Africa Day is held every year on 25 May to mark the day Africa Union’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, was founded in 1963. The United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa has organized month-long Africa Dialogue Series 2022 to bring African voices to the global stage at the UN Headquarters in New York. Ms. Cristina Duarte, the UN Special Adviser on Africa, explains why these activities are important:-
Africa Renewal: May is Africa month. What is the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) doing to mark this month for the continent, and are there special plans for Africa Day on 25 May?
Ms. Duarte: My office launched the Africa Dialogue Series (ADS) as a way to commemorate Africa Day by bringing African voices to the New York stage. Last year, we transformed ADS into a one-month long event, effectively making May “Africa Month” at United Nations Headquarters. This year, we are conducting the dialogue series from the 3-27 May in Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, Nairobi, and Rome, as well as in New York.
Each week and day of the month, the dialogue series will focus on a specific sub-theme and a product, respectively: Mondays are video materials, Tuesdays involve interviews with senior officials or experts, Wednesdays feature an interactive Webinar, Thursdays are for the day of our Youth Twitter Stage, and Fridays offer a selection of music from the continent. The programme culminates on the High-Level Policy Dialogue on 26-27 May.
1.What is the Africa Dialogue Series?
The Africa Dialogue Series is the annual flagship advocacy product of the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA). It , bringing together UN entities, experts and policymakers. It takes place every year in May.
2.Why in May?
The ADS takes place in May because it is the month of Africa, as Africa Day is celebrated on 25 May. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union, was founded in May. Thanks to the organization of the ADS throughout the whole month of May, it has effectively become a month to celebrate Africa at the United Nations.
3.How is the theme selected?
Each edition of the ADS is drawn from the African Union’s theme of the year. The African Union’s theme for 2022 is:
In line with the African Union’s theme, the ADS theme is:
The broad theme has been further divided into sub-themes to ensure greater focus on key issues. The four sub-themes and lead partners are:
- Building Resilient Socio-Agricultural Food Systems: The Key to Nutrition led by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
- Strengthening the Resilience of Farming Systems: Land, Digital transformation and Access to Finance – making smallholder farmers the backbones led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
- Social Protection’s Role in Enhancing Food Security and Nutrition for Greater Resilience in Africa led by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Labour Organization (ILO)
- Human Capital Development, Climate, Energy and Food Systems led by the African Union Development Agency-NEPAD, UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and OSAA
4.Who are the core partners in the ADS?
The ADS is an initiative that OSAA organizes every year with the African Union Commission. Depending on the theme for the year, OSAA draws on the expertise of UN entities, African Union entities and civil society, as reflected by the lead organizations for each sub-theme during the 2022 ADS. The Economic Commission for Africa, the Department of Global Communications, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), who are key partners in the implementation of OSAA’s mandate, also participate actively in every edition of the ADS.
5.Who can participate in the ADS?
The ADS is open to a cross-section of stakeholders, including government
The ADS 2022 programme is structured in a way that allows broad participation. Each week focuses on one sub-theme and follows the same pattern: on Mondays documentaries are screened on the OSAA website, on Tuesdays videos showing the views of experts are screened, on Wednesdays live interactive webinars take place, Thursdays are set aside for youths as the majority of Africa’s population with conversations taking place on Twitter spaces, and Fridays the ADS celebrates Africa’s rich and diverse culture.
The ADS will conclude with a two-day high-level policy dialogue, with the participation of the UN President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, government policymakers and other stakeholders.
Information about how to participate in daily activities is available on Africa Dialogue Series 2022 (3 - 27 May) | Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (un.org)
This year, we are collaborating with the African Union Commission. Co-partners include the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the World Food Programme (WFP).
What is this year’s ADS 2022 all about and why is it important to have such dialogue?
Since our inception in 2018, ADS has focused on the AU theme of the year. In 2022, the theme is “Strengthening resilience in nutrition and food security on the African continent: Strengthening agro-food systems, health, and social protection systems for the acceleration of human, social, and economic capital development.”
This is a very important topic because no continent can develop without first being able to feed its people. Over the last decades, Africa has grown more dependent on imported agricultural goods instead of developing its own. We can reverse this trend through management of the food value chain that enhances professional job opportunities for people that offer them a decent living and career. What can be more rewarding than contributing to feeding your own population and making your nation resilient against external shocks?
The food crises that have been triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, droughts, and the war in Ukraine is a stark reminder that we Africans must take responsibility for feeding our populations. Africa imports agricultural products worth US$60 billion every year. If Africa were self-sufficient, it could finance long-term development investments.
What seems to be lacking is the political action to produce the necessary change. COVID-19 has been a wake-up call, demonstrating the need for Africans to develop resiliency in the health and social protection sectors. We must use this opportunity to promote long-term solutions to Africa’s food independence.
Now is the time to start changing the misperception that agriculture is not a good career path and lacks opportunities for youth. Policymakers should lead the way in creating an environment for agriculture to truly blossom to its full potential. We have a Ferrari in the garage, but we are not filling the tank.
What do you hope to see come out of this year’s ADS?
I really hope ADS will be a wake-up call for policymakers and for youth because it is important for them to see the potential. I believe that ADS is highlighting positive stories and identifying best practices that can achieve this aim and move us forward. We cannot expect miracles overnight, but we have to advocate repeatedly until our message manifests as action. For this to happen, we need the dynamism of youth to carry the message.
ADS 2022 will culminate in a “call to action” to garner African governments’ full engagement. It will also help to rally the international community’s support in strengthening the resilience of agro-food systems and health and social protection for accelerating the implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 SDG agenda.
Resilience is a key word here because it is a necessary ingredient towards reaping the benefits of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and achieving long-term development objectives.
You are positioning your office as a leading advocate for a new narrative on the continent, focusing on successes and best practices to share. What are the challenges to the realization of this objective, and what have been the successes?
The main challenge is reaching a common understanding that a new narrative does not mean sugarcoating an old reality; nor is it simply talking about good stories. Of course, it is important to identify and amplify African success stories.
The unfortunate reality is that for many years the media have been painting a negative image of the continent. We need more reporting on the positive stories and the progress that is taking place all across the continent. For example, global media reports are scant about the myriad innovative solutions African entrepreneurs have implemented to overcome COVID-19.
I do believe in silver linings breaking out through black clouds. This should start by changing people’s mindset about agriculture not being a career path that can offer opportunities and for youth. It is the responsibility of the policymakers to create the conducive environment for agriculture to truly blossom to its full potential. Right now, we have a Ferrari in the garage, but we are not filling the tank!
The new narrative must go beyond just good stories. It has to be about new thinking. This is the most challenging part of it.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, the world started a phase of political, social, and cultural Westernization, as if the success of the Western economic model required every country to mimic the Western socio-political and cultural structures. I believe that was a big mistake. There is no proven logical relation between running a market economy and listening to a specific type of music or adopting certain social patterns. This thinking has perpetuated, to some extent, dependency structures of colonialism—Africa playing a role of a raw material provider at the bottom of the global value chains and relying on foreign assistance to cover basic needs.
This is the reason I’m emphasizing the need to pivot, from asking for assistance to taking ownership of our own resources by addressing illicit financial flows, developing our industry, and ensuring that we secure basic needs through national budgets.
A new narrative implies changing mindsets. If Africans have a negative image of their continent or apply only Western criteria to Africa, we cannot expect outsiders to think differently. The new narrative must come from within, and it requires that we start “thinking African.”
Are there any successes?
Wide acceptance of this initiative already is a success in itself. I proposed the new narrative when I joined the United Nations almost two years ago. The Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General, and the Group of African Ambassadors in New York immediately supported the initiative.
Today, you find almost every United Nations entity talking about the need for a new narrative on Africa. This is no longer an initiative of OSAA only, but of the whole United Nations system. I’m proud of this achievement because OSAA was created precisely to promote this type of thinking and alignment within the United Nations system.
Today, we are working to expand the reach and impact of ADS, and in 2022 you can see it happening. This year marks the first time we are holding it in several cities, other than United Nations’ cities, and at the same time, such as Geneva, Nairobi, Rome, Vienna, and others.
What is your final message?
I would just say that I am confident that Africa will continue to advance toward sustainable peace, development and prosperity. My hopes are in the youth reservoir, our biggest asset. Hence why I insist so much on putting human capital at the center of policymaking in Africa. I strongly believe that their dynamism will prevail and bring the changes needed not only in Africa, but in the international arena at large. Because the world needs an empowered, independent and prosperous Africa. This is the reason why OSAA is launching now a campaign aimed at showing that achieving “the Africa we want”, is achieving the Africa that the world needs.