Policymakers and experts are expected to develop context-specific and action-oriented recommendations as to how Africa can recover from the coronavirus pandemic after the Aswan II Forum ends on 5 March.
Through the so-called “Aswan Conclusions”, African, national, regional and continental stakeholders, together with global partners, are expected to join forces to ensure that the ramifications of the pandemic do not impede the achievement of the African Union’s 2063 Agenda “The Africa We Want”.
The Aswan Forum II was held this week under the theme “Shaping Africa’s New Normal: Recovering Stronger, Rebuilding Better”. The forum’s second edition was held virtually starting 1 March. The first was held in December 2019 in Aswan.
In the keynote speech that he delivered in the opening session, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri highlighted the importance of joint African action and “diligent work” to achieve peace and development in the continent. More importantly, he stressed the importance of finding ways to deal with the impact of Covid-19 on various fields and trying to find the required solutions to the unprecedented challenge in a way that realises the targets of the AU’s 2063 Agenda and the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“The pandemic contributed to exacerbating the traditional challenges that Africa faces in the fields of peace and security. Thus, it is important to bolster African countries’ capabilities to face the present security challenges, topped by combating terrorism and foreign terrorists,” Shoukri said in his address to the inaugural session.
In his speech, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi highlighted that Egypt was keen to hold the second edition of the forum to use the momentum generated by the first edition and its successes.
“Driven by its faith, Egypt believes that the present time is optimum to discuss together the daunting challenges facing our continent to seek the best ways and mechanisms to shore up our common efforts to get over the pandemic and to rebuild better to take our continent to safety,” he said.
Al-Sisi described the activation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) earlier this year as a “good example of the success of our collective work”.
He said that besides the challenge of Covid-19, the continent was still suffering from the danger of armed conflicts and civil wars, as well as organized crime, the spread of weapons, illegal emigration and forced displacement. “All these challenges require joint efforts to support the mechanism that stops and settles conflicts and enhances the continent’s abilities to face these challenges.”
Thus, he said, African and international solidarity is an urgent matter for humanity to overcome these challenges as well as that of the coronavirus. “The current stage has brought new challenges, foremost of which is providing the necessary vaccine for our peoples. I would like to emphasise the necessity of providing such a vaccine in a more equitable and just manner in response to the demands of the peoples of our continent,” he said.
Al-Sisi’s speech was followed by addresses from several other African presidents, including those of Rwanda, Burundi, Tunisia, and South Sudan who agreed that the continent is passing through exceptional circumstances and that solidarity and joint work is the only way to deal with the challenge.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Chairperson of the African Union Commission Musa Faki participated in the forum.
Guterres called for a global vaccination plan that makes the coronavirus vaccines available and equally distributed.
He also urged the international community to support the world’s most vulnerable people and countries by taking various measures, from strengthening health systems to providing debt relief.
“Pandemic recovery is also an opportunity to address the fragilities and inequalities that have been exposed by the pandemic, and to pursue a more inclusive and sustainable path that advances gender equality and safeguards the global environment,” he said in his address to the opening session.
Guterres concluded by praising the Africans’ efforts to advance the well-being of the continent’s people. “The United Nations will continue to support Africa’s efforts across this agenda, including silencing the guns,” Guterres said.
Faki said that the pandemic revealed the dire need for African countries to build more resilient economies to face crises.
He highlighted the need to work on establishing a new healthcare system and building health capacities to ensure proper healthcare to all Africans.
The first day’s sessions of the forum were devoted to discussing the impact of the pandemic, ways to recover from it, how to strengthen sustainable peace and development, and the need for an integrated response to the growth of terrorism in the shadow of the pandemic.
The AU theme for the forum is “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want”. The issue was discussed in detail on the third day. Soft power was said to be likely to bring nations together in a way that helps them address challenges with enlightened thought that fits the culture and civilisation of the African nations.
It also tackled other fields, including enhancing intra-African trade after the launch of the AfCFTA in January.
The forum, which saw the participation of African leaders, senior officials and heads of governments, will end on Friday with the closing session “Chartering Africa’s Way Forward: Recovering Stronger Rebuilding Better”.
The event is organised by the Cairo International Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly