UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, says women and young people must be part of Africa’s plans to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which is feeding factors driving conflict on the continent.
Mr Guterres said that many communities and countries were already facing a complex peace and security environment. He said that challenges such as long-standing inequalities, poverty, food insecurity and climate disruption were raising risks of instability.
“One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, as we face the possibility of an uneven recovery, it is clear that the crisis is feeding many of these drivers of conflict and instability,” he pointed out.
Since the pandemic began, the secretary-general had repeatedly warned of the risks it posed to people and societies across the world, especially in countries affected by conflict.
“This was the backdrop to my appeal for a global ceasefire to enable us to focus on our common enemy: the virus,” he recalled.
He said that the appeal was more relevant than ever with continued chronic violence in some countries, and the re-emergence of old conflicts in others.
Mr Guterres pointed out that violent extremist groups in Western and Central Africa and Mozambique, including those associated with Al-Qaeda and ISIS had continued and even increased attacks on civilians, creating additional major challenges for societies and governments. The secretary-general listed some of the fallouts of the pandemic in Africa.
“Economic growth has slowed, remittances are drying up, and debt is mounting. Meanwhile, some governments have also restricted civic space, while hate speech, divisive rhetoric, and misinformation have risen along with caseloads.
“The severe impact of the pandemic on young people – especially in Africa, the youngest continent – is contributing to increased risks. “Loss of opportunities for education, employment and income drive a sense of alienation, marginalization and mental health stress that can be exploited by criminals and extremists,” he warned.
He said COVID-19 is also deepening existing gender inequalities and threatening hard-won gains made in women’s participation in all areas of social, economic and political life, including peace processes.
“I urge the Member States to make proactive efforts to include women and young people when shaping post-pandemic recovery.
“Guaranteeing equal opportunities, social protection, access to resources and services and inclusive and meaningful participation in decision-making are not simply moral and legal obligations.
“They are a necessary condition for countries to exit the conflict trap and get firmly on the pathway of peace and sustainable development.” In addition, Mr Guterres said Africa had received less than two per cent of COVID-19 vaccines administered globally.
He said although African governments had shown commitment to fighting the pandemic through a unified continent-wide approach, limited supply and access to vaccines, as well as insufficient support for pandemic response were now hampering and delaying recovery.
“Out of 1.4 billion doses administered around the world today, only 24 million have reached Africa – less than two per cent,’’ he said.
The Secretary-General emphasised that equitable and sustainable vaccine roll-out worldwide was the quickest path to fast, and fair, recovery from the pandemic.
He said this required countries to share doses, remove export restrictions, ramp up local production and fully fund global initiatives that promote equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.