Hanna Tetteh is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the African Union. As head of the UN Office to the African Union (UNOAU), Ms. Tetteh spoke with Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor on, among other issues, the current state of the UN-AU partnership and how women and young people can help resolve conflict. These are excerpts from the interview:
How is the partnership between the United Nations and Africa Union going?
There are currently three partnerships between the UN and the AU: There’s the Partnership on Africa’s Integration and Development Agenda (PAIDA), one on Peace and Security, and another on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. A fourth partnership framework, on human rights, has been negotiated but not yet signed. The partnership that’s largely implemented by the UNOAU is the one on peace and security, and it plays to the strength of the AU because it has been more successful so far as a political organization than as an economic integration organization. We do common analyses and take common positions, and we have achieved progress.
What are some of the challenges or opportunities in the UN-AU partnership?
With every partnership, you’re not going to agree on every issue. But we have had more consensus than disagreements. We worked closely together, and with IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa], to help resolve the second round of conflict in South Sudan. That resulted in the establishment of a new transitional government this year.
Last year, we worked together on the Central African Republic to negotiate a new peace agreement. We look forward to elections in that country later this year, assuming COVID-19 will allow. We support AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia]. The AU force is providing military support for the transition process. UNSOM [the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia] and AMISOM help with political engagement and logistics. We have been challenged by the Libya process where the AU would like to be more proactive in resolving the conflict. Even then, we have made significant progress there following a peace summit in Berlin in January 2020.
How is COVID-19 impacting peace and security in Africa?
Countries in conflict already have infrastructure and resource challenges: inadequate healthcare facilities and low number of medical personnel, and so on. And then COVID-19 arrived on our doorsteps. In addition, most African countries, in conflict or not, have large informal economies wherein if people don’t work in a day, they can’t feed themselves. So, lockdowns have put a strain on people’s lives, especially those in the informal sector. In countries with elections coming up, the pandemic is challenging because the virus is passed through human contact, which happens at campaign events. We have about 15 or so more elections to go this year, and appropriate healthcare protocols will be needed to protect people.
Could post-COVID-19 recovery be an opportunity for Africa to build back better?
Yes, but it will depend on the policy choices member states make, as well as the resources available to them. A few countries are middle income countries–higher middle-income or lower middle-income. Those countries have the resilience and the resources to undertake prevention, response and recovery measures. But the LDCs [Least Developed Countries], whose economies are much more fragile, will need a lot of preparedness to develop appropriate policy responses that don’t require a huge outlay of resources. The international development community can help such countries build back better.
Is there a role for pan-African institutions such as the AU in building back better?
As I mentioned, the AU has been more of a political organization than an economic organization. But its development agency [African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD)] and other pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank and, on the UN side, the Economic Commission for Africa, can help countries develop policy responses.
How is the Silencing the Guns 2020 campaign going?
‘Silencing the Guns 2020’ is the theme of the AU for this year, which is why it’s getting a lot of attention. But the Silencing the Guns campaign started in 2013, on the 50th anniversary of the AU [formerly, the Organisation of African Unity]. The idea was to accelerate efforts at ending conflicts through mediation. In some cases, as with South Sudan, progress has been made. In some cases, as with the Sahel, we haven’t made the desired progress. We also see that conflict is spreading to other countries outside of Mali–Niger and Burkina Faso being the most vulnerable lately. I don’t think we can silence all the guns this year because of all the challenges, but it is a valid aspiration.
What more work can be done to silence the guns in Africa?
There needs to be an acceleration of mediation efforts. It is not easy to mediate in the way in which we are having this conversation [via video link]. When you want to bring political actors and communities together, you organize face-to-face discussions that enable people to come to agreements, and then you support them to implement such agreements. COVID-19 is challenging that kind of support and intervention.
Do you envision an Africa without war?
There is potential because the last two or three decades have witnessed considerable political progress and economic growth, and several conflicts have ended. But we need to look beyond simply ending conflicts to addressing the root causes of conflicts. And the root causes of conflict lie in bad governance which creates inequalities and does not promote growth and development. It’s important that we realise that peace is not a state that once achieved, can be taken for granted. Even countries that are relatively stable need conditions that help consolidate and enhance peace and stability–good governance, inclusiveness, strong institutions, the rule of law, etc.
Is Africa moving in the right direction, considering there are more democracies today than, say, 20 years ago?
The fact that we have more democracies today than previously is a good sign. But regular elections in and of themselves do not mean democracy. Democracy is about respect for human rights, good governance, responsive institutions that people can interact with, including a framework for the protection of stability through law and order, so people can go about their daily lives and achieve their dreams and their aspirations.
How is COVID-19 affecting refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons in Africa?
In some instances, the pandemic has worsened the situation. As cases increased in some countries, the response has been to deport irregular migrants. And in the refugee camps, especially in areas in conflict or coming out of conflict, it’s been difficult to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The IOM [International Organisation for Migration] has urged countries to respect the rights of refugees and to provide necessary facilities that safeguard them from the disease. The IOM also called for a halt to the deportation of irregular migrants at this time of COVID-19.
From a peace and security perspective, what are the challenges that may impede successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)?
The challenge for AfCFTA is not so much peace and security; it’s concluding negotiations for the rules of origin. It is also ensuring the agreement is implemented in a way that benefits economies. Because, remember, the AfCFTA is a very ambitious experiment to encourage trade among African nations. Some countries may lose customs revenues, and so those countries need to see the benefits of free trade.
What are your views on the role of women in peace and security in Africa?
Unfortunately, women are not included enough, and that needs to be addressed. Creating lasting peace and security in countries or communities in conflict involves negotiating a peace agreement and a process of reconciliation–that involves men and women. In situations where you are trying to rebuild communities, it requires the participation of the entirety of the community to make sure that the peace is consolidated. The UN has supported the AU’s project of developing a cohort of female mediators–FemWise Africa–for deployment in countries to ensure more women and young people are brought into the processes of mediation and peacebuilding.
Do young people have a role to play in conflict prevention, possibly resolution?
Absolutely. You can’t build peace without encouraging young people to be part of the peacebuilding process. They are the ones recruited as irregular fighters. You have to think about disarmament, demobilization and reintegration into communities. You make sure they don’t have the incentive to be part of organizations that terrorize communities. You want them to be part of the productive economy.
What is your message to Africans in these trying times?
We are a very strong and resilient continent. We have been through difficult times before. We have more democracies now and we’ve also seen economic growth. We need to be engaged in rebuilding our countries and creating an inclusive platform for integration. We are a continent of multiple ethnicities, and our diversity should be our strength. In the same way we condemn acts of discrimination in other parts of the world, we should not discriminate amongst ourselves on the basis of ethnicity. That’s an important aspect to promote our growth and development and to strengthen peace.