UN Discusses the Challenges of Combating COVID-19 Pandemic and Silencing the Guns in Africa

By Santo D. Banerjee

NEW YORK (IDN) – In opening remarks to the Africa Dialogue Series on “COVID-19 and Silencing the Guns in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “The pandemic has exposed the fragility of our societies.  It is a global problem that demands a coordinated global response built on unity and solidarity”. He commended African Governments for having responded swiftly.

“Even so, much hangs in the balance,” he added. “In recent years African Governments have done much to advance the well-being of the continent’s people. Economic growth has been strong. The digital revolution has taken hold. A free trade area has been agreed.”

But the pandemic threatens African progress, as outlined in the policy brief that the UN issued on May 20. It sets out the challenges and offers suggestions for the way forward. “COVID-19 threatens to aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease,” explained the UN chief.

“Already, demand for Africa’s commodities is down and tourism and remittances are declining. The opening of the trade zone has been pushed back — and millions could be pushed into extreme poverty.”

In recent decades, Africa has indeed registered important progress on many fronts. Some fastest-growing economies in the world have been in Africa. Collectively, African countries have made major strides in advancing economic integration across the continent, seeking African solutions to Africa’s problems and upholding their common interests at the global level.

However, there is no gainsaying the fact that significant challenges remain. As Bience Gawanas, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa to the United Nations Secretary-General, noted in remarks to the three-day African Dialogue Series (ADS) on May 20.

The ADS is signature event of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA). This year’s edition took place from May 20-May 22 in collaboration with the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Department of Global Communications, UN Women and the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs – Department of Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO).

OSAA was established in April 2003. Its main mandate is to advocate for the international community’s assistance for Africa’s development, to support to UN intergovernmental bodies in their deliberations on Africa, advise the UN Secretary-General on Africa and to back his efforts to ensure the coherence and coordination of UN action in Africa.

The OSAA focus has increasingly been on the nexus across the development-peace and security-humanitarian-and human rights priorities, in other words, Africa’s sustainable development.

Of concern to OSAA, therefore, is that a majority of African countries is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Pervasive poverty, inequality, lack of good governance, corruption, and human rights violations remain major factors inhibiting progress, as are several armed conflicts and the lack of political stability in a number of countries and regions.

But, as the UN Chief said in opening remarks, African countries have shown leadership individually and collectively in their response to the COVID-19 crisis. An outstanding example is the inception of an Africa Taskforce for Coronavirus (AFTCOR). It is purported to develop a unified continent-wide strategy and sectoral strategies to combat the virus and its impact.

Individually, African Member States are taking a number of robust measures to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate the pandemic’s socio-economic impact, which is expected to be far-reaching.

In this critical situation, stressed Ms. Gawanas, Special Adviser to the UN, stands on Africa’s side in its fight against the COVID-19 crisis and to advance the twin objectives of silencing the guns on the continent and building resilience through up-to-date health care systems to secure the lives of all Africans.

Against this backdrop, discussions in the 2020 African Dialogue Series accentuated political, economic, social and environmental aspects.

The participants highlighted the need to enhance structural conflict prevention, [including by]: the development of effective response capacities to the early warning; and building capacity and infrastructures for peace of Member States.

They pleaded for strengthening preventive diplomacy, [including through:] training of mediators (including women) for immediate deployment and; expediting the establishment of the Mediation Support Unit in the African Union Commission.

In their view, addressing illicit flow of arms/weapon into Africa, [including through:] identifying and cutting links with suppliers and recipients of illicit arms, including imposing bans, in line with the Arms Trade Treaty.

Equally important is the need to strengthen institutional capacity to undertake post-conflict stabilization, peacebuilding and reconstruction; and for the prevention and combating of terrorism and violent extremism.

They also pointed out the need for holding regular dialogue between the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council on conflict prevention, management and resolution at all levels, and on other strategic issues of prime importance and interest to Africa

The discussions furthermore stressed the need to implement UN General Assembly decisions for revitalizing the AU Peace Fund; and consider options for UN Support to AU Peace Support Operations authorized by the UN Security Council.

Other measures crystallized in the ADS discussions were: 1) Economic diversification through value addition to natural resources and labour-intensive industrialization and enhance private-sector research and development.

2) Create a platform for youth engagement to harness youth ideas on Agenda 2063 and Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020; and 3) Create a conducive environment and provide incentives for investment to ensure the creation of decent jobs for the youth and women.

The participants emphasized the following social measures:

Dismantle the nexus between corruption/illicit financing/ purchase of weapons/drugs, among others, and eradicate safe havens for recruiting and harbouring irregular migrants, clandestine goods and trafficked persons.

Establish a funding mechanism for the Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC) to ensure their continued operation, including through raising public awareness in terms of preventive measures.

Promote restorative justice for sexual and domestic violence offences.

Environment calls for reducing vulnerabilities of livelihoods to climate change through building resilience systems, and support for implementation of the AU Kigali Action Plan on water and sanitation in Africa.

Discussions in the African Dialogue Series pleaded for elaborate legal regimes to combat illicit financial flows including providing for an information-sharing system between and among national financial intelligence units. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 May 2020]

Photo: Collage with focus on Bience Gawanas, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa to the UN Secretary-General with 2020 African Dialogue Series banner on top right. Source: OSAA.

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This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. Feel free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please credit to the author and IDN-InDepthNews. 

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