AU Peace and Security Council meet to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on peace and security in Africa

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AU peacekeepers
Photo: ISN

The 918th Peace and Security Council (PSC) meeting held on 14 April 2020, focused on the impact of the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak on Peace and Security in Africa. The Council acknowledged the devastating effect that COVID-19 has already had on the global order, impacting our social, economic and political efforts across the globe, including Africa.

With Kenya as the Chair of the PSC for April 2020, the meeting was opened by its Permanent Representative to the AU, H.E. Ambassador Catherine Muigai Mwangi, together with the Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ambassador Smail Chergui. Statements were also made by the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Dr. Vera Songwe, with a briefing by the Director of the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Dr. John Nkengasong, on the impact and implications of COVID-19 on peace and security in Africa.

While the Council supports the urgent need to mobilize and deploy all necessary efforts to manage the COVID-19 outbreak; it is also mindful of the challenges that this will present. Among the most immediate and impactful of these challenges relates to funds being diverted away from sustaining peace support operations, post-conflict- reconstruction and peacebuilding programmes – particularly in areas with pre-existing security threats. Thus, in the context of its ongoing work to silence the guns on the Continent, the Council found that COVID-19 will negatively impact the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security activities, further highlighting the risk of terrorist and armed groups, as well as criminal networks and traffickers taking advantage of, and exploiting the current COVID-19 situation to perpetuate their endeavour.

It was emphasised in the meeting, however, that the Council has a core function to fulfil in the response to COVID-19. Specifically, in the Protocol relating to the establishment of the Peace and Security Council, a mandate is provided to the African Standby Force (ASF) to provide humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of civilian populations in conflict areas. Moreover, the provisions of the PSC’s protocol stipulate that it shall take an active role in coordinating and conducting humanitarian action to restore life to normalcy in the event of conflicts or natural disasters, including outbreaks of epidemics/pandemics.

In particular, the PSC appealed to the Member States to make available strategic airlift capabilities to provide humanitarian assistance. In this regard, the meeting underlined the urgent need, within the framework of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), for Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution (RECs/RMs) to avail their ASF regional capabilities to further enhance African efforts in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a later opinion piece, evaluating peace and security amidst COVID-19, H.E Amb. Smail Chergui, explains that to keep working for sustainable peace “…our continental cooperation platforms need to be revitalized, [to] collectively mobilize efforts towards maintaining global peace while combatting the unprecedented effects of the pandemic.”

According to the most recent statistics by the Africa Centre for Disease Control, 52 AU Member states report COVID-19 cases and 23,505 Africans have been infected with almost 1,158 of those succumbing to the disease (21 April 2020).

The COVID-19 outbreak reveals the interdependence of the Continent and the importance of collective action with the Council expressing support for the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak, referring to it as “…a robust and comprehensive continental collective response to COVID-19.” The Council also reiterated the importance of drawing on the lessons learnt from the fight against the Ebola outbreak in parts of the Continent, particularly highlighting the cooperation and solidarity among the AU Member States and substantial support mobilized to combat that epidemic.

Read the full Communique here.