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Africa on the agenda of the UN General Assembly
19 September 2016

Heads of state from around the world will converge on New York in the next few days for the 71st regular session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The annual general debate will focus on issues such as sustainable development and global peace and security. Africa figures strongly when it comes to both these issues. The first UNGA discussion on refugees and migrants, on 19 September, will also include an important contribution from African states.

A number of topics at the 71st UNGA, from 13–26 September 2016, are centred on the promotion of sustainable economic growth and development. In Africa, this is crucial not only in terms of raising the standard of living of all Africans but also in addressing the root causes of conflicts. African economies continue to grow but the continent is still lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to industrialisation, employment, education, health and the empowerment of women.

The UNGA debate will focus on issues such as sustainable development and global peace and security
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The theme of the annual general debate is ‘The Sustainable Development Goals: a universal push to transform our world’, as proposed by Peter Thomson of Fiji, president-elect of the 71st UNGA. The debate is aimed at assessing the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as adopted by the UN on 25 September 2015. The 2030 Agenda provides opportunities to address poverty and socioeconomic issues across the globe, especially in developing regions such as Africa.

UN support for Agenda 2063

Pertinent to Africa, the UN’s 2030 Agenda highlights the need to support the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Beyond the lofty plans and statements there is a growing push towards ensuring that economic development initiatives benefit ordinary citizens rather than just small elites.

Other topical issues for Africa on the agenda of the summit include:

  • The implementation of the declaration of commitment on HIV/AIDS
  • A review of the decade to roll back malaria in developing countries, particularly in Africa, from 2000 to 2010
  • The protection of the global climate for present and future generations
  • The implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification
  • The promotion of new and renewable sources of energy
There is a growing push to ensure economic development initiatives benefit ordinary citizens
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Peace and security in Africa

At the summit, the UN Security Council (UNSC) will also deliver its annual report. The insecurity in a number of African countries is likely to be discussed. Among these are the situations in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Burundi, Gabon and Guinea-Bissau.

The security crisis in South Sudan is a particular concern for the UN, with its Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) not only constrained from protecting civilians but also vulnerable to attacks by warring parties. A UNSC delegation visited South Sudan earlier this month to persuade the government to accept the proposed UN-mandated Regional Protection Force. Although South Sudan’s transitional government of national unity had accepted the regional force in principle, the government has reportedly set new criteria that could stall the deployment of this force. International and regional actors will have to use their leverage to get the South Sudanese leaders to pursue peace efforts.

Crises around elections in Africa on the agenda

The UNGA could also weigh in on election crises in Africa. In the DRC uncertainty about the elections that are supposed to be held in November has sparked protests by opposition parties. This has complicated the crisis in the fragile region, where the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has been working since 1999.

The security crisis in South Sudan is a particular concern for the UN
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In Gabon the proclamation of the preliminary results of the presidential election on 31 August has sparked violent protests that threaten the security of the Central African nation. Meanwhile, in Burundi, the pre- and post-election crisis has led the UN to authorise the deployment of 228 UN police. However, the Burundian government has rejected the police force, which is supposed to monitor the security situation in the country. The upcoming election in Somalia also raises concerns about the destabilising potential of the terror group al-Shabaab, as the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) works towards an exit by 2020.

In Guinea-Bissau the AU and the UN are jointly trying to address the on-going political and institutional crisis. Political divisions have delayed the adoption of the government programme and budget, with implications for the delivery of government services. The international community fears that the armed forces of Guinea-Bissau may intervene in the crisis, in light of the coup d’état in 2012.

Furthermore, the divisive question of independence for Western Sahara remains on the UN agenda, under the heading ‘The implementation of the declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples’.

The Burundian government has rejected the police force to monitor the security situation
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The international community needs to develop a common position on the security challenges in Africa, where the contradictory interests of external actors complicate peace processes. The UN also needs to do more to promote good governance and prevent human rights abuses.

Post-conflict and reconstruction efforts to be reviewed

At the summit, the UN Peacebuilding Commission (UNPBC) will provide an update on post-conflict and reconstruction efforts in the six African countries – Burundi, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone – that it had prioritised since its formation in 2005. The AU Peace and Security Council intends to hold a donors’ conference on 17 November in Brussels to support post-conflict reconstruction efforts. The support of the UNPBC is crucial to a productive outcome at this meeting.

The plight of migrants and refugees

On 19 September the UN will host the Summit for Refugees and Migrants to coordinate responses to international migration. The meeting will be the first time the UNGA discusses the mass movement of refugees and migrants at the level of heads of state and government.

The UN will host the Summit for Refugees and Migrants to coordinate responses to migration
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The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will give feedback on the plight of refugees, returnees and displaced persons. The upsurge in migration to Europe in recent years has placed the issue in the spotlight. Sub-Saharan Africa already hosts 26% of the world refugee population – more than any other region in the world. Conflict and insecurity on the continent have contributed significantly to the increase in migrants and refugees within Africa and to Europe. Many of these migrants embark on perilous journeys through the Sahara desert and across the Mediterranean to reach transit and destination countries.

On the margins of the UNGA, on 20 September, United States President Barack Obama will also host a leaders' summit on refugees to appeal to governments to pledge significant new commitments on hosting refugees.

The UN has maintained that states should protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants. This includes addressing the challenges of international migration through international, regional or bilateral cooperation and dialogue in recognition of the roles and responsibilities of countries of origin, transit and destination. There is a need for the international community to do more to address the root causes of migration, especially forced migration across the globe.

Cooperation between the UN and regional organisations

At the summit the question of financing AU peace operations will also be addressed
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In line with Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, cooperation with regional organisations is crucial. In Africa a strategic partnership between the UN and AU is imperative for shared solutions to address matters of peace and security. At the summit the question of financing AU peace operations will also be addressed.

The current proposal on financing AU peace operations as presented by Dr Donald Kaberuka, the AU High Representative for the Peace Fund, sees an enhanced role for the UN. The proposal envisages the generation of 75% of the funds for AU peace operations through UN assessed contributions, with 25% provided by African states. This would be done on a case-by-case basis. The Kaberuka plan, which was endorsed at the AU summit in July, also requires the institution of a universal levy of 0.2% on eligible imports to Africa. Given that the levy is to be placed on imports coming into Africa, the proposal will ideally require some cooperation with non-African countries that trade with African states, even though the burden falls on African states.

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