The second edition of the Aswan Forum on peace, security and development opened on Monday, 1 March in Cairo, Egypt, with African leaders identifying insecurity and the burden of debt as the most pressing challenges to the continent’s post-COVID development.
The virtual opening session, chaired by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was on the subject of “Shaping Africa’s New Normal: Recovering Stronger, Rebuilding Better”. The African Development Bank is a strategic partner of the Forum, which runs until 5 March.
Africa is grappling with health and economic challenges inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the past year has also brought positive developments such as the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the Egyptian President said.
“Last year, the challenges imposed by the crisis led us to redouble our efforts to achieve the objectives of the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The realisation of the AfCFTA is the best example of this,” he told African leaders. “Today, we must agree on the best solutions and choose the best instruments to consolidate our joint efforts to better rebuild and overcome the crisis.”
Every speaker emphasised the need for urgent measures to address the health and economic impact of COVID-19, which has triggered an economic recession. There were renewed calls for debt relief in the wake of the G20 countries’ initiative last year, as well as for the strengthening national production capacity for lower-cost medicines.
Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré noted that Africa had passed the symbolic 100,000 mark of COVID-19 deaths, with the emergence of a new strain. Security challenges in the Sahel region must not be overlooked in the face of the global health crisis, he said, with Sahel countries needing to “devote 20 to 30 percent of their national budgets to security”.
African Development Bank President Akinwumi A. Adesina said security was the continent’s number one challenge.
“The guns are back, very loud and very disruptive,” Adesina told Africa leaders. He said growing insecurity in the Sahel region, Lake Chad and northern Mozambique threatened current and planned investments in Africa.
“We must no longer decouple security and development,” he said. “That is why I have proposed that Africa develops and launches security-indexed investment bonds that will help raise financing from the capital markets to protect and secure investments in Africa from this rising insecurity.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of pan-African institutions, said Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who called for the strengthening of the Centres for Disease Control and ratification of the agreement on the African Medicines Agency.
Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, also noted the importance of continental solidarity and the crucial role of the AfCFTA in strengthening the countries of the continent.
For his part, UN Secretary General António Guterres made an appeal for the better availability of vaccines, which “must be a global public good accessible everywhere and for everyone.” The President of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said the crisis had revealed Africa’s vulnerabilities and the “need for more effective global management of health emergencies”.
Several other heads of state took part virtually in the event: Andry Rajoelina (Madagascar) Ali Bongo Ondimba (Gabon), Salva Kiir (South Sudan), Umaro Sissoco Embaló (Guinea-Bissau), Évariste Ndayishimiye (Burundi) and Kaïs Saïed (Tunisia). The President of Senegal, Macky Sall, invited his counterparts to the next Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, scheduled for the second half of 2021.
The Aswan II Forum brings together leaders from governments, regional and international organisations, financial institutions, the private sector and civil society, academics and experts as well as practitioners for an action-oriented and forward-looking discussion on the new threats, challenges and opportunities ahead.