Guterres’ West Africa Visit Hit the Right Notes, but Still Came Up Short
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio visited Dakar, Senegal, this week as part of his first trip to the African continent since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The ongoing impacts of the pandemic, including its multiplier effect on public health, economics, conflict, climate action and political stability, have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and the collective response to that conflict, a major theme of Guterres’ visit to West Africa.
During his three-nation tour to Senegal, Niger and Nigeria, which began last weekend and ended Wednesday, Guterres called on rich countries to increase their investment in African countries, at a time when the continent’s recovery from the pandemic has been upended by the rising cost of food, energy and other essential goods due to the war in Ukraine.
“This war is aggravating a triple crisis: food, energy and financial, for the region and well beyond,” Guterres said before an Iftar dinner Sunday with Senegalese President Macky Sall, who currently serves as the African Union’s rotating chairperson. Guterres added that Africa’s food security challenges will not be solved without “reintegrating the agricultural production of Ukraine and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus into world markets,” saying that he is “determined to do everything to facilitate a dialogue that can help achieve this objective.”
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The global multilateral system—including organizations like the U.N. and the European Union as well as international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—have come in for sharp criticism since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, particularly for double standards on display in the outpouring of international support for and assistance to Ukraine that rarely greets crises in the Global South. For his part, Guterres appears to be attentive to those critiques of the international system and has even echoed some of them in his own remarks. His visit to West Africa—where he called for bolder action by wealthier nations on vaccines, financial aid and reform, conflict prevention and climate action—is an acknowledgment of the concerns expressed by countries in Africa and the Global South.
In April, Guterres launched a new Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy, and Finance to address the consequences of the war in Ukraine as well as the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on developing countries. The 32-member group is co-chaired by Sall and includes heads of U.N. agencies, development banks and international organizations. For his part, Sall deplored the “dramatic impact of the war on the economies of developing countries.”
In addition, Guterres reiterated his previous calls for reform of a global financial system he described as “morally bankrupt,” saying that every available mechanism must be used to benefit low and middle-income countries, especially African ones. During his visit to Senegal, he visited Diamniadio, a new city roughly 20 miles from Dakar where he viewed an office building set to house a new U.N. complex in the country. Guterres also stopped in at a vaccine-manufacturing facility at Dakar’s Pasteur Institute that will soon produce COVID-19 shots, where he called for vaccine equity to help Africa recover from the pandemic.
There, again, Guterres condemned the vaccine nationalism that has hobbled African efforts to acquire the doses needed to vaccinate the continent’s approximately 1.4 billion people, calling it “unacceptable” that the majority of Africans have yet to be fully vaccinated. He called on rich countries and the pharmaceutical majors to ramp up donation of coronavirus vaccines and invest in African vaccine production. The lack of local vaccine manufacturing on the continent has recently come back into focus in light of reports that Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccination plant, located in South Africa, risks shutting down after failing to receive a single order.
Guterres departed Senegal on Monday, arriving the same day in Niger, where he was received by President Mohamed Bazoum, who awarded him the Grand Cross of the National Order of Niger. During the visit, it was announced that former Nigerien President Issoufou Mahamadou agreed to a request by Guterres and AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat to lead a joint AU-U.N. strategic assessment on security in the Sahel, focusing on better coordinating the international response to the security crisis in the Sahel. The assessment will be undertaken in consultation with the Economic Community of West African States and the Group of Five.
Guterres wrapped up his trip with a two-day visit to Nigeria beginning Tuesday, where he met with President Muhammadu Buhari and other senior Nigerian government officials. He also met with religious leaders and attended a wreath-laying ceremony held at the U.N. complex in Abuja, in honor of the victims of a 2011 bombing of the building. Guterres also traveled to Borno in Nigeria’s northeast, where he visited internally displaced people and called for them to be safely returned to their homes, while praising a U.N.-backed reintegration program for former Boko Haram fighters.
Guterres’ visit to West Africa at a consequential period in the region’s trajectory is a considerable—if symbolic—step by the U.N. chief toward assuaging concerns among African leaders that the continent’s priorities will take even more of a back seat to Ukraine and other geopolitical issues prioritized by the great powers, a notion Buhari alluded to during their meeting. But it will not erase doubts on the continent that Africans will be left to their own devices in the event of an emergency that would ostensibly call for international cooperation.
Already, there are reports that the large volume of humanitarian resources going to Ukraine are being diverted from other underfunded crises in Africa and elsewhere. The Sahel region continues to be one of the world’s largest humanitarian flashpoints, with famine, displacement and armed violence now a way of life for millions in the region. The U.N. Security Council is set to determine whether to renew the mandate of the Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, or MINUSMA, one of the U.N.’s biggest peacekeeping operations. There are reports the mission could be supplanted by an AU force backed with a stronger mandate, an idea Guterres himself appears to support.
Whatever Guterres’ own intentions might be, the limitations placed on his office and the U.N. system broadly restrict his ability to take steps to address the disparities in the multilateral system he himself decries. Given that reality, it just might be that the only role he can play in making the international system more equitable is to be a cheerleader for reforms, even if they are unlikely to materialize.
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Civil Society Watch
The second phase of a mobile biometric voter registration exercise in Zimbabwe by the country’s elections management body concluded last week. The registration drive will help determine the number of registered voters in each province across Zimbabwe, which will in turn be used to map out the 210 constituencies in the country’s National Assembly.
Despite the closing of the window for the second phase, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission says that voter registration will continue in all of its district and provincial offices nationwide.
The continuation of the biometric voter registration exercise at local ZEC offices follows calls from civil society groups and political parties in Zimbabwe for the ZEC to extend the deadline to allow more members of the public to register in time for the 2023 general elections without traveling long distances to do so.
Afropop sensation Burna Boy brought the house down during an extravagant two-hour performance last week at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, becoming the first Nigerian to headline the famed venue. The music superstar sold out his highly anticipated “One Night in Space” show, with many more fans tuning in to the performance via a YouTube livestream of the performance.
The Grammy-nominated Burna Boy also brought out special guests Busta Rhymes and Senegalese musical legend Youssou N’Dour during his set, to a roar of approval from the MSG crowd.
During the show, Burna Boy revealed that his new album will be called “Love, Damini,” which a press release later stated will be out July 2, on the singer’s 31st birthday.
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Chris O. Ogunmodede is an associate editor with World Politics Review. His coverage of African politics, international relations and security has appeared in War on The Rocks, Mail & Guardian, The Republic, Africa is a Country and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Illustrious_Cee.