The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to have devastating consequences for societies and economies across the world.
The number of cases remains low in Africa compared to other parts of the world, and early on African heads of state showed strong leadership in mitigating the health impact of COVID-19. However, the continent is still grappling with considerable challenges, including securing large scale access to vaccines and overcoming the socio-economic crisis resulting from the pandemic.
In this context, Egypt is convening the second edition of the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development, which will be held virtually from 1-5 March 2021 under the motto “Shaping Africa’s New Normal: Recovering Stronger, Rebuilding Better”.
The Forum, which was launched in 2019 during Egypt’s chairing of the African Union (AU), is premised on the imperative of strengthening the interlinkages between sustaining peace and sustainable development.
Held under the auspices of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, it brings together African leaders as well as high level officials from development partners, regional and international organisations, civil society, industry, and academia.
It works on forward-looking discussions on the threats, challenges, and opportunities as Africa charters on its pathway for recovery post-COVID-19. It aims to advance a positive and ambitious agenda through decisive leadership and innovative solutions
COVID-19 impact on Africa
While Africa accounts for a relatively small share of the global pandemic death toll, around 100,000 fatalities since the first case of COVID-19 was reported on the continent a year ago, mitigating the health effects of the pandemic is putting the underfunded and already weak health sector in many African countries under considerable stress.
On the economic side, it is estimated that most African countries witnessed a GDP contraction in 2020 for the first time in 25 years. With more than three-quarters of the African population working in the informal sector, some socio-economic groups, such as women and children, have been particularly hit much worse than others.
Loss of employment by migrant workers has also considerable effect on African economies as they hugely rely on remittances. The worldwide lockdown measures against COVID-19 will plunge 40 million people from sub-Saharan Africa into poverty.
At the same time, the pandemic has magnified existing vulnerabilities in many African countries, and laid bare pockets of fragility that predate the crisis.
Challenges to peace, security and development still persist as the continent continues to witness an upsurge in terrorism, transnational organised crime, and violent conflict. Siloed and reactive responses by a range of actors continue to result in fragmented interventions that do not adequately deal with the systemic nature of risks.
The Aswan Forum can contribute to the strong recovery and rebuilding better to strengthen sustainable peace and development in Africa.
The second edition of the Aswan Forum, building on the conclusions of the first edition, posits that the COVID-19 crisis further reinforces the need for African countries to shift away from short-term crisis management.
Instead, they should move towards long term sustainable peace and development with prevention and resilience at its core, as an integral part of strategies to “recover stronger” and “rebuild better”.
Grounded in the AU (AU) Agenda 2063, the Forum will continue to champion home grown solutions and efforts to ensure that national, regional and continental actors are better equipped to deal with new risks and threats which require holistic responses.
In this context, it will also focus on concrete measures to push forward the implementation of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus both on the strategic and operational levels.
The second edition of the Forum will also address a number of themes which were not present in the first edition such as: climate change; trade, in light of the recent launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA); Arts, Culture and Heritage, the AU theme of the year for 2021; as well as infrastructure and finance which are essential levers for post-COVID-19 recovery.
The Forum will also continue to tackle peace and security challenges such as preventing terrorism, conflict prevention, and post-conflict reconstruction and development. This is an ever greater priority for Egypt as it has been recently elected as the Chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission for 2021.
The country is also the champion of post-conflict reconstruction and development in the AU and the host of the AU Centre working in this area. It is paving the way for it to play an active role in ensuring greater synergies and complementarity between the work of the two organisations in this area.
The Aswan Forum is supported by a number of strategic partners such as Japan, Sweden, and the African Development Bank, as well as knowledge partners such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and a range of other UN organisations and think tanks.
The forum provides a unique setting to bring forward concrete proposals and initiatives that take forward cooperation between African countries and that also strengthen partnerships between these countries and a range of partners.
Such a high level platform for dialogue and exchange of experiences is most needed at a time when the pandemic brings unprecedented challenges. The recovery calls for new forms of international solidarity and cooperation to advance sustainable peace and development on the African continent and beyond.
The Forum ultimately reflects Egypt’s firm commitment to contribute towards addressing the challenges facing the African continent at this critical juncture.
Ahmed Abdel-Latif, Director-General of the Cairo International Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding and Executive Director of the Aswan Forum Secretariat