Statement by Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa: Africa Dialogue Series 2020: COVID-19 and Silencing the Guns in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities: 20 May 2020
Secretary-General António Guterres,
UN Deputy Secretary-General,
President of the UN General Assembly,
The EU Commissioner for International Partnerships,
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
The Executive Director for UN Women,
The Executive Director for AUDA-NEPAD,
The Secretary-General of the AfCFTA
I thank you for the honour of being invited to address this important Africa Dialogue Series on the theme, COVID-19 AND SILENCING THE GUNS IN AFRICA: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES, in our capacity as Chairperson of the African Union.
The African Union’s theme for the year 2020: “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development” is not only a rallying call, it is a fundamental precondition for achieving Agenda 2063. As we were intensifying efforts at “Silencing of the Guns”, we have had to shift our focus to developing a comprehensive response to the outbreak and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This deadly virus has caused a public health crisis, created uncertainty in communities and put a stop to productive economic activity. For many African countries, the virus poses a new unconventional and existential threat.
The socio-economic and humanitarian impact of COVID-19 threatens the gains we have achieved on the Continent. Moreover, the impact is likely to be felt months, if not years, after the pandemic, even as we implement social and economic measures to mitigate the epidemiological risks.
With over 4 million cases confirmed world-wide, reported infections in Africa remain comparatively low. Yet, with the number of confirmed cases rising every day, it is clear that the Continent will face a serious health crisis. Figures started rapidly rising in late April 2020, when Africa experienced a jump of more than 40% in just over a week. In May 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) further warned of mass casualties and overwhelmed health systems over a longer period of time, if countries fail to take a proactive approach to the crisis.
The African Union has taken very deliberate steps to respond to the scourge. We have developed a comprehensive AU COVID-19 strategy, established an AU COVID-19 Response Fund, embarked upon a fundraising drive to enhance the capacity of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), and appointed Special Envoys to mobilise support for the AU strategy against COVID-19. To date, we have raised US $61 million for both the Fund and the Africa CDC. These pan-African initiatives, taken by the Bureau of the Assembly of the AU, have been endorsed by all the regions of the AU, and also enjoy the support of African business leaders.
During the Jubilee Summit, the 2013 Solemn Declaration marking the 50th Anniversary of the OAU/AU was adopted. This was a renewed resolve and commitment by African leaders to tackle peace and security challenges confronting the Continent, through the AU’s Master Roadmap of Practical Steps for Silencing the Guns in Africa by the Year 2020, one of the flagship projects and programmes of Agenda 2063. Agenda 2063 remains Africa’s blueprint for its long-term socio-economic and integrative transformation.
Since the adoption of the AU Master Roadmap, the AU has made significant strides in reducing violent and armed conflicts throughout the Continent. The recently concluded peace agreements in South Sudan and in Central African Republic, the successful democratic elections in Madagascar and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the historic positive developments in the Horn of Africa, are all generating optimism about a Continent emerging from the shadows and moving steadily to restore peace and stability and make a decisive move towards integration.
The AU and its regional mechanisms have also enhanced their capacity for dealing with conflict and crisis situations on the Continent. In so doing, the AU continues to strengthen its Architectures on Peace and Security (APSA) as well as on Governance (AGA), which include a powerful set of instruments and practices. This has indeed helped the African Union and the international community to enhance their collaboration and partnership to the extent that, today, consultation and coordination between the AU, the RECs/RMs, the UN and other partners to harmonise strategies and interventions, have become the rule, rather than the exception.
Despite the laudable progress evident on the continent, the pandemic has starkly revealed several critical challenges. First, the preoccupation with conflict in some of our countries has detracted from a deliberate focus on our development goals.
Second, public services and public institutions are in need of significant support in order to develop the capacity to respond to unexpected challenges such as this global emergency. When we reach our peak of Coronavirus our public health systems will be overwhelmed and when vaccines and treatments are developed we will remain last in line. We must do more to invest in quality public services, research and innovation.
Third, our populations particularly women and the poor are far too dependent on survivalist economic activities and thus severely vulnerable to global threats of pandemics, food insecurity and climate change effects. All of these must be tackled as timely reminders in the post pandemic recovery phase.
Africa had begun to reorient its economic development toward increased industrialisation, manufacturing and intra-African trade through implementation of the Free Trade Area Agreement. This ambition has been paused by the pandemic but it must not be lost.
The challenges to achieve peace on the African Continent are complex and immense, involving multiple cross-cutting issues. These include, inter alia, socio-economic development and resilience; promoting access to resources and economic opportunity; and promoting and entrenching democracy and good governance. The scale and magnitude of the challenges involved and their inter-sectionality, require not only the availability and allocation of significant resources, but, also, the establishment of strong, sustainable and vibrant partnerships at national, regional, continental and international levels.
The AU Master Roadmap identifies a number of obstacles such as the persistence of illicit flows, illegal arms transactions, financing of terrorism and external political interference; climate change, environmental degradation and others, as constituting serious threats to the African peace and security agenda. We therefore call upon the international community, in particular members of the Security Council, to support the AU and its members to address these concerns.
The African Union supports the call by Secretary-General Guterres for a global cease fire in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is against this background that we call on all parties to conflict in Africa, notably in Libya, to lay down their arms and to commence negotiations aimed at lasting peace. Attacks on medical facilities, including hospitals and clinics, are condemned under all circumstances. At this time, it is of paramount importance that health care facilities in conflict areas are allowed to operate without hindrance.
The importance of gender equality and women empowerment in achieving “Silencing of the Guns” is central. This year coincides with a number of milestones on the Continent and globally, including the end of the Decade of African Women, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women as well as the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the 5th Anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals; and the 20th Anniversary of Resolution 1325, on women, peace and security.
The COVID-19 pandemic again poses additional threats to the achievement of gender equality and women empowerment. In all our efforts to address this global crisis, we must ensure that the rights of women and girls in Africa are protected and that women’s empowerment and gender equality are advanced.
In this context, the African Union calls for increased international humanitarian relief efforts to assist affected communities in conflict areas, in particular vulnerable groups such as women, children, refugees and displaced persons.
Reliable and sustainable funding for the African Union has been a persistent challenge over the past two decades, with an over-reliance on funding from international donors, which has historically resulted in a very strong interdependence and subordinate role for Africa in decision-making, particularly in the domain of peace and security. The newly established Peace Fund is pivotal to efforts aimed at ensuring that the AU achieves greater autonomy, ownership and self-reliance in addressing its peace, security and developmental challenges.
Timely and vigorous actions by all our leaders will not only lead to addressing the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, but will also contribute to strengthening the foundation for lasting cooperation and solidarity among African countries, in order to achieve durable peace, security and development in Africa.
Only through united, global action, can we overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, and achieve success in our efforts towards “Silencing of the Guns” on the African Continent.
I thank you.
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