The second Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development closed last week after issuing action-oriented recommendations on how Africa can best recover from the coronavirus pandemic without impeding progress on achieving the African Union’s “The Africa We Want” 2063 agenda or the UN’s sustainable development goals 2030.
The forum reinforced the message of the first forum, that there is a need to accelerate a paradigm shift from crisis management to long-term sustainable peace and security with resilience and prevention at its core, said Ahmed Abdel-Latif, executive director of the forum and director-general of the Cairo International Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding (CCCPA).
“The pandemic and the responses to it have highlighted the importance of strengthening the capacity of African countries to manage these types of risk, whether unforeseen crises of an environmental nature or public health challenges like the pandemic,” said Abdel-Latif.
The forum discussed issues that Abdel-Latif described as “important pillars of post-Covid recovery” — youth dialogue to advance the sustainable peace and development agenda, trade, infrastructure, climate change and the arts, culture, and heritage.
The African Union (AU) has designated 2021 as the year of arts, culture and heritage, based on the belief that a peaceful and secure Africa can only be attained by nurturing a culture of peace in the minds of its societies. The issue was discussed in detail in a session on the third day, Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want.
Angela Martins, head of the Culture Division at the African Union Commission (AUC), provided a detailed schedule of initiatives for promoting art and culture across the continent throughout the year in order to support a growing creative economy.
She stressed the importance of boosting shared values and traditions “to build social cohesion and a positive image of Africa”, singled out the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum as a major cultural highlight of this year, and concluded by calling on everyone to join the AU in celebrating the year of art, culture, and heritage physically, if possible, or virtually.
Firmin Édouard Matoko, assistant director-general of the Africa Department of UNESCO, highlighted how culture can be used to change the mindset of people. “Until 10 years ago, culture wasn’t perceived [in Africa] as a catalyst,” he said.
Sylvie Fouet, UNICEF representative in Mali, explained how the UN is helping to empower young people to play a more active role in conflict resolution by inviting representatives from different areas to meet and speak about the future of their country.
She pointed to the UNSC decision to include safeguarding cultural heritage as part of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) mandate. It is the first peacekeeping mission to be tasked with such a directive.
The importance of art and culture in building bridges between states was highlighted by Egyptian Egyptologist Zahi Hawass who called for greater continental cooperation to press for the return of African artifacts.
“We can fight together to return our heritage to Africa. They claim that we cannot get our artifacts back because we do not have a big museum. Now we have the Grand Egyptian Museum. We have proved that we can protect our heritage,” he told the forum.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic growth and development progress was the focus of a session titled From Rapid Economic Recovery to Structural Transformation: Africa’s Pathway Towards Sustainable Recovery and Development.
Mahmoud Mohieldin, executive director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and UN Special Envoy on Financing the 2030 Agenda, said that although the pandemic will negatively affect the continent, it provides an enormous opportunity to invest in infrastructure.
On ways to contain the effects of the pandemic, he said there is a need to secure equal access to vaccines, invest in delivery infrastructure and logistics, and deal with the trade-related aspects of property rights challenges.
“We face big challenges, but there are many solutions. We rely on good coordination and good partnership,” he said.
Despite COVID-19, Africa remains a promising market for investing in information technology and communications, said Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology Amr Talaat in a pre-recorded video.
Amany Abu Zeid, AU commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, she that while she was saddened by the loss of lives, she was heartened by the way African states had come together and were collaborating to contain the fallout from the pandemic. Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had secured 670 million doses of vaccines on top of those provided through COVAX,” she said. COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) is an initiative launched by the WHO to ensure the world’s most vulnerable have access to vaccines.
Issues like terrorism, conflict prevention, post-conflict reconstruction and women, peace and security that were broached in the first forum were also addressed.
Félix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo and current chairman of the AU, delivered a speech during the closing session in which he thanked Egypt for hosting the forum and providing an opportunity for discussing ways to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and enhance sustainable peace and development across the continent.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said in the closing ceremony that Egypt has sought to continue work beyond its AU presidency in cooperation with African leaders to overcome challenges facing the continent, adding that Cairo has full confidence in the ability of African states and peoples to overcome current crises.
Aswan Forum II was held virtually under the banner Shaping Africa’s New Normal: Recovering Stronger, Rebuilding Better. The first forum was held in December 2019.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly