The Africa we want

Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, Africa has arguably undergone the most dramatic transformations of any region in the world.

From a continent largely under colonial rule in the 1940s, the decades that followed would see a multitude of African countries fight for and win independence, while immersed in struggles for socio-economic development, peace and security.

Today, less than a century later, Africa is a continent ripe with human and natural resources and enormous untapped economic and social potential. It has increasingly pursued a transformational agenda, with the aim of achieving shared prosperity, unity, peace and integration.

Its renewed focus on human development has resulted in strengthened social and economic inclusion, improved primary and secondary education opportunities, increased gender equality across the continent, increased longevity and significant reductions in maternal mortality, as well as strengthened regional capacity for identifying and addressing peace and security challenges.

While celebrating these accomplishments and its forward momentum, the continent has also shown strong recognition of the challenges that it continues to face. As such, it is only fitting that Africa is pursuing historically ambitious global and regional frameworks for development, peace and security.

The global 2030 agenda for sustainable development and its sustainable development goals were largely influenced by the common African position on the post-2015 development agenda, through which African states negotiated in solidarity to ensure a comprehensive global agenda focused on structural economic transformation, inclusive growth, people-centred development and durable peace and security.

Beyond this global framework, the African Union has also adopted agenda 2063, which is a comprehensive continental framework that aims to achieve the African Union’s vision of an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”—in other words, the Africa we want.

Africa’s implementation of these two ambitious agendas requires not just a new approach to its own development, and peace and security interventions, but also a realignment of the way the continent interacts and partners with the rest of the world.

Official Development Assistance (ODA), which has long served as the cornerstone of Africa’s relationship with its development partners, has proven to be one-dimensional and too fragile a foundation for the continent’s ambitious vision.

Furthermore, the strategic partnership between the United Nations and the African Union, while long recognised as vital for the effectiveness of our mutual efforts, has also historically been plagued by fundamental challenges, including a lack of clarity and complementarity in our respective roles and the fragmentation in our interventions that hinder the desired outcomes.

Given this background, there is a growing realisation that Africa’s transformative agenda will require an equally transformative approach to its key global partnerships, particularly with the United Nations. In line with this, the United Nations and the African Union have been steadily working to strengthen their partnership and establish a higher level of cooperation characterised by mutual respect, solidarity, complementarity and interdependence.

In this context, in the past year, the United Nations and the African Union have signed comprehensive joint frameworks on peace and security, as well as on the coherent implementation of the 2030 and 2063 development agendas, with the overarching aim of strengthening our strategic partnership and enabling both organisations to deliver as one in support of Africa’s vision.

The Office of theSpecial Adviser on Africa (OSAA) is committed to strengthening the coordination and collaboration between the United Nations and Africa. While this will certainly be a challenge given the many actors involved in the African landscape, the renewed focus on partnership galvanised by agendas 2030 and 2063 has provided a powerful opportunity for the global community, including United Nations entities, to revisit the ways in which they partner with Africa, as well as each other, towards achieving Africa’s vision.

I have always felt that my nine years experience working with the African Union have been beneficial for my current post as under-secretary general and special adviser on Africa. I was fortunate to gain an understanding of its work and values, and hope to utilise that knowledge in the implementation of the OSAA mandate to deliver enhanced collaboration between the two organisations.

As it is also clear that there are gaps in our partnership with the African Union, it will be OSAA’s role to help identify those gaps, deficits and blind spots, as well as to develop innovative, impact-driven responses that add value to our efforts. In addition to its close collaboration with the African Union, OSAA is also working to forge closer partnerships with all stakeholders, including member states, civil society, the private sector, academia and others.

One key concern for OSAA is how we can work more effectively with United Nations system entities to enhance the organisation’s partnership with the African Union, and ensure coherence and coordination in the system’s support for Africa in general.

To these ends, stronger internal coordination and increased focus on synergies are absolutely essential. At a time when multilateral institutions such as the United Nations are increasingly asked to do more with less, and when the most critical challenges facing Africa and the world are multi-sectoral in nature, it is imperative to strengthen coordination and coherence within the United Nations and collectively capitalise on our comparative advantages.

In this context, key coordination bodies such as the interdepartmental task force on African affairs and the regional coordination mechanism for Africa will be essential vehicles for joint programming, helping United Nations entities working globally and regionally to identify challenges, and plan and implement their interventions jointly rather than in silos.

All of this notwithstanding, as we consider coordination and planning, goals and targets, monitoring and evaluation, we must not lose sight of what remains at the heart of our work: people. Africa is more than just a mass of land and resources, and the success of our coordination in support of its aspirations must be measured in more than just increases in gross domestic product or incremental progress towards selected targets.

The power of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and agenda 2063 is based on the fact that they both were crafted with the express intention of keeping people at their centre and ensuring that everyone can live in dignity. At their heart lies not just economic growth, environmental protection or reduced conflict, but rather a fundamental commitment to social justice for all and to leaving no one behind.

These are important promises that have been implicitly made to every African and, as such, should guide the work of the United Nations and its partners in support of the continent.

  • Bience Gawanas is United Nations Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser on Africa


* Article reproduced with copyright permission of the UN Chronicle.