers and procedures of the UN Security Council, the body's most powerful organ.

Since 2015, African countries have been pushing for changes at the UN Security Council to include at least one African country with veto powers.

But it has been a tough ask as it requires the endorsement of all five permanent members (China, US, Russia, France and UK), as well as two thirds of UN member states.

In his address to the assembly on Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said there is an urgent need to review the UN's actions in order to strengthen it based on fair rules.

"Yes, the United Nations, in its birth, brought rules and hope for a world in ruins, but that was seven and a half decades ago. What does it bring to the world today?"

Kenya and India will be joining the council in January as non-permanent members for two years. They have both vowed to push an agenda that will support reforms.

"This is an occasion to reflect on our world and its institutions; have our relations and institutions been refined by experience and the passage of time or have our institutions become battered and left not fit for purpose," President Kenyatta added.

The calls were echoed by DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and Burundi’s Everiste Ndayishimiye.

Mr Ndayishimiye, who came to power in July, lamented the continual placement of his country on the agenda of the UNSC, something he argued made the country appear continually in turmoil.

He said Africa should have at least two members with veto powers in the UNSC.

Veto powers

The UN itself agrees to reforms but has focused on administrative structures rather than the nature of political decisions.

For example, in 2017, Secretary-General António Guterres launched what he called structural consolidation of the UN organs, including appointing independent country representatives for the UN Development Assistance Framework.

Mr Guterres also said UN managers will be more transparent and suggested improved coordination for peacekeeping missions, including the mooted standby force.

However, the elephant in the room has been whether global decisions on peace and security should continue to be subject to the veto powers of five countries.

Apart from the African group, demands have been fronted by coalitions such as the G4, which includes India, Germany, Japan and Brazil.

While India has said the reforms must be urgent, some of the P5 like China have argued for a gradual pace.

For example, while President Xi Jinping said the UN must upgrade to the current times, he argued it is the poor developing countries that need the most assistance to have their voice at the table.

China, however, has not pledged support for specific regions to be included in the UN Security Council with veto powers.

It also has not supported dilution of veto powers, which critics have argued are used to play politics on crucial matters of peace and security.