Africa, UN adapt to a changed world, keep long-term visions afloat

New eras call for new ideas, tools, and processes. Overcoming apartheid and achieving political independence was the focus of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). In 2013, the African Union (AU) succeeded the OAU with a new mandate: put the continent on a path of inclusive development so that Africa may “become a dominant player in the global arena.” That is an ambitious vision that may take decades to achieve. African leaders knew this, which is why they designed a 50-year “blueprint” for this endeavor in the Agenda 2063. Notably, this decades-long period gives Africa the space to “revise and adapt its development agenda” to take advantage of structural shifts and ensure measurable results  – the first of five Ten Year Implementation Plans is expected in 2023.

Following the inauguration of the AU, the UN also formulated its own blueprint for “peace and prosperity for people and the planet,” manifest in its 17 Sustainable Development Goals that serve as the centerpiece for its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Nearly a decade after setting this broad agenda, Africa – and indeed the world – has experienced transformational shifts. In Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic has strained health systems and left governments with scarce resources to undertake strong recoveries, particularly in “our low- and middle-income countries as well as small island states,” said Under-Secretary-General Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

In the midst of global upheaval, it has launched what will be the largest free trade area by country in the world. The question now is how African countries will address the pandemic and rebuild while continuing progress on regional initiatives and adherence to Agenda 2063 and UN development goals.

While African countries, Resident Coordinators – essentially UN development ambassadors – and UN Country Teams (UNCTs) work together on vaccine rollout, business and education continuity, and recovery, the UN has been in the process of “repositioning” its development system. Last year, it introduced a new program: the Regional Collaborative Platform implemented in regions around the world.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed explained in February 2020 that these platforms were “collaborative mechanisms” meant to “reduce overlaps and promote coherence” among UN entities and therefore streamline processes. This way, the UN can more effectively serve its purpose of providing knowledge and resource support. Yesterday, she added, “Africa’s regional know-how, assets and policy expertise will be more systematically channeled to the Resident Coordinators” and UNCTs.

At the inaugural Regional Collaborative Platform meeting, “regional representatives from the Africa UN development system” discussed “accelerating the implementation of the continental free trade agreement; investing in youth and women’s empowerment to help countries reap the benefits of their demographic dividends; advancing home-grown sustainable and scalable technologies and solutions; building climate and disaster resilience; and continuing to support the African Union’s ‘Silencing the Guns’ initiative”.

Ms. Mohammed, who also serves as the Chair of the Regional Collaborative Platform and Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group explained the meeting’s significance: “Today marks the start of the next-generation collaboration approach for the regional UN entities to support African countries to respond and recover better from the Covid-19 pandemic and reignite the Decade of Action for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is aligned with the Africa Union Agenda 2063.”

Next month, the UN and African leaders will have the opportunity to align their respective initiatives when the Regional Collaborative Platform “engage[s]” with the African Union.  

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