Interview with Maged Abdelaziz, UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa

Maged Abdelaziz, UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

18 October 2013 – In May 2012, Maged Abdelaziz was sworn in as United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa, heading an entity created in 2003 to boost international support for Africa's socio-economic development, peace and security through advocacy and analytical work. His office also assists the Secretary General in coordinating the UN system’s support to Africa, and facilitates inter-governmental deliberations on African issues, including the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD).

Having served as Egypt’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York from 2005 until his appointment as Special Advisor, Mr. Abdelaziz has more than 33 years of diplomatic experience with a particular focus on development, security and disarmament issues. He has been on the bureaux of major UN organs and conferences, as well as holding high positions with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) bloc of nations.

UN News Services interviewed Mr. Abdelaziz ahead of Africa/NEPAD Week 2013, organized by his office for October 21-26, marking the tenth anniversary of the good governance initiative of the African Union, known as the African Peer Review Mechanism or APRM, as well as focusing attention on the NEPAD framework.

UN News Centre: Africa week this year is marking the tenth anniversary of the African Peer Review Mechanism. Not many people understand it. Can you explain it to our audience?

Maged Abdelaziz: The African Peer Review Mechanism was established in 2003 as the good governance branch of the African Union. It is a voluntary m[African economic] the ultimate objective that all Africans including myself are dreaming of achieving, so that we can be as powerful as the European Union.echanism. Up till now, out of 54 countries, we have 33 countries that have subscribed. When you subscribe to it, you have to present a report about good governance in the country. This report goes to a committee composed of 10 eminent personalities that have vast experience in issues of governance and human rights and they evaluate it and they present a report that usually comes to a meeting of the APRM at the summit level to consider the report. The country is then given usually about 50 to 60 questions to answer. Based on these discussions they are asked to have a follow-up report in the next year and this will be followed by another follow-up report. 

So it is a voluntary mechanism of peers of heads of State and Governments that are evaluating the governance and human rights situation in the countries that are subscribing. The last two countries that were evaluated were Tanzania and Zambia. I was out there in Addis Ababa for this particular occasion. We also participate as the United Nations in support of the APRM. That is why we are bring the members of the panel of the APRM to be here along with the chair of the evaluating party, who is the minister from Liberia -- originally it was President [Ellen Johnson] Sirleaf but she delegated it to the Minister of Finance -- and this occasion is going to be opened by the Secretary-General to show support of the United Nations to this particular effort in Africa.

UN News Centre: How are the reports of the APRM used?

Maged Abdelaziz: These reports have more moral value than any kind of coercive value, because usually countries do these reports before they go to the Universal Peer Review in the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva. So usually this prepares the country to open up and to try to overcome its difficulties in a friendly atmosphere within the African Union, prior to its review in the Human Rights Council. So it is within the regional arrangements that are mentioned in the Charter of the United Nations that are meant to help countries improve their situations and overcome whatever difficulties that they have before they go before the international peer review. Questioning and visits are done by the eminent persons’ committee that includes two persons from each sub-region so there is familiarity with the situation.

UN News Centre: Is it working?

Maged Abdelaziz is sworn in as Special Adviser on Africa by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. UN Photo/E. Schneider

Maged Abdelaziz: It’s very much working, and it is improving. There are very sharp and pointed questions asked and countries have to work on all aspects of deficiencies. It talks about corruption, it talks about involvement of civil society, it talks about regional integration, it talks about many aspects of governance in Africa. 

UN News Centre: Does the UN play a role in this?

Maged Abdelaziz: We are considered a partner, but we do not play any role in the evaluations, because this is an inter-African mechanism. But we can provide advice and support if needed for improvement of one aspect or another. In the intermediate period between the initial report and the answering report, if there is anything that the United Nations can support, usually we do that.

UN News Centre: NEPAD, the New Partnership for African Development, is celebrating a significant anniversary too. How does this partnership fit into the broader picture of efforts for sustainable development in Africa?

Maged Abdelaziz: NEPAD is a blueprint for development in the African Union, which was launched in 2001. My office was established to support the implementation of this blueprint. It covers six major areas: agriculture and food security, climate change and natural resources management, regional integration and infrastructure, human development, economic and corporate governance and the cross-cutting issues youth, women, information and communications technology and capacity building. It has a lot of projects and those projects are being implemented with African resources and with some support from the outside donors. 

On the margins of the General Assembly debate on Africa, Under-Secretary-General Abdelaziz briefs journalists (16 Oct 2012). UNTV

We are working on increasing this support. Africa needs every year about $93 billion for improvement of infrastructure, which would help development because there is no development without infrastructure – water, sanitation, energy and other kinds. African countries’ domestic resource mobilization comes up to 40 to $45 billion, so there is a need for support between the 45 and the 93, and that is where our office can play a role, in contacting the donors and supporting efforts in this regard. Also, in agriculture there is the CAADP [the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme], an initiative to increase agricultural productivity by six per cent every year and to allocate 10 per cent of the budget of each African country to support agriculture. Agriculture is a very important component. But that would require providing infrastructure and infrastructure requires energy; out of the 1.4 billion persons that do not have electricity, 40 per cent are in Africa. If you look at Africa from a satellite, you will see it as a dim place except for certain pockets.

So we are supportive of all those six aspects here at the global level through advocacy, by reports to Member States, by bringing the NEPAD agency CEO and other NEPAD people here to discuss with the Member States and to ask them for support and also by meeting with the private sector, civil society and the African Diaspora so as to allow them to internationalize the case, so that the case does not remain boxed in Africa. 

UN News Centre: As you know, Africa is rich in resources, yet is still facing severe challenges. Is NEPAD making a difference in helping countries use their resources to meet those challenges?

Mr. Abdelaziz, as Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN, signs the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity. UN Photo/B. Marcotte

Maged Abdelaziz: It is making a difference. The strategic framework for 2014-2017 that has been approved by the last African Summit in May provides for a paradigm shift. This paradigm shift moves from using resources to be sold to the outside to using them for industrialization. So industrialization is now the focus. Along with infrastructure, because there is no industrialization without infrastructure – without electricity without water without transport. So these two focuses are very important to NEPAD at this juncture. That is where the direction of the African Union is going. 

Along with that, the African Union has a timeline for regional integration, 2017 for integration within each of the economic communities -- united customs, united economic framework and more. The goal by 2028 is a united currency and monetary system and a united Africa Trade Union. And that is going to be the ultimate objective, which all Africans including myself are dreaming of achieving, so that we can be as powerful as the European Union. But we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed and we’ll have to do the maximum we can in order to achieve it.

UN News Centre: It sounds like an ambitious project.

Maged Abdelaziz: It is a very ambitious project. Of course timelines might change in one incident or another, but it will require a lot of support from the United Nations and from the outside world. 

Ambassador Abdelaziz, speaks to correspondents at a press stakeout UN Photo/J. Rockett

UN News Centre: Now your office as well is marking an anniversary. There are many actors within and without the UN system working on African Development. You have a very wide-ranging and high-ranking position in that effort. What are your efforts focussed on?

Maged Abdelaziz: Our efforts are focused on three main aspects. First to support NEPAD and to support the African Group here in New York in their efforts to maximize the benefits in the United Nations for development in Africa. The second is to support the General Assembly, ECOSOC and major United Nations conferences related to African issues to incorporate the NEPAD priorities into the UN documents as much as possible, so that the international community supports NEPAD. The third is coordination of the United Nations system in dealing with Africa. I head the inter-departmental task force on Africa, which is comprise of all the departments of the United Nations that are dealing with African issues, and we are playing this coordinating role in this capacity. Because as you know, every department in the United Nations has an Africa section. So if we don’t act within the Secretary-General’s vision of delivering as one, we have to be united and we have to be coordinated.

UN News Centre: Are there challenges that you face in these efforts?

Maged Abdelaziz: Of course, we don’t have any offices in the field. So those who have operational offices in the field have much more information than we have and have much more capability to move faster than we can. But we always stress the point that there has to be complementarity between efforts at headquarters and efforts in the field, including those of the African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank, should get hooked up with the United Nations system in its entirety. We have to be coordinated. We have to know what is happening and to support each other in delivering our mandates.

Ambassador Abdelaziz represents his country at a Security Council meeting on the Middle East. UN Photo/E. Schneider

UN News Centre: For most of your career, you have worked as a national diplomat, including as Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN. How would you describe the change, on a daily basis, now that you are a UN official?

Maged Abdelaziz: Well, the UN has a much wider and complex structure than the national government. For the national government, I am an actor representing the Government at the United Nations level and reporting through the minister and contributing also to drawing up policies here at the United Nations. The mandate now, however, is more limited than the mandate that I had. I had all mandates related to disarmament, to economics, to human rights, to the Fifth [Administrative and Budgetary] Committee, to legal affairs. Now I am only concentrating on development and peace and security. As ambassador I dealt with all countries and now I deal only with African countries, but I utilize my relations and my personal friendships with many of the ambassadors here that I accumulated to serve Africa. So it’s a different type of job, but it is a very interesting job, and I hope I can be able to do something good for Africa before the end of my tenure.

UN News Centre: If there was one thing that you could accomplish during your tenure here, what would that be?

Maged Abdelaziz: To make sure that the United Nations is coordinated and hooked up with the African continent at the level that would allow it to achieve its objectives, both in integration and peace and security and development.

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