United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a statement at the UN headquarters in New York, Jan. 6, 2020. Antonio Guterres on Monday called on parties concerned to exercise maximum restraint to stop escalation of global tensions. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a statement at the UN headquarters in New York, Jan. 6, 2020. Antonio Guterres on Monday called on parties concerned to exercise maximum restraint to stop escalation of global tensions. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)

More African countries should heed the UN call for a global ceasefire to push back deadly COVID-19, said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday.

Marking Africa Day, the annual commemoration of the foundation of the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union (AU), on May 25, 1963, the UN chief said in his message that the COVID-19 pandemic “threatens to derail progress” which would enable countries to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and development targets set out in the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

The AU has established a task force to develop a continent-wide strategy and appointed special envoys to mobilize international support, said the UN chief. Its Peace and Security Council has also taken steps to counter the negative impact of COVID-19 on the implementation of critical peace agreements and reconciliation efforts.

He noted that the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established a response fund, while African member states have undertaken “robust measures to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate the socio-economic impacts.”

Guterres welcomed the AU’s support for his global ceasefire call, an imperative that also reflects the AU’s 2020 theme: “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development.”

“Armed groups in Cameroon, Sudan and South Sudan have responded to the call and declared unilateral ceasefires. I implore other armed movements and governments in Africa to do likewise. I also welcome the support of African countries for my call for peace in the home, and an end to all forms of violence, including against women and girls,” he added.

Some 20 African countries are scheduled to hold elections this year, some of which are likely to be postponed due to the pandemic, with potential consequences for stability and peace, noted the secretary-general.

“I urge African political actors to engage in inclusive and sustained political dialogue to ease tensions around elections and uphold democratic practices.”

Last week, the UN issued a policy brief outlining the impacts of the pandemic on the continent. “We are calling for debt relief and action to maintain food supplies, protect jobs and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings. African countries, like everyone, everywhere, should also have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment.”

An opportunity now exists, for African governments to “use this moment” to shape new policies that bolster health systems, improve social protection and pursue climate-friendly pathways, he said.

Targeting measures to those employed in the informal sector, the vast majority of whom are women, will be an important step to recovery, said Guterres, as will empowering women to ensure their full participation and leadership.

“The inclusion and leadership of young people will also be crucial every step of the way,” said Guterres. Enditem

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