KINSHASA: Leaders of French-speaking nations ended a summit Sunday by calling for an overhaul of the U.N. Security Council to give Africa better representation, while host country Democratic Republic of Congo was forced to defend its rights record.
Speaking at the end of the 14th Francophone summit, held in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, participants said Africa – with its 1 billion people – needed a stronger voice in international dialogue.
“We reiterate our support for the continuation of the reform of global governance for a balanced, multilateral system guaranteeing a permanent and fair representation for Africa in decision-making bodies,” summit heads said in their closing statement.
“The needed reform of the United Nations Security Council should give all African nations their place.”
Summit leaders did not elaborate on exactly what kind of representation they sought for African nations.
The Security Council currently has five permanent members – the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France.
Congo was a contentious choice to host the Francophone summit and has come under fire over human rights abuses in the east of the country, where a rebel movement is embroiled in clashes with the army.
Ahead of the summit, French President Francois Hollande denounced the political situation, forcing President Joseph Kabila to defend his country’s record.
“Democracy is not a lesson. Democracy is a right, and for those in power it is a responsibility,” Hollande told reporters after a meeting with civil society group leaders Saturday.
Congo “is proud of the democracy exercised in this country. The DRC is not at all worried about the level of democracy, freedom and the human rights situation,” Kabila told reporters Sunday after the summit.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government had also indicated concern about Congo’s rights record, gave a speech to delegates Saturday underscoring the value of democracy in a region notorious for troubled elections and sit-tight leaders.
“All governments, without exception, must guarantee to their citizens good governance, the rule of law and the respect of individual rights,” he said.
“For the first time the great Francophone family is meeting here in central Africa. It’s an opportunity to respect individual liberties, to reinforce democracy and to speak of peace,” Harper added.
The streets of Congo’s crumbling riverside capital were mostly quiet Saturday despite opposition calls for protests around summit venues.
Riot police were deployed near the residence of veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who claims he was cheated victory in last November’s polls, but he was permitted to travel to the French ambassador’s residence for a meeting with Hollande later in the day.
Tshisekedi told journalists that Hollande had been “very receptive” during the 20 minute meeting.
“They’ve talked about the internal issues, including the rights of the opposition, media and also the situation in the east and the territorial integrity of the country,” according to a member of Hollande’s entourage.
Dozens of African nations use French as an official language and – according to estimates – by 2050 Africans will represent some 85 percent of the world’s projected 715 million French speakers.
Some countries oppose Africa securing a permanent place on the Security Council, including Canada.
Delegates also issued several resolutions addressing crises gripping French-speaking Africa, including a motion that called for strengthened dialogue to find a political solution to the chaos in Mali, where Islamist rebels have seized the country’s north and imposed hard-line Shariah law.
Additionally, the French-speaking nations issued a resolution calling for the U.N. Security Council to adopt sanctions targeting those responsible for abuses in the east of Congo.
Eastern Congo has been rocked by a rebellion made up of army defectors, whose members are former fighters in an ethnic Tutsi rebel movement integrated into the military under a 2009 peace deal.
The next Francophone summit will be held in Senegalese capital Dakar in 2014.