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SG/SM/20731
19 May 2021

Equal Opportunities, Social Protections, ‘Necessary Conditions’ for African Countries to Exit Conflict Trap, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council open debate on peace and security in Africa — “Addressing root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa” — held today:

Thank you for the opportunity to brief the Council on the important subject of addressing the root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have warned of the risks it poses to people and societies around the world, especially in countries affected by conflict.  The series of policy briefs I issued last year included one that focuses only on the impact of COVID-19 on Africa.  This was the backdrop to my appeal for a global ceasefire to enable us to focus on our common enemy:  the virus.

My call was welcomed by many Governments and armed groups, including many in Africa, and is more relevant than ever as we face continued chronic violence in some countries and the re-emergence of old conflicts in others.

Violent extremist groups in Western and Central Africa and Mozambique, including those associated with Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), have continued and even increased their heinous attacks on civilians, creating additional major challenges for societies and Governments.  The recent attacks in Cabo Delgado, [Mozambique], and the increasing insecurity caused by the Allied Democratic Forces in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are tragic reminders of this serious threat.

Since the start of the pandemic, my special representatives and envoys across the continent have stepped up their efforts to enhance conflict prevention and advance peace negotiations in line with the African Union “Silencing the Guns” initiative.  Last month, for example, my Special Representative for Central Africa, François Louceny Fall, travelled to N’Djamena and met key Chadian and regional stakeholders to promote peaceful, inclusive and consensual processes for a return to constitutional order following the death of President Déby Itno.  In Libya, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya’s (UNSMIL) outreach through virtual meetings with women, young people and civic leaders was central to our support for the ongoing political dialogue.

Throughout the past year, the Peacebuilding Commission has worked closely with the African Union and regional economic communities to create space for national and regional leaders to share their experiences and seek support to build back better from the pandemic.  My Peacebuilding Fund has adjusted its work in response to the pandemic, to support national crisis management efforts, social cohesion, dialogues and inclusive approaches, and to counter hate speech and disinformation.

Many communities and countries on the African continent already face a complex peace and security environment.  Risk factors include long-standing inequalities; poverty and food insecurity; environmental degradation; urbanization and demographic pressures.

Climate disruption is a further crisis multiplier.  Where climate change dries up rivers, reduces harvests and destroys critical infrastructure, it displaces communities, leaves people susceptible to recruitment by criminal gangs, violent extremists and armed groups, and raises the risks of instability.  Some countries are in a vicious cycle in which conflict breeds poverty and fragility, which in turn decreases the resilience of these societies and the prospects for peace.

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, as we face the possibility of an uneven recovery, it is clear that the crisis is feeding many of these drivers of conflict and instability.  The severe economic fallout of the pandemic is already aggravating tensions.  Globally, the crisis has pushed an additional estimated 114 million people into extreme poverty.  Economic growth on the African continent has slowed, estimated at 3.4 per cent in 2021, compared to 6 per cent globally. Remittances are drying up and debt is mounting.

In the name of fighting the crisis, some Governments have restricted democratic processes and civic space.  In several countries, the pandemic has gone hand in hand with divisive rhetoric, hate speech, incitements to violence and harmful misinformation, which has exacerbated divisions and further eroded trust.

The severe impact of the pandemic on young people — especially in Africa, the youngest continent — is contributing to increased risks.  Loss of opportunities for education, employment and income drive a sense of alienation, marginalization and mental health stress that can be exploited by criminals and extremists.

The pandemic continues to deepen existing gender inequalities.  Women account for more than 50 per cent of the low‑wage, labour intensive jobs in retail, hospitality and tourism that may never come back, as companies embrace automation.  COVID-19 threatens hard-won gains on women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in all areas of social, economic and political life, including peace processes.  I urge Member States to make proactive efforts to include women and young people when shaping post-pandemic recovery.

Guaranteeing equal opportunities, social protection, access to resources and services and inclusive and meaningful participation in decision-making are not simply moral and legal obligations.  They are a necessary condition for countries to exit the conflict trap and get firmly on the pathway of peace and sustainable development.

Recovery from the pandemic offers an opportunity to address the root causes of conflict, put prevention at the forefront of our efforts, and implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.  The entire United Nations system across the African continent is working to support these goals.

African Governments themselves have shown great commitment to fight the pandemic by establishing an Africa Taskforce for a unified continent-wide approach.  However, limited supply and access to vaccines and insufficient support for the pandemic response are now hampering and delaying the recovery.  Out of 1.4 billion doses administered around the world today, only 24 million have reached Africa — less than 2 per cent.

Equitable and sustainable vaccine rollout worldwide is the quickest path towards a fast and fair recovery.  This requires sharing of doses, removing export restrictions, ramping up local production and fully funding the [World Health Organization’s Access to COVID-19 Tools] ACT Accelerator and its COVAX Facility.

The United Nations is advocating everywhere for a coordinated global effort on vaccines, and for measures to alleviate the debt burden that threatens to cripple the recovery in many low- and middle-income developing countries, and particularly in Africa.

I welcome the record allocation of special drawing rights by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  This must come with a reallocation, so that liquidity reaches countries that are in need and avoid additional problems.  I also commend the extension of the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative and the Common Framework for Debt Treatments.  But, eligibility must be expanded to all vulnerable developing countries, including middle-income countries, which still borrow at premium rates and risk debt distress.  In the longer term, we urgently need to strengthen and reform the international debt architecture.

Our United Nations country teams and peacekeeping and political missions are working closely with national Governments, the African Union, regional economic communities and international financial institutions to counter the spread of the virus and put inclusion, resilience and climate action at the forefront of efforts to rebuild economies and societies.

In January, I appointed a Special Coordinator for Development in the Sahel.  His efforts will address the important nexus among peace, security and development.  In Central Africa, we are working with Governments and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to implement the regional strategy to address the COVID-19 pandemic and alleviate its socioeconomic impact.

Our communications campaigns and peacekeeping missions are helping to address rumours and disinformation.  For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (MONUSCO) Radio Okapi is providing factual information about COVID-19 in local languages.

Across the continent and around the world, our “Verified” initiative is providing science-based narratives to help people stay safe, stay hopeful and help one another.

This pandemic has shown that we are only as strong as our weakest link and will only achieve recovery in solidarity.  A sense of shared vulnerability must translate into common purpose as we strive to overcome fragmentation and nationalism; address the roots, drivers and sources of conflict and crisis; shape a strong recovery; and build a better future for all.  No other continent is more important in this effort than Africa and we rely on the Security Council’s support.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.