Open Debate on Addressing the Root Causes of Conflict and Post-Pandemic Recovery in Africa via VTC*
Tomorrow morning (19 May), Security Council members will hold a high-level videoconference (VTC) open debate on “Addressing the root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa”. State Councillor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of China Wang Yi will chair the meeting, which is one of China’s signature events during its May presidency of the Security Council. Secretary-General António Guterres, the Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Achim Steiner are the expected briefers.
A presidential statement is expected to be adopted at the meeting.
Tomorrow’s Open Debate
According to the concept note prepared by China for tomorrow’s debate, the meeting aims to improve the Council’s understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted conflict-affected countries in Africa. It can also serve as a platform to highlight the challenges and opportunities to support post-pandemic recovery in these countries. The concept note observes that the pandemic will have long-lasting ramifications on global public health and on the political, social and economic spheres. These effects will be particularly apparent, according to the concept note, in conflict-affected countries in Africa. It further raises concern about insufficient access to the vaccine in these countries, warning that they have “become the weak link in global post-pandemic recovery”.
The concept note details ways in which the pandemic has exacerbated the root causes of conflicts in Africa, which can become triggers for unrest and violence. These include, according to the concept note, the pandemic having worsened public health and humanitarian crises and severely stressing already weak public health systems. It has disrupted peace and reconciliation processes and escalated tensions around elections. Africa has also been significantly affected by the pandemic’s economic consequences. Sub-Saharan Africa is suffering its first recession in 25 years; 26 million people were driven into extreme poverty in the region during 2020; and there has been a significant rise in food insecurity. Moreover, the crisis has undermined governments’ ability to deliver social services.
An overarching question for participants at tomorrow’s debate is how the international community can help African countries halt the spread of the pandemic, as there can be no sustainable recovery without first containing the virus. That includes finding ways to better support strained health systems and facilitate greater access to vaccines for conflict-affected countries in Africa.
In considering the link between sustainable development and durable peace, the concept note suggests that participants reflect on ways to support African countries in their economic recovery and to better implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the AU’s 2063 Agenda, especially in terms of eradicating poverty, strengthening infrastructure and food security, and promoting education and employment. It also asks that speakers consider how to help African countries mitigate the impact and influence of the pandemic on state governance. Additionally, the concept note poses the question of how to gather global resources and generate consensus to better support African countries, including in medical, humanitarian and financial challenges, along with improving cooperation between the UN and regional and subregional organisations, especially the AU.
Tomorrow’s meeting follows the 17 February open VTC debate during the UK presidency on “ensuring the equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in contexts affected by conflict and insecurity” and the subsequent adoption of resolution 2565. The resolution, adopted on 26 February, demanded a humanitarian pause to facilitate the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in areas of armed conflict and called for more equitable and affordable access to the vaccine in armed conflict situations, post-conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies. The meeting also appears to build on Council discussions during the pandemic about how the global health crisis has been exacerbating conflict drivers such as economic problems or social tensions.
The Presidential Statement
The expected outcome of tomorrow’s debate is a presidential statement proposed by China. The draft statement stresses the need for greater support to African countries, especially those affected by conflict, to recover from the pandemic. It expresses concern that Africa has only received two percent of all vaccines administered globally and reiterates the need to enable equitable access to quality, safe, efficacious, and affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutic medicine and vaccines. Developed countries and all those in a position to do so are invited to increase and accelerate donations of vaccines through the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and the COVAX Facility, which is the main multilateral mechanism to promote the development of the vaccine and manufacturing capacity, and to support the vaccine’s distribution. Additionally, the draft text addresses various root causes of conflict and a range of peacebuilding activities, such as security sector reform, socioeconomic development, and the role of youth, women and civil society, among others.
Council members held two expert level meetings on the draft text on 7 May and 11 May, and members subsequently continued to exchange comments on the text electronically. The European Council members and the US broke silence on a draft of the text yesterday (17 May). The US broke silence twice today (18 May), but after further bilateral negotiations, consensus was achieved on an amended text this evening.
It appears that one area of discussion during the negotiations was on language proposed by the “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) about waiving intellectual property protections for the COVID-19 vaccine. It seems that the European Council members, India and the US expressed concern about the Council taking a position on this issue as there are ongoing discussions at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on this topic. A compromise was reached by using more neutral language which acknowledges that talks on waiving property protections are underway.
There were also differences among Council members over some of the proposed development-related language, which reflected priorities of China and the “A3 plus one”. The European members of the Council and the US appear to have expressed particular concern about passages that have been drawn from General Assembly resolutions and other non-Council sources that they felt touched on subjects outside the scope of the Security Council’s work. One such paragraph included references to debt relief, improved market access and the fulfilment of commitments on official development assistance, taken from a General Assembly resolution on “the causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa” (A/RES/74/302), which these Council members had voted against or abstained in the vote. Compromise was reached by substituting the initially proposed language with less divisive references to economic development.
The breaking of silence by the European members and the US appears to have largely centred on concerns about human rights-related language. It seems that European members could agree to the text after China expanded a paragraph that highlights the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to political, security, development, human rights and rule of law activities to further mention issues such as political, religious and cultural tolerance, freedom of opinion and expression and gender equality. However, the US objected to a reference to “social cohesion and inclusiveness” that was also added to the paragraph, apparently voicing concern that this might be used to justify restrictions on the freedom of expression.
The draft text that passed silence this evening (18 May) maintains the language on social cohesion and inclusiveness. It appears that other Council members felt that since the same paragraph also lists the freedoms of opinion and expression, the language in question could not be used as a pretext to curtail these rights. But as part of an apparent compromise, China added a new sentence about economic good governance previously suggested by the US to further address the latter’s emphasis on the importance of the rule of law for socioeconomic development.
*Post-script: On 19 May, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/10), expressing concern that despite having suffered some of the COVID-19 pandemic’s worst socioeconomic impacts—including inflated debt burdens, job losses and worsening conflicts—Africa has to date received just 2 percent of vaccine doses produced globally. In the statement, the Council reiterated the need to enable equitable access to quality, safe, efficacious and affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines to all, including the most vulnerable.