New York

09 December 2020

Secretary-General’s remarks at press encounter with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, following the Fourth UN-AU Annual Conference

Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, 

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, my dear friend Moussa Faki Mahamat and myself have just concluded the fourth Annual Conference between the United Nations and the African Union.

We are committed to further developing our cooperation to serve the people of Africa. 

Today, of the many topics that were discussed, I allow myself to concentrate on two.

First, the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Africa has so far registered more than 2,200,000 cases and over 53,000 deaths.

There is real hope that vaccines – in combination with other public health measures – will help to overcome the pandemic.

But I reiterate my call for a COVID-19 vaccine to be a global public good available to everyone, everywhere and particularly, available in Africa.

Most African countries lack the financing to adequately respond to the crisis, due in part to declining demand and prices of their commodity exports.

Once again, I appeal for a bold and coordinated international approach on debt relief efforts for African countries, including, where appropriate, debt cancelation, and the meaningful increase in the financial support to African countries to provide the necessary liquidity and to finance the recovery.

Second, we also discussed peace and security challenges.

The United Nations strongly supports the flagship initiative of the African Union on Silencing the Guns in Africa. My appeal for a global ceasefire is perfectly in line with the Silencing the Guns initiative.

We are working closely together, notably in the Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, and we have seen progress recently in Libya.

We are also coordinating preventive diplomatic efforts with ECOWAS and the other Regional Economic Communities in countries holding elections, and exploring further advances in our calls for a global ceasefire.

We also explored ways to further advance our calls for a global ceasefire.

At the same time I want to reaffirm my total commitment to do everything possible in order to obtain from the Security Council an agreement that peace enforcing operations and counter terrorism operations led by the African Union must have mandates under Chapter 7 and must have simultaneously financing through assessed contributions. 

When we see the situation today in the Sahel, it is clear that the G5 Sahel would be in a much better situation if it would have a Chapter 7 mandate and assessed contributions allowing it to fight much more effectively the terrorist organizations that have started in Mali and then spread to Niger and Burkina Faso and now are starting to threaten even the countries of the African coast. 

I understand that, at the present moment, you ladies and gentlemen of the press, are particularly concerned with Ethiopia.

Indeed, in our discussions today, we highlighted the importance of a peaceful Ethiopia for the prosperity of its people and the Horn of Africa region. 

I reiterated the full support of the United Nations to the African Union initiative and the work of the three Envoys mandated by President Ramaphosa as Chair of the African Union.

Our immediate priority is the well-being of the people of Tigray and ensuring those in need urgently receive humanitarian assistance, and we are mobilizing the full capacities of the United Nations. 

Once again, I wish to insist on:

- unfettered access of humanitarian assistance, and
- the swift resumption of the rule of law, in a secure environment and in full respect for human rights, paving the way for a true and lasting reconciliation.

Together with our African Union partner, and others in the region, we stand ready to provide full support to Ethiopian-led initiatives to encourage inclusive dialogue and foster reconciliation.

In conclusion, I want to reaffirm our strong commitment of the African Union and the United Nations to keep working closely together to support peace and security, sustainable development and human rights across the continent.

Thank you.

Spokesman: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. We'll now take questions.
**Questions and Answers

Edie Lederer, Associated Press.

Question: Thank you very much, Mr. President and Mr. Secretary‑General, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, for doing this hybrid briefing. We appreciate it, and we hope you'll do more.

Mr. President, does the African Union really have no power to intervene in Tigray even as Ethiopia shoots at UN staffers, atrocities are feared, and people in Tigray are beginning to starve?

And Mr. Secretary‑General and Mr. President, on access to vaccines, the floodgates to COVID‑19 vaccines are opening in rich countries, yet Africa might not begin to see vaccines until the second quarter of 2021, according to the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control.

After all the lip service by rich countries about equitable access to vaccine, can this glaring inequality be quickly addressed and distribution to Africa and other developing countries be speeded up? Thank you.

[President Mahamat answers.]

Secretary-General: It's true we are seeing vaccine nationalism moving with full speed, and the only way to guarantee to the African continent... the vaccines that the African continent needs and we all needs... because if Africa is not properly supported, we will not be able to fight the pandemic anywhere effectively. The only way is, of course, to make sure that the COVAX initiative that has gathered a large number of countries but all the specialised institutions, from the World Health Organization to Gavi to CEPI and to all the others, to make sure that the COVAX is financed, getting in the next two months the $4.2 [billion] it needs and then the additional funding that is necessary afterwards, to make sure that vaccines approved by the World Health Organization can be distributed in Africa sooner rather than later.

It is my hope that we'll be able to do it before the second quarter, but it is true that what we are seeing today is an enormous effort by several countries in order to ensure vaccines for their own populations. And until now, it has not been fully met, the requirements of COVAX in relation to the financing that is needed.

But COVAX is working hard. There are several vaccines in the pipeline for COVAX, and it is perfectly possible to deliver if the financing is guaranteed.

Question: [in French] Monsieur le Président, il y a de fortes dissensions au sein de la force G5 Sahel qui perturbent fortement la lutte contre les terroristes. Est-ce que vous pouvez nous en dire un peu plus? 

Au Mali, quelles sont les relations entre les nouvelles autorités et la Mission? Est-ce que la Mission peut continuer à travailler? Merci. 

[President Mahamat answers.]

Secretary-General: [in French] La Mission de la MINUSMA n’a jamais été interrompue et la coopération avec les autorités maliennes est maintenant entièrement rétablie avec le nouveau gouvernement dans tous les domaines.

Question: Question to you both on Ethiopia. Almost exactly a year ago, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As ever, that award took place on Human Rights Day; yet one year on, his government has been accused ‑‑ and I quote the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ‑‑ "of gross human rights violations and abuses." Is it time to get tougher on Ethiopia and time for the Security Council of the UN to act?

Secretary-General: I think this is the moment to have a serious discussion with the Ethiopian authorities on, as I mentioned, re‑establishment of the rule of law, full respect for human rights, active reconciliation and unimpeded humanitarian access. This is what we are doing.

And I have to say that, in my last discussion with the Prime Minister, there was a full acceptance by the Prime Minister of the need to move into this direction. This has been discussed in the Security Council. It's up to the members of the Security Council to decide whatever action they will want to launch. But our main objective is to establish with the Ethiopian Government a functional relationship, allowing for these objectives to be achieved.

[President Mahamat answers.]

Question: Thank you so much. Thank you, President. Thank you, Secretary‑General, for this press conference. My question is directed... I am... my name is Abdelhamid Siyam from the Arabic Daily Alquds Alarabi. And my question is directed to the President of the African Union regarding the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.

The crisis between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia has not been solved. Egypt tried to internationalise the question. It brought it to the Security Council. There was one meeting only for consultation, and the African members of the Security Council did not prefer to bring the issue to the Security Council. However, the mediation of the African Union is not getting anywhere, and Ethiopia is going ahead and filling the dam against the wishes of its two neighbours.

Do you... can you share with us where is the mediation efforts... have reached now? Is there any hope that this question will be settled peacefully? Thank you very much.

[President Mahamat answers.]

Question: Hi, Secretary‑General, Mr. President. Thank you for the briefing. Secretary‑General, I'd just like to follow up with you on Ethiopia, please. What can you tell us about what the United Nations knows about the fighting that is taking place there? What happens if the UN cannot get aid access?

And has the UN seen any evidence of Eritrean troops fighting in Ethiopia?

And just a quick follow‑up question, as well, on the vaccine. In some of the richer countries where the vaccine will be rolled out shortly and already is being rolled out, there are people who are a little nervous about taking it. What's your message to them? And will you take the vaccine when it's available to you? And would you do that publicly? Thank you.

Secretary-General: First of all, in relation to Ethiopia, we have no proof of the presence of Eritrean troops inside Ethiopia. I confronted the Prime Minister with that question, and he guaranteed to me that they have not entered Tigrayan territory, that the only area where they are is the area that corresponded to the disputed territory between the two countries that, in the peace agreement, was decided to give back to Eritrea. So, this was the testimony that was given to me by the Prime Minister when I confronted him exactly with that question.

We have information of sporadic fighting in different areas of the country, but we also have the information that there was in the last few days a progressive increase of security and control. But again, [this is] information that I am not in a position to fully confirm.

The only thing I can say is that after the first agreement that was not possible to implement immediately that we have now a second agreement for joint assessment missions in relation to humanitarian needs between the UN and Ethiopia to make sure that there is full access to the whole of the territory and full capacity to start humanitarian operations based on real needs and without any kind of discrimination.

In relation to the vaccines, of course, I intend to receive the vaccine when it becomes available for me in whatever the situation that will be justified for that. And, obviously, I will have no doubt in doing it publicly.

I encourage everybody that has access to the vaccine to be vaccinated, because it is a service, not only that we provide to ourselves, each one of us being vaccinated provides a service to the whole community, because we are no longer spreading... there is no risk of spreading the disease. So, vaccination is for me a moral obligation in relation to all of us.