With 24.2 million Africans forced from their homes in 2017 ̶ 4.6 million more than the previous year ̶ the UN is hosting a three-day event at UN headquarters, focusing on finding durable solutions to the problem, which is a growing burden on the continent’s economy, environment and communities which host those displaced.
The 2019 Africa Dialogue Series, (ADS) which began on Monday under the theme “Towards durable solutions for forcibly displaced persons in Africa,” brings together a wide range of actors with a stake in finding ways to deal with the issue, including representatives of national governments, the African Union, civil society, the private sector and the United Nations.
Speaking at the opening session, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the UN General Assembly, commended the contribution African countries are making to strengthen multilateralism.
Ms. Espinosa said that she resolved to make Africa the focus of her activities at the outset of her GA Presidency, adding that she believes Africa’s contribution to the UN is under-appreciated, and that the region’s voice remains under-represented in the international system.
Ms. Espinosa stressed that African leadership “time and time again, has led the way, be it through expanding the definition of ‘refugee’ in 1969, or through the Kampala Convention, the first legally-binding framework to address internal displacement, which was adopted in 2009.”
In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said that by building strong coalitions of stakeholders, the series was an important element in the effort to boost international cooperation. With regard to the 2019 ADS theme, the UN chief paid tribute to the solidarity and hospitality of African countries, many of whom continue to set the global standard:
“Countries like Uganda, Djibouti, Rwanda and Ethiopia are taking innovative action to recognize and promote the rights of refugees. And African countries played a key role in securing the approval of the Global Compact on Refugees last year,” he said.
Mr. Guterres urged delegates to “consider the issue of displacement in the broadest context, in your search for sustainable and durable solutions,” taking into consideration international issues such as the global emergency of climate change, financing for development and universal health coverage.
Deputy Secretary-General and former Nigerian Government minister, Amina Mohammed, told delegates: “You can count on the United Nations to be a strong partner for Africa…ensuring the involvement of youth as agents of change in all conflict resolution and political processes.”
She praised the recent Joint UN-African Union (AU) Frameworks on Peace and Security and Sustainable Development, noting they would “contribute to strengthening our shared efforts to promote inclusive sustainable development and tackle many of the drivers of conflict and forced displacement.”
Ms. Mohammed called for all to “pledge today to keep working together to transform the narrative and transform the future for Africa, its young people and our world.”
Displacement a ‘significant loss of human potential’
Bience Gawanas, the UN’s Special Adviser on Africa, whose office was instrumental in setting up the Africa Dialogue Series, echoed the UN chief’s recognition of African solidarity, in personal testimony shared during her opening remarks: “I, myself, am a product of African solidarity. Having left home in my teens during the war of liberation against apartheid in Namibia, I spent years in refugee camps in Angola and Zambia and benefitted immensely from the generosity of the Angolan and Zambian people. I want to take this opportunity to personally thank you for your big heart.”
Ms. Gawanas said that the ADS is just one of several activities being organized throughout 2019 to raise global awareness of the challenge of forced displacement: “Africa is home to over 24 million forcibly displaced persons, representing one-third of the world’s total. Forced displacement is not only a tale of human tragedy, it also poses a real threat to achieving peace, prosperity and development.”
This, explained Ms. Bience, is because the vast amount of resources spent on forced displacement, which is caused mainly by conflict and natural disasters, divert vital funds away from critical areas with potentially greater impact for sustainable development in Africa; and because it contributes to a significant loss of human potential, with highly skilled and educated people unable to use their skills in meaningful ways: “These are brainpowers that could be harnessed in service of Africa to address some of the intractable problems facing the continent. This is a loss to society.”
A platform for innovative solutions to Africa’s problems
The Africa Dialogue Series was launched in 2018, to promote topics of importance to the continent, such as peace, humanitarian assistance and human rights. This year, participants will discuss innovative ways to enable countries hosting displaced people and refugees, to reduce their dependence on humanitarian aid, and boost their economic development. An expected outcome is an increased awareness of the solutions to forced displacement currently implemented in African countries, showcasing best practice, and giving a voice to displaced people.
Another key aim of the series of discussions, is to secure support from African leaders for the ratification and adoption of major multinational agreements, such as the Kampala Convention, an Africa-wide treaty – the world’s first – that protects people displaced within their own countries by violence, natural disasters or large-scale development projects.