The upbeat UN Secretary-General says Africa is a continent of hope, defying established stereotypes.
Rabat – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said he is full of hope for Africa’s future because he expects positive returns from a number of peace and security challenges that the UN is helping resolve on the continent.
According to Guterres, Africa is experiencing a “quantum leap,” especially in its relations with the UN and UN-sponsored bodies for peace, security, and confidence-building at local and national levels.
What’s left, the Portuguese diplomat went on to argue, is for promises and agreements to materialize in Africa’s crisis zones.
“I am totally committed to the cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations,” Guterres told the US government-funded Voice of America (VOA) media agency. “We are working more and more together in addressing a number of situations in Africa.”
Need for African leadership to solve African problems
As the highest ranking authority of the UN, Guterres knows about the continent’s persisting challenges. From repressive regimes to politico-ethnic conflicts, or even the wave of African migrants leaving the continent for Europe, a number of African countries are still going through hard times.
For all the ongoing conflicts and related traumatic effect, the UN official chooses to look on the bright side. “Our objective,” he offered, “is to make Africa a continent of hope … to make Africa a pillar of the world in which we live, not seen as a problem, but seen as an opportunity.”
He explained, “We see negotiations between Djibouti and Eritrea, and we see reconciliation between Eritrea and Somalia that already took place. We see in many other areas movement in the right direction, and we are totally committed to work together — the African Union and the African subregional organizations — to support this wind of hope.”
He acknowledged Somalia is in a relatively bad situation, but hastened to add that the UN will not give up on its commitment there. Guterres said he is encouraging financial institutions to support the country in the economic reforms it has recently launched.
The Portuguese diplomat spoke in a similarly upbeat tone of Congo, where the post-election period’s fragile atmosphere has led many Africa observers to fear a resurgence of violence.
Guterres mentioned that one core principle of the growing relations between the UN and the African Union is that “African leadership is the best way to resolve African problems.”
Of Congo, he said, “We consider that what’s important now after the elections, with the new government, is to create the conditions for inclusive dialogue among all the parties, and to make sure that we have a transition of power that allows for the country to move ahead and we will be supporting the country to move ahead,” he said.
Western Sahara and the UN-led process
While his VOA interview made no overt reference to the delicate security situation in Western Sahara, it is safe to suggest that Guterres is also optimistic about the UN-sponsored process to end the four decades-long territorial dispute.
Since Guterres appointed former German President Horst Kohler as his personal envoy for Western Sahara, hopes have risen in diplomatic circles about the process. Many observers and diplomats have argued that Guterres’ approach may broker unprecedented overtures in the conflict.
In December last year, Kohler succeeded in committing all four parties—Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and the Polisario Front—to sitting at the same table for talks.
A second such meeting has been scheduled for March, and reports indicated last week that the Portuguese diplomat is preparing to travel the Maghreb to lay the ground for their second meeting in Geneva.
The approach has been applauded by UN diplomats, many of whom have argued that the ongoing process, once it completes the required confidence building, can progressively broker a lasting, commonly agreed upon, and sustainable solution to the Western Sahara question.
Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s permanent ambassador to the UN, said, “I do see hope. The unity of the Security Council is a very important factor. This is a conflict we can resolve.”
At the institutional level, the AU for the first time in July last year agreed to commit to the UN-led process for Western Sahara. While the AU used to have its own parallel agenda, the organization’s latest report pledged full allegiance to the UN process.
The report said the AU would confine itself to an observer role and let the UN do the necessary work for resolving the conflict.
The “AU’s role will be that of supporting and accompanying UN efforts,” the report said. It added, “The UN Secretary general personal envoy has initiated discussions with concerned parties, all of which have expressed their desire to negotiate.”