Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks to the Africa Dialogue Series on COVID-19 and Silencing the Guns in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities, in New York today:
I am pleased to be able to join you in this time of unprecedented crisis to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on peace and security in Africa.
The pandemic has exposed the fragility of our societies. It is a global problem that demands a coordinated global response built on unity and solidarity.
As COVID-19 spreads across Africa, its Governments have responded swiftly. As of now, reported cases are lower than feared. Even so, much hangs in the balance. In recent years African Governments have done much to advance the well-being of the continent’s people. Economic growth has been strong. The digital revolution has taken hold. A free trade area has been agreed.
But the pandemic threatens African progress, as outlined in the policy brief that we have issued today, which sets out the challenges and offers suggestions for the way forward. COVID-19 threatens to aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease. Already, demand for Africa’s commodities is down and tourism and remittances are declining. The opening of the trade zone has been pushed back — and millions could be pushed into extreme poverty.
The virus has so far taken more than 2,500 African lives. Vigilance and preparedness are critical. I commend what African countries have done already, together with the African Union. Most have moved rapidly to deepen regional coordination, deploy health workers, and enforce quarantines, lockdowns and border closures. They are also drawing on the experience of HIV/AIDS and Ebola to debunk rumours and overcome mistrust of government, security forces and health workers.
I express my total solidarity with the people and Governments of Africa in tackling COVID-19. United Nations agencies, country teams, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian workers are providing all the support we can. United Nations solidarity flights have delivered millions of test kits, respirators and other supplies, reaching almost the entire continent.
Our $6.7 billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan aims to support the 22 African countries that are facing humanitarian needs or hosting refugee populations. We are calling for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings. African countries should also have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment, which must be considered as global public goods.
I have launched a Call for Support for the Global Collaboration to Accelerate the Development, Production and Equitable Access to New COVID-19 Tools. I commend the swift reaction of the African Union in establishing the African Anti-COVID-19 Fund, as well as the commitment of the members of the African Union Bureau to be the first contributors to that Fund. I also note with appreciation the outcome of the pledging conference that the European Union held earlier this month. And I welcome the generous contributions in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine and the commitment to ensuring that it will be a global public good accessible to all.
I have been calling for a global response package amounting to at least 10 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). For Africa, that means more than $200 billion. In this regard, the Chair of the African Union, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and I met recently with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. I commend the work being done by these institutions to support African countries in creating the fiscal space necessary to devote resources to the COVID-19 response.
I also continue to advocate a comprehensive debt framework — starting with an across-the-board debt stand-still for countries unable to service their debt, followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults. It will also be essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism.
The pandemic is affecting capacity to support peace and security efforts in Africa. My message to the international community is that failure to respond quickly and adequately could jeopardize progress towards Silencing the Guns by 2020 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063.
I welcome African support for my call for a global ceasefire, and a similar appeal by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. Globally, 115 Governments have endorsed my call. It has also been supported by regional organizations, religious leaders, more than 200 civil society groups and 16 armed groups. I welcome temporary unilateral ceasefires announced by armed groups in Cameroon, South Sudan and Sudan.
Looking ahead, various political processes and elections in the coming months offer potential milestones for stability and peace. Despite the impact of COVID-19, the African Union has demonstrated unwavering commitment for continued operations. This includes the renewal of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mandate and discussions about the deployment of an African Union force in support of the G5 Sahel Joint Force.
I reiterate that these peace enforcement operations must receive Security Council mandates, under Chapter VII of the Charter, and predictable funding guaranteed by assessed contributions.
For our part, the United Nations remains engaged with the African Union, providing operational and planning support and expertise in areas ranging from mine action to human rights, safety and security. United Nations field presences continue to protect civilians and undertake community outreach while strictly adhering to host countries’ COVID-19-related measures. And we remain actively engaged with parties to peace negotiations and other stakeholders.
Women must be central to all peace processes, just as they will be central to every aspect of the COVID-19 response. Stimulus packages must prioritize putting cash in the hands of women and increasing social protection. We must also empower African youth. And the human rights of all must be respected.
Many difficult decisions will need to be taken as the pandemic unfolds, and it will be essential to retain the trust and participation of citizens throughout. These are still early days for the pandemic in Africa, and disruption could escalate quickly. Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative — now and for recovering better.
Ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world. I encourage you to use this Africa Dialogue Series to create a shared understanding of the challenges Africa faces and help to lay the foundations for the Africa we all want.