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The UN and the Challenge to Change the Narrative for Africa

In the United Nations Security Council, two meetings within 24 hours dedicated to the crisis in Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the South Sudan’s Ministry of Health and partners to scale up on vaccinations. (Photo: WHO/South Sudan)

In a Security Council meeting focused on enhancing African capacities in peace and security, UN Secretary General António Guterres said: "I firmly believe that the international community needs to change the narrative about the African continent," calling for the UN to double its efforts in stabilizing a war-torn continent. Then, a good report about the status of the AIDS epidemic is tarnished by a Doctors Without Borders critic.

In a matter of 24 hours, Africa was at the center of the UN Security Council, with South Sudan and Congo. The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council in an open debate meeting on enhancing African capacities in peace and security that, “I firmly believe that the international community needs to change the narrative about the African continent. In the area of peace and security, the African Union and the United Nations had a shared interest in strengthening mechanisms to defuse conflicts before they escalated, and to manage them when they occurred. Enhancing African capacities was essential both for the collective response to such challenges and for the continent’s self-reliance.”  

Overall, Guterres said that enhancing African capacities in peace and security required adequate, timely and predictable financing for African Union peace support operations.  He recalled that African leaders agreed to funding 25% of the peace operations proposed by the UN. The SG’s report included financing options and highlighted the importance of compliance and oversight of African Union peace support operations through human rights mechanisms and a conduct and discipline framework.

After Guterres spoke, Ambassadors took the floor to express their remarks on the situation in the African continent.

Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi expressed support for the enhanced strategic cooperation with the African Union and stated that different financial support options set out in the Secretary-General’s report could be chosen on a case-by-case basis. He said, “Italy was also open to the use of assessed contributions to finance African Union peace operations so long as high accountability standards, among other factors, were met.” Cardi emphasized that the United Nations could not and should not tackle evolving threats alone, but rather with regional organizations and others. He said that, “in the long term, the only solution was to tackle root causes of instability.  In that regard, Italy would do its part to put Africa on the path of sustainable growth.

Ambassador Nikki Haley of the United States focused on the U.S.’s role in financing the African Union’s peace operation saying, “More than 14 million people are at risk of famine today in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan. This is a crisis that should be leading every newscast and on the front page of every newspaper. The United States will continue to lead in bringing together resources to overcome this crisis. On July 8, we announced an additional $446 million in humanitarian assistance to suffering people from South Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia, bringing the total for fiscal year 2017 to $1.4 billion. And we thank all the donors and communities hosting the displaced for their incredible generosity. But our ability to provide real relief is hampered by one inescapable fact: armed conflict is the primary cause of food insecurity in South Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia.”

The following day, the Security Council reconvened to discuss challenges facing South Sudan and underlined that overcoming obstacles borne of a volatile combination of insecurity and political uncertainty is critical for the war-torn country to be put on the track to peace and stability. El Ghassim Wane, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, told the Security Council that, “the security environment remains extremely volatile and South Sudan is in need of an effective and credible ceasefire,”noting reports of active military operations in parts of the country since the Government’s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in June. In his briefing, Mr. Wane also noted that while the Government has publicly expressed its commitment to create an environment conducive for the conduct of the National Dialogue, certain recent decisions seem to contradict those pledges, such as blocking of key media websites after their alleged criticism of the authorities. “Every effort should be made to ensure that [the Dialogue] is inclusive, transparent, takes place in a free and secure environment, has clear outcomes that complements the ARCISS [Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan] and is supported by a sufficiently broad political consensus from all political forces in the country,” he added.

Currently, the United Nations health agency is scaling up cholera responses in South Sudan, where 17,785 cases, including 320 deaths, have been reported since the outbreak in June 2016. Joseph Wamala, an epidemiologist at the World Health Organization (WHO), said in a news release from the agency’s Africa office that, “cholera is endemic in South Sudan and historically, outbreaks have occurred along major commercial routes and rivers in the dry season as well as during the rainy season.” Earlier this week, WHO received 500,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine and is working with South Sudan’s Ministry of Health and partners to carry out a vaccination campaign from 28 July to 3 August in four selected counties – Tonj East, Kapoeta South, Kapoeta North and Kapoeta East. “South Sudan has suffered from several major cholera outbreaks in the last four years. Following other successful oral cholera vaccine campaigns, WHO and partners can make a real difference in controlling the outbreak in Tonj and Kapoeta states and in other parts of the country,” said Mr. Wamala. Along with the use of the vaccine, South Sudan is implementing the integrated approach to control cholera, such as improving access to patient care, surveillance, social mobilization, water, sanitation and hygiene. As a result, cholera transmission in Bor, Mingkaman, Duk, Ayod, Bentiu, Leer, Aburoc, Malakal Town, and several other areas has been controlled. However, food insecurity and contaminated water from water points drying during drought-ridden seasons are putting people at increased risk of starvation and malnutrition, which furthers the possibility that a cholera outbreak in South Sudan will spread.

Alternatively, according to the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the mission “is becoming more flexible and mobile by focusing on rapid deployment of troops and air surveillance.” The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in DRC, Maman Sidikou, said the mission, known by its acronym MONUSCO, will close five fixed military bases at the end of the month in the North-Kivu province. “MONUSCO changes its mode of operations, as it continues to fulfil its mandate, that is, continuing to back Congolese authorities’ efforts for civilians’ protection,” said Mr. Sidikou. The new operations are already underway in the Kasai province, where some 350 MONUSCO troops have been deployed. The Mission is setting up an early warning system, including to improve its access to people. “To make the device more effective, it would be critical that communities swiftly transmit all security-related information to MONUSCO,” said the Mission’s military authorities. In March, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of MONUSCO for another year, but lowered the approved number of military personnel and military observers from 19,815 and 760, respectively, to 16,215 and 660. 

In a similar vein of positive reports, a recently published UNAIDS report, Ending AIDS: Progress towards the 90¬-90-90 targets, states that last year, 19.5 million of the 36.7 million people living with HIV had access to treatment and AIDS-related deaths have fallen from 1.9 million in 2005 to one million in. According to the report, life expectancy has significantly increased in the most affected countries, particularly in eastern and southern Africa. Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in a press statement that “we met the 2015 target of 15 million people on treatment and we are on track to double that number to 30 million and meet the 2020 target.” However, criticism struck from the NGO Doctors Without Borders  on this UNAIDS report. A press release from the Doctors without Borders camp said that, “unfortunately, this report fails to recognize that sustained support is critical and that many people living with HIV/AIDS—like those in West and Central Africa—remain neglected and continue to suffer needlessly and die silently from AIDS-related diseases and infections. Today’s report finds that there were 1 million AIDS-related deaths last year, compared to 1.9 million in 2005.” Sharonann Lynch, HIV and TB advisor for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) Access Campaign said, “while it is good news that so many are now on HIV treatment, one million deaths are still too many. People with HIV are still developing AIDS who go on to develop tuberculosis and opportunistic infections such as cryptococcal meningitis. UNAIDS’ data shows that one in three people with HIV only start antiretroviral treatment after they had already developed AIDS. This makes it more likely that their overall outcome will be worse. What’s more, people with HIV often don’t get the care they need for these opportunistic infections, when they need it.”

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