As we meet today – the pandemic continues to batter Africa – with unrelenting force. It is exposing and exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. The virus is compounding the double impact of conflict and climate change. It is compounding the root causes of conflict. The pandemic widens the poverty gap, undermines development gains, fuels local conflicts and disrupts peace processes. It widens the trust gap.
The pandemic response has been used as a pretext to limit civil liberties and human rights and restrict democratic space. This is not the way to build trust. Rather, it is the way to help the virus and curb future development. The pandemic must be met with leadership, partnership and a clear willingness to address the root causes of conflict. And deal with the consequences of the root causes. Causes and consequences alike must be met with collective action – based on trust. Trust between governments and citizens – trust between the United Nations and the African Union. Trust between all of us around this table. Trust that we can continue to improve the fine architecture for multilateral cooperation that has been raised since this assembly was summoned for the first time. The pandemic must be met with the kind of leadership and determination that the African Union and Ecowas have demonstrated recently in Mali and in partnership with the UN in the Central African Republic.
However, climate change doesn’t stop changing the conditions on the ground – for the worse. Heatwaves and flooding are increasing in frequency – destroying harvests – taking homes away – transforming food security into a question of hard security.
Tackling this requires the active involvement of those who will be affected the most. That is why I am so happy to see young people – all over the continent – taking part in the global debate on climate action. I’m pleased to see that many countries are stepping up their climate ambitions, most recently seen in the Climate Leaders’ Summit hosted by President Biden.
Navigating the pandemic – so that we can emerge stronger – will require strong partnerships to ensure that no one is left behind. Comprehensive attempts to limit the spread of the virus are hampered when state authorities are absent or too weak to play their designated role. Lack of stability makes it extremely challenging to roll out vaccines. Attacks on health care institutions and personnel are unacceptable. Creating trust in vaccination campaigns means creating trust in political leadership and institutions.
We need to use the same rationale and approach to combat this pandemic as we use to build peace and promote sustainable development: We need to address the root causes of fragility and violence – and our approach must be long-term, dynamic, fair and inclusive.
I commend the AU for its role in the pandemic response – most notably the efforts of Africa CDC. Beating the pandemic will also require global partnerships. Norway is doing its part – by co-chairing the ACT-Accelerator Facilitation Council together with South Africa. The AU initiative for a Partnership for Vaccine Manufacturing will play a crucial role in increasing production of vaccines on the continent. We must also work to remove any obstacles posed by conflict or weak infrastructure that will hinder vaccination campaigns after vaccines become available.
Building and sustaining peace will require strong partnerships in support of nationally owned solutions. The AU’s normative work on democracy, good governance, human rights and rule of law is essential. We encourage the AU to take further steps to resolve the conflict in Tigray. I also commend the work of the Peacebuilding Commission. National and local voices must be brought to the table – and heard. Women’s empowerment through meaningful participation is not just a self-evident human right. It is also a well-proven way to make peacebuilding effective.
This pandemic will not be over anywhere until it is over everywhere. We must fully acknowledge that post-pandemic recovery cannot wait – even as we increase our efforts to ensure vaccines for all. We must start planning now - addressing the root causes of conflict – through partnerships and preventive diplomacy.
We need to build back better – not resume business as usual. Let us lay the foundations for sustainable peace and sustainable development. Let us fill the trust gaps – the poverty gaps – the gaps between humanitarian assistance and long-term development. The education gaps. I still believe that we can eradicate extreme poverty before this decade is over. If we confront the root causes of conflict – as well as their consequences.