Stand in Solidarity to Preserve Africa’s Hard-won Progress, urges UN chief

ADDIS ABABA – The coronavirus pandemic threatens the hard-earned gains Africans have made throughout the continent, the UN chief said on Wednesday, urging the world to stand in solidarity with the people, “now, and for recovering better”.

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 Guterres.

‘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.

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.

As African countries require quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment, Guterres recalled his appeal last month to support the Global Collaboration to Accelerate the Development, Production and Equitable Access to new COVID-19 Tools.

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