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Turning COVID-19 Challenges into Peace Opportunities

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Turning COVID-19 Challenges into Peace Opportunities

Exploring concrete and actionable ideas on how Africa can emerge stronger and more resilient
Ms. Bience Gawanas
21 May 2020
Bience Gawanas, Special Adviser on Africa

The Africa Dialogue Series is the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA)’s signature event.This year’s edition is organized 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 responsibilities are to advocate for the international community’s support for Africa’s development; to provide support to UN intergovernmental bodies in their deliberations on Africa, and to provide advice to the UN Secretary- General with regard to Africa and to support his efforts to ensure the coherence and coordination of UN action in Africa. And its focus has increasingly been on the nexus across the development-peace and security-humanitarian-and human rights priorities, in other words Africa’s sustainabledevelopment.

It is with its cross-cutting and unique place in the UN system in mind that OSAA decided in 2018 to launch the Africa Dialogue Series as its main annual event. The ADS provides a unique global platform to explore and promote critical debates on broad range of critical and emerging issues of relevance to Africa’s peace, security and development. It is a forum for global advocacy and policy discussion. The Africa Dialogue Series offers an opportunity to build synergies across the UN system in support of Africa’s priorities. It also aims to create a space to amplify African voices.

And by aligning the ADS with the African Union Theme of the year, as well as convening it in May to coincide with Africa Day celebrated annually on the 25th May, my Office aimed to ensure not only that Africa remains a top priority for the UN, but also that the African Union’s priorities are echoed at the United Nations.

Last February, the 33rd African Union Summit declared 2020 as the year for “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa's Development". Less than one month after this decision was taken, a new challenge emerged and has threatened our common goal. The COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the world, including in Africa, exacting a huge human toll and far reaching economic and social impacts.

COVID-19 represents the greatest challenge to global health and development since World War II. It has harshly impacted Africa’s health systems, exacerbating inequities and increasing the fragility of Africa’s economies.

It has also brought into sharp focus the serious problem of inequality within societies across the continent as well as between countries and the often forgotten realities of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, including the refugees, the internally displaced and the millions of people eking out a living in Africa’s large overcrowded informal settlements with hardly any basic services, water and sanitation. African countries are taking resolute measures, individually and collectively, in line with African realities in fighting the pandemic and its immediate consequences.

Beyond its immediate human impact, the projected medium to long-term social and economic ramifications of the pandemic on Africa could be severe, possibly pushing up to 27 million more people into extreme poverty.

I will not go into detail on what this challenge represents. We have three half days of discussions for that. But I would like to underline that the COVID-19 pandemic is also a threat to peace and security.

Social and political tensions could exponentially rise if our response fails to address inequalities, to protect human rights or if it undermines democratic values.

Hence the importance of meeting this week to discuss about “COVID-19 and Silencing the Guns in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities.

Now more than ever, Africa needs the world and the United Nations to debate about what can we do to support the continent’s own efforts. To look for options in which we can provide funds and technical assistance to support Africa’s response to COVID-19 while continuing to implement key initiatives such as the Silencing the Guns and the 2030 and 2063 agendas.

During these three half-days of the Africa Dialogue Series we will address the importance of global solidarity; the African Continental Free Trade Area as an opportunity for silencing the guns and fighting COVID-19 and future pandemics; the ways in which we can build sustainable peace and resilience; the relevance of good governance, leadership and people centered development in Africa;the central role of women in achieving peace, security and sustainable development; and the need to foster a culture of peace, tolerance and reconciliation.

These discussions will hopefully help us achieve the following goals:

- First, increased support for the Secretary-General’s call for a Global Ceasefire, in line with the AU theme to silence the guns in Africa;

- Second, better awareness and understanding about the Practical Steps that the AU Master Roadmap offers to Silence the Guns in Africa;

- Third, the ADS should help us identify the ways in which COVID-19 could negatively impact the Silencing the Guns agenda, so that both African countries and the international community can target their actions to prevent and mitigate those negative effects.

- Finally, advocate for a stronger commitment of the international community in the spirit of global solidarity to supporting the African Union and African countries’ efforts to silence the guns and overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

I truly hope that in these discussions will be able to provide concrete and actionable ideas on how Africa can turn the current challenging conditions into an opportunity and emerge from the crisis stronger, more resilient and well-positioned to accelerate its march to achieving the SDGs through the Decade of Action, and in the longer term, Agenda 2063.

* Adapted from UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa, Ms. Bience Gawanas’ welcome address at the Africa Dialogue Series 2020