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We must prioritize response to COVID-19, reaffirm focus on sustainable development, Deputy Secretary-General tells Security Council

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DSG/SM/1657
28 OCTOBER 2021

Following are Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Security Council’s virtual high-level debate on cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations — African Union:

The Secretary-General regrettably could not join you today and he therefore asked me to convey his regards and to provide this briefing on his behalf.

Let me begin by congratulating Your Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta, as Kenya concludes a prolific month as President of the Security Council. I also salute Donald Kaberuka, African Union High Representative for Financing of the Union and the African Union Peace Fund, who joins us today.

And thank you to the members of the Security Council for helping us shine a spotlight on the vital importance of peace and security in Africa. And how the United Nations — and all Member States — can join forces with the African Union and other regional and subregional groups to achieve this vision.

This discussion takes place in the context of a number of worrying trends across the continent. COVID-19 has created additional socioeconomic burdens on countries’ efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

In too many places, we are seeing a rise in seizures of power by force. Earlier this week, a military coup d’état took place in Sudan, posing a major threat to the political transition taking place since the signing of the Constitutional Declaration in August 2019.

The conflict in northern Ethiopia continues unabated, despite appeals by the African Union and the United Nations for a permanent ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access to the Tigray region.

In the Sahel, and throughout the Lake Chad Basin region, we face persistent threats of terrorism and violent extremism from groups affiliated to Al-Qaida, Da’esh and Boko Haram. And we’re seeing a proliferation of militias.

And across Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty, inequalities and all the drivers of conflict. It has undercut the provision of public services, disrupted supply chains, slowed economic activity, and hampered peace agreements and conflict resolution.

Despite these worrisome developments, the people of Africa are determined to work relentlessly for a more prosperous, sustainable and peaceful continent. One based on shared values and the universal principles of human rights.

The Secretary-General’s annual report on the partnership between the United Nations and the African Union contains a number of hopeful developments. This includes a peaceful and inclusive election in Burkina Faso. And peaceful transfers of power in Niger and Zambia following presidential elections.

Throughout, we’re seeing growing cooperation between the United Nations, the African Union, and subregional organizations on sustainable development, elections and peace processes. In Libya, for example, the United Nations is working closely with the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the European Union to support the ceasefire agreement and preparations for the upcoming elections.

The African Union has played a particularly active role in the International Follow-Up Committee on Libya of the Berlin process, including as a co-chair of the Security Working Group. I also welcome the African Union’s efforts to lead international support for the Libyan reconciliation process. The United Nations stands ready to work with the African Union in support of Libyan authorities and support a rights-based reconciliation process.

We’re also working closely with the African Union and subregional organizations to support the countries of the Sahel and beyond, including to address the return of mercenaries and foreign fighters to their countries of origin. And we’re committed to continuing our support for the African Union-led negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The United Nations special political missions, peacekeeping missions, and country teams in Africa continue to provide comprehensive support to other peace initiatives and political transitions — including in Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

We work closely with the African Union on regular joint consultations and analyses through our cooperation frameworks for peace and security, humanitarian aid and for sustainable development — our blueprint for joint integrated action. The United Nations Office to the African Union is playing a key role in that regard.

And once the ongoing discussions on the division of responsibilities between the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities/Regional Mechanisms are concluded, the United Nations looks forward to continue harnessing the opportunities and strengths of each organization, and build effective conflict prevention and resolution strategies as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change continues to affect the continent, particularly women and youth.

While our partnership with the African Union and subregional organizations is a necessary condition for peace, security, humanitarian, development, and justice in Africa, we also recognize that all Member States need to support these efforts.

In the Secretary-General’s report on Our Common Agenda, he underlined the need to re-embrace global solidarity to find new ways to work together for the common good of all people in every country, grounded in human rights and through a stronger, more networked and inclusive multilateral system. In this context, I would like to add three urgent actions that require global solidarity and support.

First, we need to prioritize our response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa through accelerated vaccine distribution, strengthening national health systems and much needed investments in preparedness. Today, only about 5 per cent of the population in Africa is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. We urgently require universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, support for domestic manufacturing of vaccines, and financing to alleviate the socioeconomic challenges caused by the pandemic.

Second, we need to reaffirm our focus on sustainable development, with Agenda 2030 and 2063 at the heart of our common efforts. Ultimately, sustainable and inclusive development is our best chance to address the root causes of conflict and achieve a future of peace and prosperity for all.

Despite the pandemic, African countries have shown remarkable resilience. According to International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates, economic growth will expand at 3.4 per cent in 2021, but African countries are in urgent need of liquidity and debt relief to create jobs, expand social protection and reverse poverty trends. Recovery must be grounded in advancing just transitions in key areas such as energy, food systems, digital connectivity and infrastructure. Urgent action is needed to speed up the re-channelling of special drawing rights (SDRs) and increase fiscal space.

Spurring these transitions and implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area — a major achievement for the region — will facilitate trade, help reduce emissions, support those who are shifting from the brown economy and create new jobs geared to the economy of tomorrow for Africa’s burgeoning youth population. It could also boost the region’s combined GDP by $44 billion and create millions of jobs. In addition, digital transformation offers the potential to considerably accelerate trade, job creation and access to services.

And as we look to a sustainable and green recovery out of COVID-19 and to meet the promises of the 2030 Agenda, we should redouble our commitment to strengthening our institutions to respond to the needs of all people — especially women, youth, and minorities. One powerful litmus test will be ensuring the full representation of women as countries make the journey to peace and stability.

And third, we need to continue securing adequate, predictable, and sustainable resources that will bring to life development, peace and security mandates across Africa. Here, I would like to highlight the centrality of ensuring coherent action across peace, development and humanitarian objectives in the continent — in establishing a common vision, in ensuring complementarity and safeguarding of investments.

The African Union Peace Fund is an inspiring example. I call on the members of this Council to work with the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to strengthen financing mechanisms for African Union-led peace support operations authorized by the Security Council.

In the Sahel, the United Nations stands ready to, jointly with the African Union, convene an international forum with the G5 Sahel States and their partners to bolster peace and development efforts across the Sahel in support of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.

Under the guidance of Member States, we will spare no effort to make our partnerships more effective to help all Africans build a more inclusive, prosperous, integrated and peaceful continent, as envisaged in Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

For information media. Not an official record.