Addressing African leaders, UN chief Guterres spotlights need to strengthen cooperation

Secretary-General António Guterres (3rd right, front row) poses for a group photo with African Union leaders at the opening of their Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. UN Photo/Antonio Fiorente

30 January 2017 – In his first address to the African Union since taking office, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today underscored the importance of a strategic AU-UN partnership for building sustainable development and advancing peace and security on the continent.

Speaking in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in English, French and Portuguese, the Secretary-General told African leaders that “I am here to listen to you, learn from you and work with you for the people of Africa and the wider world.”

He expressed gratitude to African countries for providing the majority of UN peacekeepers around the work, for being “among the world’s largest and most generous hosts of refugees [with its] borders remaining open for those in need of protection, when so many borders are being closed,” and among some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

“I am convinced we have much to gain from African wisdom, African ideas, African solutions,” Mr. Guterres said.

He said he was open to the AU’s ideas on how best to strengthen cooperation and partnership between the two organizations, as well as Africa’s eight Regional Economic Communities.

One of the main goals for both the AU and the UN is to promote peace and security and human rights. Mr. Guterres noted that the AU is working to find ways to break the cycle of conflicts caused by a race for power and competition for resources, as well as inequality and sectarian divisions.

The UN, in turn, would “spare no effort” to more systematically provide the AU with the assistance needed to strengthen counter-terrorism capacity and aid populations threatened by conflict.

The most effective means of prevention and the surest way to achieve lasting peace, however, is inclusive and sustainable development, Mr. Guterres emphasized.

He noted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and called for global commitments to be respected “at all costs” because Africa needs and deserves international solidarity. In addition, Africa has its own development plan known as ‘Agenda 2036,’ which is being carried out by the AU’s development arm, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

Mr. Guterres reiterated the UN’s support for these international and national goals through the UN and its agencies working in country, known as the UN Country Teams.

In his address, Mr. Guterres also highlighted the role young people and women play in the continent’s development.

Africa is a young continent, with more than three out of five Africans under the age of 35. Investment in education, training and jobs for youth is one of the priorities for the continent, and is similarly a key priority for the UN. As a result, the AU named 2017 as the international year for ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investment in Youth.’

The empowerment of women is also a shared priority for both the AU and the UN. Mr. Guterres noted that his deputy is Amina Mohammed of Nigeria, who has previously led the UN’s work on sustainable development.

“I have witnessed this throughout my life: when we empower women, we empower the world,” Mr. Guterres said.

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