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Stand in solidarity to preserve Africa’s hard-won progress, urges UN chief

At the virtual launch of a UN briefing paper focusing on the impact of COVID-19 across Africa, Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that citizens across the continent have done much to advance their own well-being, detailing strong economic growth, an on-going digital revolution, and a bold free-trade area agreement. 

But, he added, “the pandemic threatens African progress”.

The UN chief elaborated on the coronavirus’ potential to aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease, saying “much hangs in the balance”.  

Demand for Africa’s commodities, together with tourism and remittances, are in decline, he observed.  “The opening of the trade zone has been pushed back – and millions could be pushed into extreme poverty”.

Moreover, the virus has taken more than 2,500 African lives: “Vigilance and preparedness are critical”, underscored Mr. Guterres.

‘Spectrum of urgent challenges’

Noting that while UN agencies, country teams, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian workers continue to provide support, “a spectrum of urgent challenges”, require more urgent assistance.

“We are calling for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings”, the UN chief spelled out.  

Mr. Guterres echoed his call for a global response package amounting to some 10 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and advocated for “across-the-board debt standstill”, followed by targeted debt relief.  

“It will also be essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism”, he continued, noting that upcoming elections “offer potential milestones for stability and peace”.

Women and youth

The UN chief underscored that as women will be central to every aspect of the response, stimulus packages must prioritize increasing social protection and putting cash in their hands.  

“Many difficult decisions will need to be taken as the pandemic unfolds, and it will be essential to retain the trust and participation of citizens throughout”, Mr. Guterres said.Moreover, African youth must be empowered, and human rights respected.

In closing, he asserted that Africa was still in the early days of coronavirus infection, compared with other continents, warning that disruption could escalate quickly.  

“Ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world”, concluded the Secretary-General.

Key recommendations

The policy brief suggests specific actions in five targeted areas:

  • Health – Medical testing capacities and supply access must continue to expand and improve, along with deploying more community health workers.
  • Economy –  A “people-first” approach that requires scaled up support to government and protect livelihoods.
  • Food security – Prioritize agriculture as a critical sector that should not be interrupted by COVID-related measures, with secure food corridors and uninterrupted supplies for farmers.
  • Peace and security – Silencing the guns is the top concern, including by implementing the Secretary-General’s and the African Union Commission Chairperson’s ceasefire appeal, and sustaining peace processes and critical peace operations. 
  • Recovery phase – Strategies must be devised to minimize inequalities and bolster health systems, social protection, cohesion, and inclusion.

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