Peace and Security in Africa
Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council will hold a high-level open debate on “Addressing the root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa”. State Councillor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi will chair the open debate, which is one of China’s signature events during its May presidency of the Security Council. Secretary-General António Guterres, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Achim Steiner and a representative of the AU are the expected briefers. A presidential statement may be adopted in connection with the meeting.
Key Recent Developments
The initial health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa were not as great as first feared. As of 22 April, COVID-19 had infected 4.4 million and caused 118,849 deaths in Africa, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, Africa has been greatly affected by the secondary socioeconomic effects of the health crisis, which are frequent root causes of conflict.
According to the World Bank, the pandemic was projected to cause the first recession of sub-Sahara Africa in 25 years and push up to 40 million people in the region into extreme poverty. Supply chain disruptions and declining incomes contributed to increasing food insecurity, and government capacities to deliver services have been further stressed by declining revenues and increased debt burdens. Conflict-affected and fragile African states have been even more vulnerable to the shocks triggered by the pandemic. Moreover, as the UN has reported, terrorist and armed groups in Africa have sought to exploit the pandemic, and electoral processes faced heightened political tensions related to the health crisis.
While so far less deadly than in other parts of the world, a second wave of the pandemic has been sweeping through African countries since late 2020. There have also been a number of high-profile deaths allegedly from Covid-19: Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza in June 2020 and President John Magufuli of Tanzania in March 2021 are suspected of having died from the disease. Other prominent African officials who have died from COVID-19 include Eswatini Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, Malian opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé and former AU High Representative to Mali and the Sahel Pierre Buyoya, among others.
By the end of last year, the introduction of several vaccines was a major step toward bringing the pandemic under control. On 17 February, Security Council members held a ministerial-level open debate via videoconference on “ensuring the equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in contexts affected by conflict and insecurity”. Concerns were reiterated at the debate about unequal access to the vaccine between rich and developing countries. Secretary-General Guterres described the initial rollout of the vaccine as “wildly uneven and unfair”, observing that ten countries had administered 75 percent of all COVID vaccines while more than 130 countries had not yet received a single dose.
Nine days later, on 26 February, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2565, demanding a humanitarian pause to facilitate the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in areas of armed conflict. Resolution 2565 called for the strengthening of national and multilateral approaches and international cooperation, such as the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, to facilitate equitable and affordable access to the vaccine in armed conflict situations, post-conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies. It further stressed that equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable COVID-19 vaccines is essential to end the pandemic and expressed concern about uneven progress in vaccine access, recognising that those affected by conflict and insecurity are particularly at risk of being left behind.
The COVAX Facility—administered by the WHO, the Gavi vaccine alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and UNICEF—is the main multilateral mechanism to facilitate distribution of vaccines to poorer countries. It aims to support 92 low- and middle-income countries, including supplying 600 million doses to Africa. Deliveries of COVAX vaccines worldwide started in February. But by 8 April, Africa had only administered two percent of the 690 million vaccine doses administered globally, according to the WHO. Within Africa, ten countries make up 93 percent of administered doses.
The emergence of COVID-19 variants that could eventually prove resistant to vaccines has added urgency to vaccination campaigns. A more infectious coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa is thought to be fuelling much of Africa’s second wave of infections.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council (and a focus of the debate) is to understand how the pandemic has affected Africa and how the Council can work effectively with other international, regional and local actors to support recovery from the crisis. Of particular concern to the Council is how COVID-19 has interacted with and exacerbated root causes of conflict in Africa.
How the international community can help African countries bring COVID-19 under control is an overarching key issue since there can be no sustainable recovery without first containing the virus. That includes support for strained health systems and much greater access for African countries to vaccines.
Recovery from the pandemic also involves addressing its economic and social impacts. This includes considering how to support African countries in better implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and the AU’s 2063 Agenda, especially in conflict-affected and fragile states that are most vulnerable to being destabilised by socioeconomic fragilities and disruptions. A related issue is improving governance and state institutions that, as the pandemic has demonstrated, largely lacked the capacities to respond effectively. Another key issue is cooperation between the UN and regional and subregional organisations, which will be critical during African countries’ recovery.
The Council may adopt a presidential statement that could call for increasing the provision of vaccines to African countries by producers and donors to the COVAX Facility, recalling, as stated in resolution 2565, the role of extensive immunisation against COVID-19 as a global public good for health. On vaccines, a statement could also encourage support for developing manufacturing capacity of vaccines on the continent. A presidential statement may further highlight the importance of integrated approaches and peacebuilding activities that tackle root causes of conflict by promoting development and institution-building as well as protecting human rights and increasing women’s participation in society.
Recent years have seen Council members place more emphasis on tackling the root causes of conflict, often related to development, governance, climate change, and human rights—though they do not necessarily always agree on these root causes—and on the benefit of comprehensive, integrated approaches for maintaining international peace and security. Over the course of the pandemic, Council meetings have regularly considered how the COVID-19 crisis had exacerbated such socio-economic problems and the risk this posed to global security.
While the Council was supportive of the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire appeal to combat the pandemic, it took three months to adopt a resolution sponsored by France and Tunisia because of US-China tensions as the US sought to blame China and the WHO for the pandemic. With the new US administration, Council discussion around the pandemic has been much less divisive. The Council swiftly agreed on resolution 2565 on COVID-19 vaccines, adopting it as a “presidential text”, meaning all 15 Council members co-sponsored the resolution. It had in total 115 member-state co-sponsors—the third highest of any Council resolution. There were some differences during its negotiation: the US successfully opposed language on “putting people at the centre of the response” from resolution 2532, which the US considered to be language associated with President Xi Jinping of China. But members overcame their differences, keen to support the resolution and improve the Council discourse on COVID-19 compared to last year.
A difference that sometimes arises in discussing responses to the pandemic is over sanctions. Russia and China often recall, as have other members, their view that unilaterally-imposed sanctions should be waived as they can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic. The US and European countries, in particular, push back against such references to sanctions in Council products.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COVID-19
|Security Council Resolutions|
|26 February 2021S/RES/2565||This resolution demanded humanitarian pauses to deliver vaccines and reiterated the Council’s demand from resolution 2532 for a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.|
|1 July 2020S/RES/2532||This resolution demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on the Council’s agenda and called upon all parties to armed conflicts to engage immediately in a 90-day humanitarian pause.|
|Security Council Letters|
|19 February 2021S/2021/157||This letter contained the record of briefings and statements from Council members’ 17 February videoconference debate on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.|
|27 January 2021S/2021/90||This letter contained the record of briefings and statements from Council members’ 25 January videoconference briefing on the implementation of resolution 2532 for a global ceasefire.|