Dubai — The conclusion of the African Union (AU) Summit on Sunday was an important moment to reflect on the pace of change across the continent and the friendship that my country, the United Arab Emirates, enjoys with the people of Africa.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest reminder that 21st century health and security threats do not respect national borders. We must recognize that the Middle East and Africa are particularly vulnerable to these borderless threats, and greater pan-regional planning, cooperation, and mutual support will be needed to confront the challenges ahead.
Since the founding of the UAE 49 years ago, our country has pursued deep political ties and economic cooperation with African nations.
The UAE is deeply invested in Africa’s prosperity and security.
The robust relationship between the UAE and the African region is reflected in our partnerships and development projects. Today, my country is deeply invested in the prosperity and security of the entire African continent. We are building ports, investing in critical infrastructure projects, responding to humanitarian crises, and offering political support when it is requested.
For too long, Africa’s advancement has been inhibited by inadequate and unreliable power generation. Our partnerships on renewable energy projects are helping Africa as it unleashes its unlimited economic potential.
Last month, the UAE co-hosted a ministerial and executive roundtable on the food/energy/climate nexus in preparation for the United Nations Food Systems Summit and the UN High-Level Dialogue on Energy that will be held in September 2021. Here too we are seeking African solutions to our shared challenges: Given that less than 10% of land in Africa is currently irrigated, unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential will ensure great strides in reducing global food insecurity.
In late 2019, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) hosted the African Investment Summit, bringing together global long-term investors and sovereign funds from 22 African countries to explore opportunities across Africa. The purpose of the Summit, said ADIA managing director, His Highness Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, was to “identify areas of mutual interest and seek ways to overcome barriers that are hindering long-term investment into the continent.”
At last year’s AU summit, we launched the UAE’s Consortium for Africa, a new initiative to help fulfill the goal of a turbocharged and interconnected new Africa, driven by its youth. The initiative is a component of our contribution to an optimistic vision for Africa’s future.
Enabling Africa’s younger generation through digital technologies
As I told AU members, the Consortium will be a long-term builder of human capital on the continent, with two immediate priorities: digitization and youth. The Consortium aligns our government and private sector’s commitment to Africa, combining ambition for progress and the resources to support it into one focused entity to assist development and investment.
While we share this vision for African prosperity, we also know that it depends on security and stability. The crises that preoccupy leaders across Africa and the Middle East are often those that the United Nations and other international organizations seek to address. This is why African and Arab voices on the Security Council are so critical, and why solidarity in confronting our shared challenges is a diplomatic prerogative that must remain a top priority.
Elevating African voices
Despite the frequency of United Nations Security Council discussions on African challenges, the Council often neglects to elevate African voices in that critical dialogue. Decisions that impact millions are made without adequate consultation. Envoys are appointed with insufficient input from African stakeholders, who are critical to helping those same envoys fulfill their missions. As a result, the credibility and effectiveness of the UN is put unnecessarily at risk.
Representation matters in the UN, as it does in other bodies. African governments and regional organizations must have a stronger say in the UN’s actions.
The Security Council must be more responsive to the needs and perspectives of its African members [three rotating members called the A3]. This can only be achieved if the Council’s non-African elected members actively pursue greater solidarity with the A3. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ partnership with the A3 on the Council during their current term is an excellent example of how countries from outside the region can champion African solutions.
When the UAE joins the UN Security Council next year, we will likewise raise our voice alongside Africa at a time when it is needed most. We will promote African perspectives and proposals when broader support is most critical.
A core focus of the UN Security Council’s mandate is the peace and security of Africa. Through our longstanding partnerships with the African Union and throughout the region, we have demonstrated our firm commitment to these crucial priorities. In his remarks before the UN General Assembly last year, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, reiterated the UAE’s longstanding view that the United Nations should involve regional organizations in finding permanent solutions for crises, and the African Union remains a critical partner in these efforts.
Promoting African peacebuilders, addressing the climate crisis
That will also require sufficient resources to sustain peacekeeping and economic development. The need for this is particularly acute in West Africa as the region grapples with destabilizing threats posed by terrorist and criminal groups. Greater support for the G5 Joint Force [a Sahel security initiative], will be necessary to help guarantee peace and security throughout this important region.
The UAE also intends to work with the A3 and other partners in the Security Council to call attention to the linkages between climate change, resource scarcity, and insecurity – the consequences of which are borne disproportionately by African countries. We will seek solutions to solvable problems, such as the dependence of peace missions on diesel fuel when low-cost renewable alternatives could be deployed.
From maintaining international security to mitigating the risks of climate change, multilateralism is the core principle that will enhance the world’s future preparedness for 21st century challenges.
Vaccine equity – no one is safe from Covid until everyone is safe
Right now, the immediate challenge for most countries around the world is the Covid-19 pandemic. Vaccinating the world will be one of the international community’s top challenges in 2021, and vaccine equity will likely remain a challenge during 2022-2023, the period when the UAE will have a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the fourth annual African Union-UN conference that Africa must be “effectively supported” to fight the pandemic everywhere. We agree.
As the hosts of Expo, a global convening that will celebrate international collaboration, the UAE has a particular interest in assuring the equitable distribution of vaccines. An Expo in which all cannot participate would not be true to the UAE’s vision of resilience and inclusion. We are particularly concerned by reports that many in sub-Saharan Africa will not receive vaccines until 2023. We must do better.
The participation of African nations at Expo, as well as the African Union itself with a dedicated pavilion, will be a monumental opportunity to showcase the rich and vibrant history of the continent and its potential to drive global economic growth following the pandemic.
The world is at a critical juncture. The UAE is ready to play our role as a partner to Africa as we traverse the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy is the Minister of State for International Cooperation for the United Arab Emirates.