20 May 2020

Deputy Secretary-General Tells Africa Dialogues Series COVID-19 Poses Challenge to ‘Common Goal of Silencing the Guns’ on Continent

Following are Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to Session 2 of the Africa Dialogues Series 2020 on COVID-19 and Silencing the Guns in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities; Global Solidarity and Stronger Partnerships for Africa’s response to COVID-19 and Silencing the Guns:

I am pleased to participate in this virtual edition of the Africa Dialogue Series 2020, and in particular in this session on Global Solidarity to discuss the role of the international community in Silencing the Guns in Africa.

In recent years, we have intensified even further our partnership with the African Union and its member States to scale up our attention to prevention — prevention of conflicts, crisis, vulnerabilities at large and, ultimately, the prevention of human suffering.  At the heart of our efforts lies the recognition that the 2063 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals are the best prevention tools we have at our disposal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the relevance and urgency of delivering on these objectives.  The pandemic has also brought back to the fore the complexities in dealing with issues that sit right at the nexus between peacebuilding, development, humanitarian action and human rights.  COVID-19 is not only a threat to our health, but a human crisis of multiple dimensions.  COVID-19 also challenges us in our common goal of Silencing the Guns in Africa.

Let me highlight three reasons why.  First, the pandemic is worsening the socioeconomic conditions of countries that were already struggling with their situation and it is affecting their vulnerable populations even more.  Increased unemployment, shortages of basic goods, famine, collapse of public services are some of the consequences of the pandemic that undermine the gains made in the implementation of Agendas 2030 and 2063.  When the General Assembly proclaimed the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it was against the background of a concerning reality:  the world was not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030.  The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the bar even higher.

Second, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate existing tensions.  Economic shocks and threats to livelihoods exacerbate the structural causes of conflict.  Over 20 elections are expected to take place in Africa in 2020.  Conducting elections in the midst of pandemic-related restrictions, or managing their postponement, will present serious challenges, and could create further tensions.  Additionally, disinformation, human rights violations in the application of emergency powers and restrictive measures, and pandemic-related stigmatization compound the risks.  Furthermore, peacebuilding and peacekeeping, mediation and managing peace processes have become more difficult with some of the restrictions put in place to fight the pandemic.

Third, 2020 is the year of Silencing the Guns in Africa.  All our efforts and attention were to be focused on addressing the root causes of “active guns”.  But now the focus of attention has significantly shifted towards the costly fight against the COVID-19 crisis.  The response to the COVID-19 outbreak must not result in a diversion of vital funds and resources away from Silencing the Guns.  It should not distract us from the urgent need to end violence and conflict and to lift people out of poverty and hunger, which remain key goals of African Governments, African institutions and the international community.

In other words, Silencing the Guns and the fight against COVID-19 are not mutually exclusive but must rather be pursued in tandem.  This is the reason why the Secretary-General, in one of his first measures after the outbreak, called for a global ceasefire.  Global solidarity is now more important than ever before.  No single country, region or community can effectively address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic alone.  But what is so obvious has proven difficult to practise.  Furthermore, global solidarity entails continuing to invest in prevention and conflict resolution.

In today’s opening remarks, the Secretary-General commended the swift response of the African Governments to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Allow me to echo him.  The African Union and Government leaders have stepped up to the occasion and in the face of the crisis have deepened regional coordination and exercised solidarity.  Thanks to a common vision and unquestionable resolve, the continent had embarked before the crisis on a path of growth and of structural and digital transformation with Agendas 2030 and 2063 providing a clear road map for the way forward.

The ingredients for these gains must be maintained.  The only road to recovery is the road of integration, but Africa cannot do it alone.  The continent needs to count on support from its partners.  As the Secretary-General said today, the United Nations will continue to advocate for international action to support the continent and the United Nations agencies, country teams, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian workers are all hands on deck.

But as we confront together the complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am convinced that the crisis also provides us with three clear opportunities:  first, it is a unique opportunity to raise our ambition level in our response to COVID-19 and its impact on Africa, and to accelerate progress on the SDGs, as envisaged in the Decade of Action.  We need to ensure that we build back better for the people of Africa.  And we need to be mindful in dealing with the multiple crises created by the pandemic of the enduring interlinkages between peace and security, development and human rights.

For example, as part of a programme for preventing violent extremism, the United Nations system in Benin started working with the United Nations systems of Togo and Burkina Faso to increase the resilience of the population in cross-border areas.  The porosity of borders in the region is a factor that contributes to illicit trafficking and to the spread of violent groups, and that now is also multiplying the risks of a contagion effect between neighbouring countries.  By addressing border security issues and preventing the flow of populations, a programme aimed at tackling peace and security issues is now also being an effective tool to contribute to fight a health pandemic.

United Nations peacekeeping missions are also taking this approach.  In the Central African Republic, MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] has financed COVID-19 information sessions for civil servants and social workers and supplied information materials for distribution among the Central African Armed Forces and the general population.  And MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] is using its local radio station to inform the local population about COVID-19 in local languages, working to dispel rumours and counter misinformation.

Second, several countries are declaring a state of emergency to curb the spread of the virus.  As High Commissioner [for Human Rights Michelle] Bachelet said in the previous session, COVID-19 cannot be an excuse to derogate fundamental freedoms and rights, but it is rather a more pressing reason for increasing inclusiveness by focusing our efforts on traditionally marginalized groups and vulnerable populations.  “The Rise for All initiative” is a good example of how we can use our common fight against COVID-19 to increase awareness about the key role that women play in their societies.

And third, let us use this time of crisis to demonstrate the value of multilateralism.  As the Secretary-General stated, global challenges require global solutions.  At the beginning of the crisis, some countries thought that they could face the crisis on their own, closing borders and isolating themselves.  But pandemics do not recognize borders.  We saw it with the Ebola crisis and we are seeing it again now.

A strong multilateral system is the key to winning this battle and to preventing future ones.  We have to leverage existing partnerships, including the two joint frameworks between the African Union and the United Nations on peace and security and on sustainable development.  The African Union Lusaka Roadmap and the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 identify key areas for achieving the goals of silencing the guns and defeating COVID-19.  These provide valuable frameworks for a coordinated response in Africa.  This is an opportune moment to mobilize global solidarity, to ensure the implementation of these plans and to transform them into actions that will address the realities we are faced with.

Debt restructuring should be at the core of global solidarity.  The United Nations is closely working with Governments, the African Union, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and other international financial partners to advocate for favourable financial conditions for developing countries, especially in Africa.

Exceptional circumstances call for exceptional solidarity, generosity and coordination.  In fighting against COVID-19 and advancing towards silencing all guns in Africa, how we act now will significantly determine the prospect of achieving a stronger, more prosperous and peaceful Africa.  Let us build our response to the coronavirus crisis on the strong foundations of Africa’s demonstrated determination to advance towards sustainable development.  Let’s commit to raising ambition, fostering participation and identifying solutions under the Decade of Action for the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Let us act together.

Difficult decisions lie ahead of us but let us turn the crisis into an opportunity.  This is our only real option if we are to deliver on our promises for a better future to the world and to the African continent.

I thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.