Between the UN and Africa

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UN signals new era of partnership with Africa, Increased attention may prevent conflict on the continent

With United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres as a guest at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in his first month in office in January 2017, and then again this January past, the UN is signaling a new era of partnership with the regional body and with the continent.
“I stand here on behalf of the United Nations system and reaffirm our strong commitment to the member states and the people of Africa,” Mr. Guterres told the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU), in January. He added prophetically, “I strongly believe Africa is one of the greatest forces for good in our world.”

António Guterres  United Nations Secretary-General

António Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General

Flanked by the executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe, and his new special adviser on Africa, Bience Gawanas, the Secretary-General announced a “platform of cooperation” to align the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the agenda of the African Union for 2063.

Mr. Guterres described how the AU-UN partnership could be strengthened in five key areas: anti-corruption measures, cooperation in peace and security, inclusive and sustainable development, climate change action and international migration.

Combatting the “far-reaching and devastating” impact of corruption, tax evasion and illicit financial flows—a main theme of this year’s AU Summit—requires an unimpeachable commitment to transparency and accountability,” he said, offering the UN’s full support. He also welcomed the designation of 2018 as African Anti-Corruption Year.

Mr. Guterres—a former Portuguese politician and UN high commissioner for refugees—has demonstrated interest in African affairs. He has already visited the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

By picking Amina J. Mohammed, Nigeria’s former environment minister, as his deputy, Mr. Guterres sent an important signal with respect to diversity and sustainable development in Africa.

UN peacekeepers
In Addis Ababa in 2017, Mr. Guterres touched on the “need to change the narrative about Africa” from a conversation “based on all the current crises in African countries,” which he termed “a partial view” to “a narrative that recognizes Africa as a continent with enormous potential…[and with] extraordinary success stories from the point of view of economic development and governance.”

In prior years, UN officials of various institutions delivered similar sentiments, but more as exhortations than in recognition.
The UN headquarters in New York has hosted a number of Africa-themed events recently, mainly on development issues.

Outside of New York, deputy secretary-general Mohammed last year led to Africa a high-level team including UN Women’s executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, and the African Union special envoy on women, peace and security, Bineta Diop. Their mission was to promote women’s active participation in peacemaking, peacebuilding, security and development.

In the past, foreign leaders’ near indifference to African issues represent. The apparent shift from a concentration on crises to a discussion of economic, political and security matters is attractive but may be too optimistic, some analysts say.



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July 2018