Peace and Security in Africa: Addressing Root Causes of Conflict while Promoting Post-pandemic Recovery in Africa - Security Council VTC Open Debate

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19-May-2021 02:44:11
Issuing Presidential Statement, Security Council expresses concern about devastating impact of COVID-19 on Africa, urges greater cooperation.

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Pandemic Feeding Many Drivers of Conflict, Instability Says Secretary-General

Despite having suffered some of the COVID-19 pandemic’s worst socioeconomic impacts — including inflated debt burdens, job losses and worsening conflicts — Africa has to date received just 2 percent of vaccine doses produced globally, the Security Council heard today, as it convened a high-level virtual debate on addressing the root causes of conflict in the continent’s post-COVID-19 recovery process.

Through a presidential statement (document S/PRST/2021/10) — issued at the meeting’s outset by Wang Yi, State Councillor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, which holds the 15-member Council’s rotating Presidency in May — delegates expressed their concern over those developments. They reiterated the need to enable equitable access to quality, safe, efficacious and affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines to all, including the most vulnerable.

Urging greater national, regional and international cooperation and solidarity — with the United Nations playing a coordinating role — they called for support to strengthen health-care systems and invited the accelerated donation of safe, effective vaccine doses to African countries in need, particularly through the COVAX Facility of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. In addition, the Council acknowledged ongoing discussions on waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines under the World Trade Organization (WTO) and on easing global trade to support the provision of vaccines to everyone in need.

Members also heard briefings by several senior officials close to the topic. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, recalling his appeal early in the pandemic for a global ceasefire to enable countries to focus on combating the virus as their common enemy, said that, while the call was embraced by some armed groups and Governments — including in Africa — clashes nevertheless continued. Extremist groups in Western and Central Africa and Mozambique have continued and even increased their heinous attacks on civilians, creating additional challenges for societies and Governments. The recent attacks in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, and the increasing insecurity caused by the Allied Democratic Forces group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, are tragic reminders of that serious threat.

In response, he outlined the accelerated efforts of his Special Representatives and Envoys to advance peace negotiations across Africa amid the pandemic, adding that the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission has worked closely with the African Union and regional economic communities to help leaders build back better. The Peacebuilding Fund has also adjusted its work in response to COVID-19, supporting national crisis‑management efforts, social cohesion and dialogue, and working to counter hate speech and disinformation.

“Many communities and countries on the African continent already face a complex peace and security environment,” he said, citing risk factors such as long-standing inequality, poverty, food insecurity, environmental degradation, urbanization and demographic pressures. Climate disruption is a further crisis multiplier, displacing communities and leaving people susceptible to recruitment by criminal gangs, violent extremists and armed groups. Some countries find themselves in a vicious cycle where conflict breeds poverty and fragility, in turn decreasing the resilience of societies and the prospects for peace.

As the world faces the possibility of an uneven recovery from COVID-19, he said it is clear that the crisis is feeding many drivers of conflict and instability. The severe economic fallout is aggravating tensions, and has already pushed an additional estimated 114 million people into extreme poverty. Economic growth on the African continent has slowed, remittances are drying up and debt is mounting. Meanwhile, in the name of fighting the crisis, some Governments have restricted democratic processes and civic space, and divisive rhetoric, hate speech and harmful misinformation are further eroding public trust. The pandemic has also had a disproportionate impact on young people — especially in Africa, the youngest continent — and on women.

Urging Member States to ensure those groups are meaningfully included in the shaping of post-pandemic recovery plans, he said recovery from the pandemic offers an opportunity to address the root causes of conflict, prioritize prevention and implement both the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. While praising the Africa Taskforce created to ensure a unified approach to fighting the pandemic, he went on to sound alarm that of the 1.4 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered to date, only 24 million — less than 2 per cent — have reached Africa. “Equitable and sustainable vaccine roll-out worldwide is the quickest path towards a fast, and fair recovery,” he stressed, calling for the sharing of doses, the removal of export restrictions, ramping up local production and fully funding the COVAX Facility. “This pandemic has shown that we are only as strong as our weakest link and will only achieve recovery in solidarity,” he said.

Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), also briefed Council members, describing Africa as a continent of unparallel promise. It is home to nearly one third of global mineral reserves and nearly two thirds of the world’s arable land, as well as a young and dynamic workforce. It also holds the potential to deliver 40 per cent of the world’s solar energy. However, much of that immense promise remains untapped, blocked by obstacles linked to peace, security and development. “Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals […] will require overcoming complex legacy issues and the challenges that compound them,” he said, citing political instability, weak governance, inequality and now also COVID-19 and the climate emergency — “two of the greatest challenges of this generation”.

Noting that African countries account for a small fraction of the world’s reported COVID-19 cases and deaths relative to its population, he said those numbers nevertheless mask the crippling financial, social and political effects of the virus on the continent. Some 40 million Africans have already been pushed back into extreme poverty. As the technical lead of the United Nations socioeconomic response to the pandemic, UNDP is focused on saving lives and livelihoods. Its analysis shows that an “SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] push” now — combining bold policies and investments in governance, social protection, digitalization and the green economy — could lift millions of Africans out of poverty by 2030. A push towards vaccine equity is also needed, as less than 1 per cent of the population of most African countries are currently vaccinated.

Meanwhile, he said, the ratio of external debt to gross domestic product (GDP) in Africa has risen to an alarming 65 per cent, and COVID-19 is constraining fiscal space and making it more difficult for Governments to make strategic investments. This week’s conference on debt relief in Sudan, convened by France, is a good example of how world leaders can come together to countries by relieving the debt burden and unleashing development resources. As finance will be crucial to the recovery, UNDP contributed to the drafting of over 40 country-led socioeconomic response plans in Africa, generating new public policy insights at a time of unprecedented complexity. UNDP is also supporting 26 African countries to create Integrated National Financing Frameworks, ensuring that financing for the COVID-19 recovery is fully aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“For Africa, a sustainable recovery must be powered by sustainable energy,” he continued. Three quarters of the nearly 800 million people with no access to electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa, while, because of the pandemic, 100 million more Africans can no longer afford sustainable energy options. Calling for urgent action to achieve the goal of clean, affordable energy for all by 2030 — and net-zero emissions by 2050 — he went on to draw links between those targets and good governance. From its many projects and studies on the ground, he said UNDP has learned that “when you want to address the root causes of conflict, investing in development works”.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, noted a rising trajectory in the number of COVID-19 infections and fatalities across Africa. Stressing that the pandemic will continue to have a profound impact on the continent’s economic and social development, he said the biggest challenge Africans face today is that of vaccine access. It is folly to think the world secure from the COVID-19 crisis while Africa lacks protection against the virus and its variants, he said, adding that slow economic growth, reduced international trade, increased external debt and rising inflation have further deteriorated the socioeconomic situation in many African nations. Twenty countries currently face the risk of collapse due to debt burden alone. In that context, he called for new thinking and initiatives to address the crisis, emphasizing that economic recovery must focus on fiscal stimulus and debt exclusion rather than austerity.

He went on to point out that global travel bans and national lockdowns have disrupted local economies and affected both formal and informal sectors, causing job losses, inflation and a lowered standard of living in many African countries. The pandemic has also had devastating consequences for African small and medium‑sized enterprises and public hospitals. Massive job loss has stripped many parents of the means to send their children to school, while strains on health‑care systems endanger the lives of citizens suffering from other chronic diseases. Among other things, he stressed the need for urgent coordination on vaccine distribution and debt relief that accounts for the countries’ unique circumstances. Concluding, he urged the international community to not lose its pre-pandemic momentum in recognizing the nexus among peace, security and development, as expressed in the 2030 Agenda.

In the ensuing debate, Council members stressed the primary importance of ensuring equitable, affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all and highlighted the necessity of a strong partnership between the United Nations and regional organizations, particularly the African Union. Pointing out that African challenges can only be truly solved by African leadership, many stressed that the continent cannot — and should not have to — tackles these issues alone, calling for increased international support of African-led initiatives. Others linked the continent’s colonial past to its present problems, urging States to lift economic sanctions imposed on African countries to promote socioeconomic recovery in the wake of COVID-19.

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