21 May 2019

Deputy Secretary-General, at Africa Dialogue Series, Highlights Continent’s Response to Forced Displacement, Investment in Youth as Peacebuilders

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Africa Dialogue Series 2019, in New York today:

I am pleased to take part in this dialogue on durable solutions to forced displacement in Africa.  The topic could not be more timely.

As we have heard, record numbers of women, children and men around the world have been forced to flee from their homes.  African countries are at the forefront of efforts to deal with the crisis and tackle the underlying causes.

The international community must recognize the scale of the challenges this crisis poses for African countries and find the most effective approaches to supporting Africa’s response.  At the same time, we must not let those challenges fuel a false narrative about Africa, Africa’s migration or indeed Africa’s young people.

Allow me to highlight four areas where the narrative needs to change.

First, the world must recognize the African response to the challenge of forced displacement.  As the Secretary-General said in his address to the African Union earlier this year, in the search for durable solutions to forced displacement, the world — and, indeed, the Secretary-General himself — has drawn constant inspiration from African leadership, African vision and African compassion.

Africa has made significant progress in developing some of the most progressive legal frameworks around forced displacement such as the “African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa” (Kampala convention), which 40 States have signed and 25 States have ratified.

In line with the Global Compact on Refugees, many countries in Africa are applying the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and adopting new policy changes.  In this regard, African countries are increasingly acknowledging that refugees are not economic burdens but fellow individuals whose expertise and skills can be utilized for the benefit of the host communities as well.  This has resulted in progressive and innovative policy breakthroughs in several countries including in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Uganda.

Building on this, a number of Governments have recognized that the most effective way to deal with refugees is to allow them to participate in the local economy.  The United Republic of Tanzania, for instance, has granted citizenship to 200,000 Burundian refugees, giving them access to land rights and allowing them to participate in the political life.  In Uganda, refugees are given small plots of land in villages and thereby integrated within the host community.

They have the right to work and start their own businesses, an approach hailed by the United Nations as a “pioneering approach that enhances social cohesion”.  This is a story of Africa’s response to the displacement crisis that needs to be better communicated.

My second point relates to Africa’s modern migration story more broadly.  Let’s be clear.  Africa is not a continent of mass exodus.  The more than 36 million African migrants in 2017 amount to less than 2.9 per cent of Africa’s population.  More than half of African migrants move within the continent — and that figure rises to 70 per cent for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.  The data also show that most African migrants travel in search of economic opportunity and are young, educated and represent roughly as many women as men.

These migrants spend approximately 85 per cent of their incomes in their destination country and make a major contribution to local economies — for example they are responsible for 19 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in Côte d’Ivoire, 13 per cent in Rwanda, and 9 per cent in South Africa.  In addition, remittances last year represented 3.5 per cent of Africa’s GDP, and more than all 2017 official development assistance (ODA).

The facts are undeniable:  when undertaken as a choice, African migration significantly boosts Africa’s economic and social development, for both countries of origin and destination.

My third point relates to Africa’s young people and young migrants.  Last year’s report The Missing Peace:  Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security found young people are often the victims of stereotypes — for example associating young men with violence — while young women are mostly seen as victims.  These myths often extend to young African migrants.

This has triggered what I might call a “policy panic,” producing un-nuanced responses that often involve heavy-handed security approaches, which are counterproductive and not cost-effective.

We know the overwhelming majority of young people in Africa are peaceful and many are engaged in peacebuilding.  We need to support those efforts.  The Peacebuilding Fund’s Youth Promotion Initiative does just that — investing almost $30 million to enhance young women and men’s contribution to peace in Africa.

More broadly, the United Nations is actively engaging with national, regional, international actors and the African diaspora to make the most of the demographic dividend — including through improved education and lifelong learning, boosting the quality of health services and access to sexual reproductive health and family planning, and enhancing skills development, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for young people.  The United Nations Youth Strategy is our guide in further strengthening our work with young people.

My fourth and final point relates to the African economy.  There is indeed another major African cross-border news story — and that is the movement of goods and services.

The African Continental Free Trade Area represents a gamechanger for the African economy that needs to raise about 11 per cent of GDP every year to close the financing gap to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Our projections show that the African Continental Free Trade Area could raise the value of intra-African trade by as much as 25 per cent by 2040.  Those gains are significantly higher when the African Continental Free Trade Area is implemented alongside trade facilitation measures.

Contrary to the narrative of conflict, division and hopelessness, the African Continental Free Trade Area shows an African continent and African leadership determined to move forward together to boost regional integration, strengthen inclusive economic growth, generate jobs for young Africans, alleviate poverty and lead to more stable and peaceful societies.

I want to thank the leaders here today for very important commitments to continue to advance the implementation of the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Refugee Convention, the 2009 the Kampala Convention on Internally Displaced Persons and the Global Compacts on Refugees and on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

You can count on the United Nations to be a strong partner for Africa in all these efforts and in ensuring the involvement of youth as agents of change in all conflict resolution and political processes.

The recent Joint United Nations-African Union Frameworks on Peace and Security and Sustainable Development will contribute strengthening our shared efforts to promote inclusive sustainable development and tackle many of the drivers of conflict and forced displacement.

In doing so, let us pledge today to keep working together to transform the narrative and transform the future for Africa, its young people and our world.

For information media. Not an official record.