“Terrorism in Libya, the Sahel and Sahara, and in Egypt as well, and the clear ability of terrorist organisations to move, cooperate and support each other, necessitate that countries on the continent coordinate and cooperate over security on the bilateral and multilateral levels,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said in a press conference held ahead of the Aswan Forum II, “Shaping Africa’s new normal: Recovering stronger, rebuilding better.”
Development, security, and stability challenges facing the African continent were addressed during the inaugural forum — Aswan Forum I — in December 2019. Now the Covid-19 pandemic can be added to the list, and the longer it lasts, the more its impacts on the economy and the development of the continent will be felt.
Continental development priorities are clear, said Ahmed Abdel-Latif, executive director of the forum, and the pandemic has cast them in starker perspective and highlighted the urgency with which they must be dealt.
The first day’s sessions of Aswan Forum II, which will be held virtually from 1 to 5 March, will be devoted to discussing the impact of the pandemic, ways to recover from it and strengthen sustainable peace and development, and the need for an integrated response to the growth of terrorism in the shadow of the pandemic.
While Aswan Forum II will continue to address issues discussed in the first forum, peace and security, sustainable development, and the links between them, new topics have been added to the agenda. They include, according to Abdel-Latif, developing the infrastructure of the continent, culture and youth and their role in enhancing peace, and climate change and trade in the wake of last month’s launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The Aswan II Forum will bring together leaders from regional and international organisations, business, civil society, and experts from a range of sectors and the 15 sessions’ aim is to address problems in the light of action needed on the ground rather than in a theoretical manner, said Hamadi Loza, deputy foreign minister for African affairs.
“This year’s forum will follow up on how recommendations made at the end of the first forum have been translated on the ground” and will also assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the continent.
“The participation of the WHO in the Forum sends a clear message about the importance of urgently tackling these challenges,” said Loza.
The participation of the new US administration in the forum offers an opportunity for the White House to listen to African voices on a host of pressing issues, and for African countries to learn more about US policies towards Africa, Loza added.
According to the draft agenda, issues to be discussed include advancing the position of women, security during the pandemic and beyond, tackling forced displacements in national planning and peace processes, the role of arts, culture, and heritage in promoting sustainable peace, and harnessing trade for peace and prosperity. The closing session aims to chart ways in which Africa can recover and “rebuild itself better”.
The Cairo International Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping and Peace Building (CCCPA), in its capacity as secretariat of the forum, has conducted a series of webinars in preparation for the event. The last of the sessions, focusing on African Youth Voices and the Sustainable Peace and Development Agenda, is scheduled for the day before the start of the forum.
A series of workshops geared towards producing action-oriented recommendations to be presented to the forum has also been held. Among the topics discussed were “Terrorism in the shadow of the pandemic”, “Migration in national development planning in the Sahel and Sahara”, and “Climate change and its impacts on security and development”.
Plans are also underway for the convening of the third forum in the series, says Loza, who hopes that “when we start inviting the parties to Forum III, we find the same positive response we found in Forum II”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 February, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly