Tag Archives: AU

UN Peacekeepers Must Stay the Course

April 23, 2020

by Atul Khare and Jean-Pierre Lacroix

United Nations peace operations promote stability and security in some of the world’s most dangerous and fragile places. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, overstretched UN peacekeepers—civilian, military,  and police—were a thin blue line helping to protect civilians, support peace agreements and contain conflicts in hot spots and war zones across the globe.

If—or more likely when—the COVID-19 virus further spreads in countries already weakened by war and poverty, it will not only threaten the lives of the thousands, but could also tip the balance from tenuous peace back to conflict and despair. Communities recovering from conflict often live right at the survival line, every day facing poverty and the lack of basic health services. For these societies, the stakes could not be higher and the importance of UN assistance has never been greater.

To extend the global fight against COVID-19 to areas struggling to emerge from conflict, we need to continue sustaining and promoting peace and stability. Together with our partners, UN peacekeeping missions are working to achieve four objectives: (1) supporting local efforts to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, (2) keeping UN personnel safe and ensure they receive the best available care by enhancing medical testing and treatment capabilities, (3) ensuring that peacekeepers are able to continue their work without spreading the virus by practicing social distancing and other mitigation measures, and (4) advancing their difficult mandates to support peace and contain conflict even as COVID–19 spreads.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently told the Security Council, this pandemic could potentially lead to an increase in social unrest, a lapse in state authority and even violence that would greatly undermine our collective capabilities to fight the virus. For countries that have a handful of ventilators for millions of people, the possibility that one in 1,000 could contract COVID-19 and 15 percent of those could need care in an intensive care unit, is staggering. The brutal statistics of COVID-19 do not just reflect a global health crisis—they signal a fundamental threat to the maintenance of international peace and security.

We are committed to ensuring that our UN peace operations do everything they can to be an integral part of the solution to the pandemic. From the Central African Republic to Lebanon, from Somalia to Mali, our personnel continue to deliver. They are doing so bravely and with dedication, staying on the front lines even as they worry about family back home, even as air links and supply lines are stretched by the global response to COVID-19, even as cases are appearing in host countries.

The strength of our peacekeeping partnerships—whether other UN actors, NGOs, or regional organizations like the African Union (AU)—has never been more important. Despite the increasing demands on our peacekeepers to deliver their mandates, we must recognize that our partners also face the risks of this pandemic. Our peacekeeping missions offer a medical infrastructure that can support all UN personnel at risk of the virus while they continue their work. Protecting ourselves is key to being able to protect others.

We are also doing everything we can to keep our supply chains resilient. Our logistics experts have developed a business continuity plan for life-support needs, while ensuring the planning, provision, and delivery of goods and services critical for the implementation of peace mandates. Personal Protective Equipment is being made available in all our missions; we are supplying our own respiratory ventilators and ensuring that the capacity of intensive care units and supplies is sufficient to ensure that we do not strain already stretched local resources. We are also strengthening medical evacuation capabilities in close collaboration with our partners and UN member states. Strict social distancing measures are in place, and missions are reducing our “footprint” by lowering population density among uniformed personnel and civilian staff.

While our missions must protect themselves from COVID-19, they continue to reach out to local communities, protecting civilians and assisting host governments to contain the virus. Radio Okapi, the UN’s radio station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has launched a nation-wide, multilingual campaign to inform the local population about COVID-19, focusing on dispelling rumors and countering misinformation.

In Darfur, our operation is raising awareness among vulnerable groups on the importance of precautionary measures to control the spread of COVID-19, including in camps for internally displaced persons in the north and central parts of the state, where the risks of infections spreading is heightened. In Cyprus, our mission is working with women’s organizations to support those suffering from domestic violence during the quarantine.

At the same time, blue helmets continue to carry out their pre-COVID-19 tasks: protecting civilians, supporting political processes, and helping to build government capacity. In the DRC, peacekeepers recently helped free 38 civilians, including women and children, who had been abducted by an armed group in the country’s east, as they helped the national army to repel an attack. In Mali, two weeks ago, when the government decided it was important to press ahead with legislative elections, our mission provided critical logistical and operational support and helped secure polling stations on election day. In Somalia, the UN has been supporting AU soldiers and the government to develop their own COVID-19 preparedness and response plans, while working to ensure that terrorist groups do not seize the opportunity to strike while attention is focused on the pandemic. The struggle against COVID-19 may be a “second front” for the peacekeepers, but both battles continue.

Last week, the UN secretary-general decided to suspend the rotation of all our troops and police until June 30th. Such measures will keep our blue helmets on the ground, where they are needed most, and will help protect and reassure communities and UN colleagues alike by postponing the movement of thousands of personnel to and from home countries and transit points. This is a decision not taken lightly given the remoteness, hardship, and dangers often faced by peacekeepers. Staying in the field is a sacrifice for personnel who expected to return home after an arduous tour of duty. We are grateful that the countries that provide these police and military personnel have agreed to this measure so that our peace operations can maintain their operations, keeping the peace while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 contagion. We are doing everything possible to support our brave women and men, so they can keep themselves and their host communities safe.

As the UN secretary-general said when he called for a global ceasefire, there should only be one fight in the world today: our shared battle against COVID-19. For UN peacekeeping, this includes our unwavering commitment to the health and safety of our personnel and the people we serve. This is why UN peacekeepers must continue their important work. And it is why, now, more than ever, they need our full support.

Atul Khare is the Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Operational Support. Jean-Pierre Lacroix is the Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Peace Operations.

Picture credit: In Kananga, DRC, MONUSCO policewomen organized an awareness campaign against COVID-19 on April 18, 2020 in four markets in the city, in collaboration with the provincial Ministry of Gender, the town hall and the National Police.(MONUSCO/Twitter)

Together we can win the war against COVID-19

— Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC)

BY: 

KINGSLEY IGHOBOR

 Virologist Dr. John Nkengasong is the director of the Addis-based Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). It was established by the African Union to support member states’ public health initiatives and strengthen public health institutions’ capacity to detect, prevent, control and respond to disease threats and outbreaks quickly and effectively. On Thursday 26 March Dr. Nkengasong talked to Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor about COVID-19 and Africa’s response capability. Here are some excerpts:

Africa Renewal: How prepared is Africa to respond to COVID-19?

Dr. Nkengasong: We were fortunate that COVID-19 didn’t start in Africa. We had time to observe what happened in China in December 2019 and January 2020, and rapidly prepare countries to respond in key areas. One of those is diagnostics. By the second week of February, just Senegal and South Africa could diagnose COVID-19. So, in Senegal, we quickly brought together representatives of laboratories from 16 African countries, trained them and gave them diagnostic equipment. After that we conducted competency-based training in South Africa, where we also provided diagnostic equipment. Then we came back again to Senegal and trained another group. So far, we have trained representatives of laboratories from 48 countries. The cases being detected now are because of that massive effort.

What are the other areas?

The second area we focused on was infection prevention and control. We recognized that COVID-19 could overwhelm our healthcare facilities and that nurses and doctors could be affected. We cannot afford to have 3,000 doctors or healthcare workers infected, as was the case in China. So, we immediately brought representatives of 35 countries together in Nigeria and trained them on infection prevention and control. In Kenya we brought together representatives of more than 30 countries for training in enhanced airport, airline and port-of-entry screening.

Then we went to Tunisia and trained countries on communicating risk to the general public.

How is the African Union providing support?

We are using all expertise — from member states, Africa CDC and WHO — to respond to COVID-19.

At the political level, Africa CDC and the African Union Commission, under the leadership of chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat convened a meeting of all health ministers on 22 February where we agreed on the need to have a coordinated continental strategy that hinges on cooperation, collaboration, coordination and communication.

The second outcome of that meeting was the establishment of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus Preparedness and Response. The infection prevention and control part of that task force is co-led by Nigeria and Africa CDC. The laboratory part of it is co-led by Senegal, Africa CDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

What are the key challenges so far?

There are serious challenges in supplies. In New York, you hear the governor talk about shortages of respirators and other supplies. In Africa, we don’t manufacture these items; we import them. But now that the world is consuming a lot of what is produced, it is becoming difficult for us to obtain such items that will allow us to better prepare and respond.

What do you plan to do about this?

We have been working very hard with the office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, and the Jack Ma Foundation, who jointly launched an initiative to support African countries with a huge shipment of diagnostic equipment. I’ll call it the “marathon mission” because we have seven [Africa CDC] personnel at the airport coordinating with Ethiopian Airlines, WHO and the Ethiopian government to distribute throughout Africa about one million testing kits, six million masks, and 60,000 protective suits.

The current stock will buy us time for about two to three weeks. But in the next couple of weeks we need, as Africans, to have our own stock. Africa CDC and the AU will be heading out all over the world to stockpile massively so that we can support member states in the fight against COVID-19.

How is Africa CDC collaborating with WHO?

We are collaborating very well with WHO. I also wear a double hat as Dr. Tedros’s [Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general] special envoy for Africa on COVID-19.

We just finished a call with Dr. Matshidiso Moeti [WHO Regional Director for Africa] and two days ago, she and I discussed coordination and advocacy strategies. WHO has also played an important role in shipping diagnostic [equipment] to countries.

What information do you have regarding vaccine development and accessibility?

We are not close to a vaccine. We will be fortunate to have a vaccine in the next one to one-and-a-half years. I’m a board member of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, which was set up after the 2013 Ebola outbreak in West Africa to facilitate the development of vaccines. Within that group, I’m also on the Equitable Access subcommittee where we champion access to vaccines for vulnerable populations.

Any lessons from that Ebola outbreak?

One lesson we learned from Ebola was the importance of the deployment of young African responders. During the Ebola crisis in West Africa, we enlisted 800 in what we called the African Healthcare Volunteer Force, and we will be doing the same to address this pandemic.

As we speak, there are more than 50 responders here [in Addis Ababa] that we have brought from different countries to support our response. And we are putting some in Nigeria and others in Cameroon. We plan to escalate that very quickly.

What is your final message to Africans?

My message to Africa is that we should adhere to the continental strategy endorsed by Africa’s health ministers in February and being championed by the chair of the African Union for 2020, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

If we do not have a continental strategy that enables us to coordinate, collaborate, cooperate effectively and communicate, we are doomed. No one country can eliminate COVID-19 in Africa alone. We must demonstrate a unity of purpose and work collectively to wage and win the war against COVID-19. We don’t have a choice.

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal