By Sean Buchanan
NEW YORK (IDN) – The estimated 24 million and more Africans who have been forced from their homes in recent years is placing a growing burden on the continent’s economy, environment and communities hosting those displaced.
This was the backdrop to a May 21-23 event held at UN headquarters as part of the Africa Dialogue Series (ADS) focused on finding durable solution for displaced person in Africa. It brought together a wide range of actors with a stake in finding ways to deal with the issue, including representatives of national governments, the African Union, civil society, the private sector and the United Nations.
Speaking at the opening session, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the UN General Assembly, commended the contribution African countries are making to strengthen multilateralism.
Espinosa said that she resolved to make Africa the focus of her activities at the outset of her General Assembly presidency, adding that she believes Africa’s contribution to the United Nations is under-appreciated, and that the region’s voice remains under-represented in the international system.
Espinosa stressed that African leadership “time and time again, has led the way, be it through expanding the definition of ‘refugee’ in 1969, or through the Kampala Convention, the first legally-binding framework to address internal displacement, which was adopted in 2009.”
Africa sets ‘gold standard’ of solidarity and hospitality
In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that by building strong coalitions of stakeholders, the series was an important element in the effort to boost international cooperation. With regard to the 2019 ADS theme, the UN chief paid tribute to the solidarity and hospitality of African countries, many of whom continue to set the global standard:
“Countries like Uganda, Djibouti, Rwanda and Ethiopia are taking innovative action to recognise and promote the rights of refugees. And African countries played a key role in securing the approval of the Global Compact on Refugees last year,” he said.
Guterres urged delegates to “consider the issue of displacement in the broadest context, in your search for sustainable and durable solutions,” taking into consideration international issues such as the global emergency of climate change, financing for development and universal health coverage.
Deputy Secretary-General and former Nigerian Government minister, Amina Mohammed, told delegates: “You can count on the United Nations to be a strong partner for Africa … ensuring the involvement of youth as agents of change in all conflict resolution and political processes.”
She praised the recent Joint UN-African Union (AU) Frameworks on Peace and Security and Sustainable Development, noting they would “contribute to strengthening our shared efforts to promote inclusive sustainable development and tackle many of the drivers of conflict and forced displacement.”
Mohammed called for all to “pledge today to keep working together to transform the narrative and transform the future for Africa, its young people and our world.”
Displacement a ‘significant loss of human potential’
Bience Gawanas, the UN’s Special Adviser on Africa, whose office was instrumental in setting up the Africa Dialogue Series, echoed the UN chief’s recognition of African solidarity, in personal testimony shared during her opening remarks: “I, myself, am a product of African solidarity. Having left home in my teens during the war of liberation against apartheid in Namibia, I spent years in refugee camps in Angola and Zambia and benefited immensely from the generosity of the Angolan and Zambian people. I want to take this opportunity to personally thank you for your big heart.”
Gawanas said that the ADS is just one of several activities being organised throughout 2019 to raise global awareness of the challenge of forced displacement: “Africa is home to over 24 million forcibly displaced persons, representing one-third of the world’s total. Forced displacement is not only a tale of human tragedy, it also poses a real threat to achieving peace, prosperity and development.”
This, explained Gawanas, is because the vast amount of resources spent on forced displacement, which is caused mainly by conflict and natural disasters, divert vital funds away from critical areas with potentially greater impact for sustainable development in Africa; and because it contributes to a significant loss of human potential, with highly skilled and educated people unable to use their skills in meaningful ways: “These are brainpowers that could be harnessed in service of Africa to address some of the intractable problems facing the continent. This is a loss to society.”
The Africa Dialogue Series was launched in 2018 to promote topics of importance to the continent, such as peace, humanitarian assistance and human rights. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 May 2019]
Photo: Some 53,000 Nigerians displaced by conflict are living in the Minawao refugee camp in north-east Cameroon. (February 2019). Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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