COVID-19 pandemic ‘feeding’ drivers of conflict and instability in Africa: Guterres

19 May 2021

Women and young people must be part of Africa’s plans to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which is feeding factors driving conflict on the continent, UN Secretary-General told the Security Council on Wednesday. 

Ambassadors met virtually to examine how to address root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa. 

Many communities and countries are already facing “a complex peace and security environment”, the UN chief António Guterres said, and challenges such as long-standing inequalities, poverty, food insecurity and climate disruption, are raising risks of instability. 

“One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, as we face the possibility of an uneven recovery, it is clear that the crisis is feeding many of these drivers of conflict and instability”, he said.  

Lay down your arms 

Since the pandemic began, the Secretary-General has repeatedly warned of the risks it poses to people and societies across the world, especially in countries affected by conflict. 

“This was the backdrop to my appeal for a global ceasefire to enable us to focus on our common enemy: the virus”, he recalled.    

With continued chronic violence in some countries, and re-emergence of old conflicts in others, he said the appeal is more relevant than ever. 

 Mr Guterres pointed out that violent extremist groups in Western and Central Africa and Mozambique, including those associated with Al-Qaeda and ISIL, have continued and even increased attacks on civilians, creating additional major challenges for societies and governments.  

Lost opportunities, deepening inequalities 

The Secretary-General listed some of the fallouts of the pandemic in Africa. 

Economic growth has slowed, remittances are drying up, and debt is mounting. Meanwhile, some governments have also restricted civic space, while hate speech, divisive rhetoric, and misinformation have risen along with caseloads.  

 “The severe impact of the pandemic on young people – especially in Africa, the youngest continent – is contributing to increased risks. Loss of opportunities for education, employment and income drive a sense of alienation, marginalization and mental health stress that can be exploited by criminals and extremists,” he warned. 

COVID-19 is also deepening existing gender inequalities, and threatening hard-won gains made in women’s participation in all areas of social, economic and political life, including peace processes. 

Exiting the ‘conflict trap’ 

“I urge Member States to make proactive efforts to include women and young people when shaping post-pandemic recovery”, he said. 

  “Guaranteeing equal opportunities, social protection, access to resources and services and inclusive and meaningful participation in decision-making are not simply moral and legal obligations.  They are a necessary condition for countries to exit the conflict trap and get firmly on the pathway of peace and sustainable development.”  

A health worker in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, becomes  one of the first people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the global rollout of COVAX in Africa.
© UNICEF/Milequem Diarassouba
A health worker in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, becomes one of the first people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the global rollout of COVAX in Africa.

Vaccine inequity hampering recovery 

Meanwhile, Africa has received less than two per cent of COVID-19 vaccines administered globally, the Secretary-General reported.  

He said although African governments have shown commitment to fight the pandemic through a unified continent-wide approach, limited supply and access to vaccines, as well as insufficient support for pandemic response, are now hampering and delaying recovery.   

  “Out of 1.4 billion doses administered around the world today, only 24 million have reached Africa – less than two per cent”, Mr Guterres said. 

 The Secretary-General emphasized that equitable and sustainable vaccine roll-out worldwide is the quickest path to fast, and fair, recovery from the pandemic. 

He said this requires countries to share doses, remove export restrictions, ramp up local production and fully fund global initiatives that promote equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

Security Council concern

Following the meeting, the Security Council issued a statement expressing grave concern about the devastating impact of COVID-19, noting its repercussions, and that the crisis has further exacerbated existing conflict drivers in Africa.

Referring to the low percentage of vaccines the continent has received, ambassadors reiterated the need for equitable access, as well as support to strengthening health systems to ensure effectively delivery continues.  

They also called for developed countries to increase and accelerate donation of doses, and acknowledged ongoing discussions towards waiving intellectual property related to vaccines. 

The Council further emphasized the importance of addressing the fundamental root causes and drivers of conflicts in Africa, and called for all stakeholders to intensify efforts towards realization of development agendas outlined by the African Union and the UN, respectively.


♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.