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UN: Is Africa taking second place?

Lhe spotlight is on Ukraine in these early days of the 77e session of the United Nations General Assembly. Like the Covid-19 pandemic, this very serious crisis shows that when strong political will emerges around a cause, stewardship follows. Massive means exist to support the resolution of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict while there is a lack to finance development and humanitarian programs throughout the world.

Indifference to the alert launched by NGOs

The United Nations is seeking $41 billion to meet growing needs. And 200 NGOs alerted on September 20 donors who seemed indifferent to the risks of a famine aggravated by drought and global warming. And they insist on this figure: 345 million people in the world suffer from acute hunger, a number that has more than doubled since 2019.

It is not a question of making a judgment, but rather of making an observation: colossal funds have been released to organize the response to Covid-19 – while there still seems to be a shortage to deal with the very first of the emergencies of climate change, with worsening disasters all over the world. As Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, asserts, action on this plan is “put on the back burner while we have a date with climate catastrophe”.

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Polarized debates over the West-Russia rivalry

What about Africa in such a context? Is it likely to take a back seat in the multilateral discussions which will last until December in New York, while it remains the region of the world most affected by conflicts? While many countries on the continent remain at the back of the pack in the Human Development Index (HDI) measured each year by the United Nations Development Programme?

A summit on security in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea, in the presence of a high-level panel, has certainly been scheduled, as well as an extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The question is whether these summits will be enough to make serious progress on the path to lasting solutions.

The crisis in the Sahel is worsening day by day: 5,450 people lost their lives in the region between January and June 2022, particularly in Burkina Faso and Mali. Extremists and non-state actors, who attack civilians in total insecurity, are singled out. This does not seem to influence the course of the debates in the United Nations, polarized on the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and on the rivalry between the Western countries said to have a democratic regime and the others, Russia and China in the lead, symbols of the regimes with authoritarian power.

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A new partnership is to be built…

As the world pushes for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine, it should also make a new partnership with Africa a priority, if only in view of the continent emerging as one of the last if not the world’s last frontier of growth.

For the record, a Marshall Plan for Africa was launched by Germany in 2017. Similarly, under German leadership, the Compact with Africa (CwA) was adopted in 2017 by the G20, with the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and African Development Bank (AfDB) in 12 of the 54 countries on the continent. Admittedly, the support for job creation is massive, but it does not prevent vulnerability to external shocks: the 2021 CwA report indicates that foreign direct investment collapsed in 2020 in all the countries supported – at the exception of Senegal – due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Another plan called “Power Africa”, launched by Barack Obama in 2013 and supported by USAID, has enabled 780 million dollars of investments and 27 million new connections benefiting 127 million people.

Thanks to these efforts, combined with many others, the share of the sub-Saharan population with access to electricity has jumped since 2013 from 38% to 48%, according to the World Bank. Nevertheless, it is time to think much bigger. Why ? Because the XXIe century left to be African because of its galloping demography.

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…to make Africa an asset for all

Young people in Africa will represent 35% of the world’s youth in 2050, against 15% in 2000. By 2030, that is to say tomorrow, they will be 30 million to enter a labor market threatened by a unemployment rate of 60% for countries south of the Sahara. If nothing is done urgently to provide the 6 million qualified teachers who are already lacking, to raise the level of health care and also to have a clear roadmap for the effective creation of jobs, this youth risks be a factor of instability. This will not fail to shake up the political deal, because young Africans are mostly aware that their future will have to be decided at home and not by fleeing to other regions of the world.

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A leap and leadership are needed on the continent

Sixty years after Independence, what are the keys to development? Among other things, certainly invest in agriculture and in the first of the industrial value chains, agribusiness. It is useless to indulge in postures of lamentation by throwing one’s own responsibilities onto the rest of the world. Several major projects have been launched, the results of which will be played out over the long term. Thus the African Continental Free Trade Area (Zlecaf) which aims to stimulate intra-African trade. While waiting to see the results, the continent needs a boost – and therefore leadership – to emerge from its vulnerability to external shocks. He must initiate his own transformation himself. No one will do this job instead of Africans, or better than Africans. And this, even if the current situation and the state of the world make them a little more alone in the face of their destiny.

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* Regional Coordinator of the Subregional Office for West and Central Africa of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

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