Africa and Iraq

***NOTE: the following piece of text  was written in 2003. Please understand that although it is written in present tense, the events described happened over a decade ago. Conduct your own further research to find out what has happened in the years since!

The attention of the whole world is focused on the crisis over Iraq. The primary concern is the question of whether the United States and the United Kingdom, along with other European allies, will undertake a preemptive attack on Iraq to force compliance with United Nations resolutions on disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. Understandably, the central concern is with the economic, political, and humanitarian impact of such a war on Iraq and its neighbors. However, the crisis over Iraq has impact beyond the region of western Asia (Middle East) where Iraq is located. Relationships between the United States and Europe, the Americas, and Asia have been strained by this crisis.

Africa, to date has been impacted by the Iraqi crisis, and if there is a war with Iraq African countries and peoples are very likely to feel the impact of the war economically, socially, and politically. This current events expose will look at two ways in which Africa has been and will continue to be impacted by the Iraqi crisis: Africa's role in the United Nations Security Council, and the likely political and economic impact of a war in Iraq on African countries and peoples.

The United National Security Council Resolutions on Iraq

Perhaps the most important current question facing the international community on Iraq is whether there is just cause to attack Iraq preemptively. This question has been central to the recent deliberations of the United Nations Security Council.

The Security Council is made up of only 15 nations, unlike the UN General Assembly which has a membership of all 191 members of the United Nations. Of the 15 nations belonging to the Security Council five (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States of America) are permanent members who since the inception of the UN in 1946 have always been members of the Security Council. These permanent members have the power to veto any resolution passed by the Security Council.

The other 10 members of the Security Council are elected to two year terms by members of the General Assembly. Careful consideration is given to regional balance in the General Assembly. Consequently, there are always representatives from Latin America and Africa on the Security Council, even though there are no permanent members on the Security Council from these continents.

The Security Council is the most powerful unit in the UN. It has primary responsibility, under the United Nations Charter for the maintenance of international peace and security. It is so organized as to be able to function continuously, and a representative of each of its members must be present at all times at United Nations Headquarters. When a complaint concerning a threat to peace is brought before it, the Council's first action is usually to recommend to the parties to try to reach agreement by peaceful means. In some cases, the Council itself undertakes investigation and mediation. It may appoint special representatives or request the Secretary-General to do so or to use his good offices. It may set forth principles for a peaceful settlement. In other cases, as with the current Iraqi crises a member or members of the Security Council may introduce a resolution calling for specific action such as disarmament, or may even sanction (call for) military action.

You may have read or heard of the important meetings on Iraq at the United Nations Security Council. In response to an initiative by the United States and the United Kingdom the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1441 on November 8, 2002. This resolution called for Iraq to allow unimpeded access by UN weapons inspectors in their country and for Iraq to provide documented evidence that it has destroyed all weapons of mass destruction. You can read the entire resolution at:

On Friday March 7, 2003, at a session of the Security Council the United Kingdom, Spain, and the United States formally presented a resolution for debate which declared that Iraq was in material breach of Resolution 1441. Material breach (if true) of the resolution 1441 would mean that Iraq had either failed to give impeded access to UN weapons inspectors and/or Iraq had failed to destroy all weapons of mass destruction. Passage of the new resolution would provide the United States, the United Kingdom and other UN members with the justification to invade Iraq in order to disarm Iraq.

Since passage of a new resolution could lead directly to war the stakes are very high! No wonder there is so much division within the Security Council. At the time that this is being written only four countries on the Security Council (Bulgaria, Spain, UK, USA) support the new resolution. Five countries, China, France, Germany, Russia, and Syria, strongly oppose the new resolution, proposing instead a strengthening of the current inspection process in Iraq. Three of these nations are permanent members of the Security Council and could veto the resolution if it passed.

Six of the non-permanent members of the Security Council have not indicated how they will vote when the resolution comes up for a final vote. Given the fact that the stakes are so very high with the possibility of war, and that the two sides hold very strongly to their views, both sides have intensively lobbied the six undecided members of the Security Council.

For more information on the UN actions and discussion on Iraq you can visit the UN Iraq page at

In the week following the March 8, 2003 meeting of the Security Council U.S. President George Bush has personally telephoned the presidents of all six undecided member countries to try to persuade them to vote in favor of the resolution. In addition, Vice President Chaney and Secretary of State Colin Powell have also called their counterparts in these six nations.

But, the U.S. has not been alone in lobbying for support for its position. French, Russian and German leaders have also put personal pressure on leaders of the undecided states to vote against the resolution.

Central to this lobbying effort are the three current African nation members of the Security Council. Indeed, as one African news source states, as the United Nations Security Council debate intensifies on a resolution authorizing force against Iraq, the three African nations on the Council find themselves in the glare of an unaccustomed spotlight.

Why are the three Africa nation members of the Security Council unaccustomed to the spotlight? It is impossible to give a brief response to this question, but you can get a fuller understanding of Africa's place the world by studying materials provided in the Exploring Africa curriculum. Of particular importance to answering this question are the following modules: Module Seven B: African History Since 1500, Module Nine: African Economies, Module Ten: African Politics.

More than any other region of the world Africa, particularly Africa south of the Sahara Desert, is marginalized from the global political economy. That is, African nations tend to be out of the political and economic mainstream of the contemporary world. The reasons for Africa's lowly position in the contemporary world are complex, but three factors need to be highlighted.

  1. Africa's Colonial Heritage: With the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia all 54 countries in Africa experienced colonial rule from the late 19th century through more than half of the 20th century. The political, social and economic legacy of colonialism on most African countries was quite negative. Newly independent African countries were economically underdeveloped and lacked political capacity. Consequently, it was difficult for most African countries take advantage of and compete within the expanding global economy. (Argument expanded in Modules Nine and Ten)
  2. The Cold War and it Aftermath: Have you heard of the Cold War, the conflict between the U.S.A. and it allies and the Soviet Union and its allies that began in 1946 at the collusion of World War II and lasted until the demise of the Soviet Union in 1990? While the Cold War never developed into an open conflict (hot war) between the two super powers, the Cold War had many casualties in Asia and Africa as both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. attempted to undermine and weaken nations that they felt were under the influence of the other superpower. Local, but devastating wars in Angola, the Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Somalia greatly weakened Africa. Sadly, when the cold war ended in 1990, the U.S. and Russia seemed to lose interest in Africa, leaving their former weakened allies in Africa to fend for themselves. (Argument expanded in Module Nine)
  3. Globalization: The legacies of colonialism and the cold war left most African countries politically weak and economically underdeveloped and unable to take advantage of opportunities provided by an increasingly international global economy. Consequently, many African countries are less integrated into the world economy today than they were 20 years ago.

It is within this context that the three African nation members of UN Security Council have suddenly been pushed into an unaccustomed limelight.

Of the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council three seats are allocated to Africa, to be shared on a rotating basis between the 53 nation-states of the continent. In 2003 the three African members of the Security Council are Angola, Cameroon, and Guinea.

Please take some time to read some background information on each of these nations.


Angola is an oil and agricultural rich country in south-western Africa. Unfortunately, Angola's potential has been robbed by a civil war that has lasted from 1975 through 2001. For most of civil war the U.S. government actively sided with and secretly supported the rebel forces of the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and its leader Jonas Savimbi. During this time the USSR (Russia) along with Cuba were the primary supporters of the Angolan government.

Based on this information whose side do you think the Angolan government is likely to support in the current Iraqi debate in the Security Council? Before you make up you mind, you should do some research on Angola on your own. You should also know that the government of Angola is very anxious to rebuild the country now that the devastating civil war is over. Development will depend on Angola's ability to exploit the vast reserves of petroleum located off the coast of the country. In order to develop its petroleum industry Angola needs international investment and expertise. Who is best suited to provide this investment and expertise? How will this factor impact on Angola's vote on the Security Council?

For current, up-to-date information on Angola, go to


Cameroon is not blessed with the rich mineral resources that Angola has, but it is rich in its cultural and human resources.

Cameroon has an interesting colonial history. Originally, it was a colony of Germany. At the end of World War I Germany as a result of the Treaty of Versailles lost all of its colonies in Africa, including Cameroon. As a result of this treaty Cameroon was divided between the French and the British, with the French receiving the largest territory. As part of the independence agreement in 1960 the French and British sections of Cameroon were reunited.

Since independence Cameroon has been quite closely aligned with it France its former colonial power. Many observers feel that this historical association with France will cause the government of Cameroon to side with France in the Security Council and vote against the U.S. resolution. This speculation may be too simple. What do other experts think? To find out link to the Cameroon page at and do some more research of your own.


Like Cameroon, Guinea is a former colony of France. Interestingly, Guinea is President of the Security Council for the month of March. This means that the foreign minister (like the U.S. Secretary of State) will chair the meeting in which the new Iraq resolution is debated and voted on. The presidency of the council does not give Guinea additional power, but it does increase its exposure in the limelight.

Unlike either Angola or Cameroon the vast majority (over 90%) of the people of Guinea are Muslims. This factor in combination with the fact that Guinea was once a colony of France has led some commentators to believe that Guinea will vote against the U.S. resolution in solidarity with Muslims in Iraq and in alignment with France. This is a strong argument, but it should be remembered that of all the former French colonies in Africa, Guinea has had the most troubled relationship with France. Consequently, Guinea may be reluctant to align itself too closely with the French on this issue.

To learn more about Guinea and the position it may take in the Security Council link to:

The importance of these three African countries to the debate within the Security Council is reflected in the attention that the leaders of these countries have received in the days since the March 7th Security Council meeting on Iraq. The Presidents of these countries have each received personal phone calls from President Bush (the first time he has ever called these leaders!), Prime Minister Blair of the United Kingdom, and President Chirac of France. In addition, immediately following the March 7th debate, the French foreign minister and the deputy foreign minister of the United Kingdom paid visits to each of these three countries!

What arguments and incentives has each side used to persuade the leaders of Angola, Cameroon and Guinea to support their side? Since these conversations and meetings are confidential we cannot be sure, but experts think that there has been a combination of incentives with warnings. Both France and the U.S. are in a position to significantly increase their economic support in terms of direct aid, investment and trade. While we don't know how much might have been promised the amounts are sure to be substantially higher than current support for these extremely poor countries.

In addition, it is likely that the both France and the U.S. indicated the potential economic and political consequences of not supporting their position in the Security Council vote. Each of the African members of the Security Council will remember that immediately after Yemen voted against a similar U.S. sponsored Security Council resolution in the 1990 Iraqi crisis, the U.S. withdrew $70 million dollars of promised aid. To countries as economically needy as Angola, Cameroon, and Guinea, the threat of a reduction of much needed external support has to be taken seriously and will be weighted against the potential benefits of voting for the other side.

Three countries represent all of Africa.

The leaders of Angola, Cameroon, and Guinea will decide how they will caste their votes in the decisive vote on the U.S. and U.K. sponsored resolution. However, in making their decision the respective leaders will take into consideration the views of other African countries. Africa is allocated three seats as non-permanent members on the Security Council. Every year a new African nation is elected for a two-year term by the entire 54 nation African delegation at the United Nations. Consequently, the three African nations who sit on the Council unofficially represent all African countries that are members of the United Nations.

In late February at an executive meeting of the African Union the African leaders voted unanimously for a resolution that opposed a preemptive war against Iraq. The question is whether the three African members of the Security Council will reflect this perspective in their votes on the new resolution. Unlike U.S. and France, the African Union cannot offer these countries huge incentives or threaten them with economic reprisals if they caste their votes in favor of the U.S. and U.K resolution.

In addition to belonging to the African Union, Angola, Cameroon, and Guinea all belong to the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations. The Non-Aligned Movement was developed at the height of the Cold War by nations that did not want to align themselves with either superpower. In early February the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations held their biannual meeting of heads of state in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At this meeting Angola, Cameroon, and Guinea each voted for a resolution against the use of force against Iraq. Does this vote help us guess which way each of these countries will vote on the new Security Council resolution? As with the vote at the African Union meeting, this vote may indicate the way these countries would vote if there were no external pressure. However, given the incredible lobbying by both sides, these countries may not be in a position to vote their consciences.

Potential Impact of a War in Iraq on Africa

It is hard to know in advance what the impact of a war on Iraq may have on African countries. However, it is important to think about how a war in Iraq may impact areas of the world that are not directly involved in the conflict.

Potential Increase in Terrorism in Africa: With the exception of the attacks on September 11, 2001, among the most devastating acts of international terrorism in recent years have occurred in Africa. In August 1998, more than 200 citizens of Kenya and Tanzania were killed when terrorists bombed the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. On November 28, 2002, terrorist attacked an Israeli owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya killing 13 people (seven of whom were Kenyan). These acts of terrorism may have targeted U.S. and Israeli institutions, but the vast majority of people who were killed and injured were Africans.

Most experts believe that Kenya and Tanzania were targeted for these attacks because African countries lack developed security structures and are among the most vulnerable areas in the world. These same experts believe that this very vulnerability makes African countries a likely target for terrorist action against U.S. and British interests if there is a war in Iraq. As with past terrorist attacks in Africa, Africans will be the most likely to suffer as a result of such attacks, even if U.S. or British institutions (such as embassies) are targeted.

Reduction in Aid and Trade: The U.S. administration has been reluctant to provide the possible economic cost of a war with Iraq. However, estimates published in the U.S. press estimate that between $50 billion and a trillion dollars may be spent by the U.S. and its allies on a war against Iraq! Many experts believe that the high cost of the war will have detrimental impact on the U.S. economy.

What does this have to do with Africa? A weakening U.S. economy will result in a reduction of imports from abroad. A reduction of trade with the U.S., if it occurs, will have a devastating impact on African economies that are dependent on exports. Moreover, there is likely to be a significant reduction in U.S. aid and investment in African countries as a result of a weakening U.S. economy.

A significant reduction in trade, investment, and direct aid will have a devastating impact on many African economies that have been struggling to overcome the impact of more than 20 years of global recession.

Assistance in fighting HIV/AIDS: Of the 42 million people in the world infected by the deadly HIV virus, more than 75% are Africans. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has had a devastating impact on many African countries. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has been slow in responding to this crisis in Africa. In his State of the Union Address, in January, 2003, President Bush announced a new $10 billion initiative to fight global AIDS with a special emphasis on Africa. However, many experts are fearful that the huge expense of a war in Iraq will significantly lessen the amount of money that the U.S. is able or willing to allocate to the war against HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Increase in Religious Conflict. With the exception of the 40 year conflict in Sudan, conflict within Africa has seldom been based on religion. However, in the past decade this has changed, exemplified by the Muslim-Christian conflicts in northern Nigeria, the most populace country in Africa. There is great fear that a war in Iraq will fuel the flames of religious conflict in parts of Africa, resulting in increased political instability, destruction of social infrastructure, and a significant reduction in economic productivity. These are clearly results that African countries cannot afford!

Further Peripheralization of Africa: One of the strongest fears among African leaders is that a war in Iraq will focus the attention of the world on that region lessening Africa's visibility in the global arena. Africa is confronted with many political, social, and economic problems. Solutions to these problems require an international partnership between African nations and peoples and the nations and peoples in wealthy and powerful countries in Europe, North America, and East Asia. A war and on-going conflict in Iraq and the Middle East, will result in African issues being placed further in the periphery of global consciousness.

No wonder Africans and their leaders, from all corners of the continent, are very concerned about the on-going crisis over Iraq.