[OPINION] Peace Diplomacy in the Shadow of COVID-19

6 Jun 2021

[OPINION] Peace Diplomacy in the Shadow of COVID-19

Ambassador Hans Henric Lundquist

Creating peace and security through preventive efforts, peace, diplomacy, and stable relations is a vital part of Sweden’s foreign policy. The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the world, including the African content. Meanwhile, the security challenges facing the African continent are becoming increasingly complex. On the occasion of Sweden's National Day, H.E. Hans Henric Lundquist, Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative of Sweden to the African Union, reflects and sheds light on how Sweden faces these challenges through its strong commitment to the UN-AU partnership in peace and security.

Multilateral cooperation is at the heart of Swedish foreign policy. Multilateralism is an end in itself. It embodies our commitment to coexist, and is ultimately how we unite for peace, create opportunities, and prosperity for all in our united goal to alleviate human suffering.

Given the increasingly interconnected and mutual challenges we face, a rules-based international order and multilateral cooperation are more important now than ever. Climate change, humanitarian crises, terrorism, violent extremism, and the current pandemic all have consequences that go beyond the scope of any single state. Challenges are increasingly interlinked and complex. At the same time, we have encouraging examples of collaboration and cooperation from all over the world - from peacekeeping to climate action, resulting in a better life and hope for a better future.

Sweden is a top humanitarian donor and a leading contributor to UN agencies in Africa. Despite challenges we are all facing with COVID-19, we are proud to continue to allocate 1 % of GNI to development assistance. That allows us to be a long-term, predictable donor to the UN, AU and others which is crucial when we work with both preventive measures and long-term development.

Protracted crises, violent conflicts, and instability are taking place in several regions in Africa, resulting in higher levels of poverty in this region. Violent conflicts, despite their sources, require regional and common efforts. The aim of our peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts in Africa are firmly anchored in the belief that international partners are at their best when they support African solutions to African problems. Sweden has a long tradition of solid participation in UN missions around the world. Our largest current participation is in MINUSMA in Mali. And we are glad to be able to support by providing the mission´s current Force Commander, Dennis Gyllensporre.

Violence and conflict threaten life and livelihoods. Human rights violations are on the rise, including sexual and gender-based violence, and are jeopardizing social cohesion with particularly devastating effects on women, girls, and boys. Conflict and violence are the main causes of forced displacement, food insecurity and humanitarian needs in Africa. More than 7.3 million people live as refugees and 19.5 million people are internally displaced.

Acute food insecurity has increased by over 60 % during the last year, which also threatens to exacerbate conflicts. More than 100 million people needed humanitarian assistance in Africa in early 2021. The consequences of COVID-19 might has further contributed to this situation. People living in border areas are often particularly vulnerable.

I welcome the recent statements of AU Commissioner H.E. Bankole Adeoye on the need to increase our joint efforts to work with prevention and addressing the root causes of conflict in Africa. Sweden is a dedicated partner to peace and security in Africa. We value the complementary roles of the AU and UN and encourage greater collaboration between UN and regional actors. The linkage between governance, democracy, peace, and security is important and we must find the right models to work on synergies both at regional and national levels. Peace diplomacy becomes critical. I believe Sweden has an important role to play promoting and offering multilateral solutions. We must pay more attention to early warnings and use multilateralism as a tool to prevent conflicts and crises.

Peace and security in Africa are a concern, regionally as well as globally. It is central both to the AU and its African peace and security architecture and to the UN Security Council, with its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Similarly, it is important for AU and other African sub-regional organizations to see the United Nations as the central platform for sustainable peace. The UN system needs to give the African efforts in peace and security their rightful role.

Sweden also views the EU-AU cooperation, and the upcoming partnership meetings, to revitalize and strengthen the collaboration between our continents in the field of both prevention and direct security support. I hope that a strengthened relationship and dialogue can grow from it.

Women, Peace and Security (WPS) is a crucial aspect when trying to prevent conflict. It has been proven that more women mean more peace when talking about inclusive peace processes and mediation efforts. During our time in the UN Security Council (2017-2018), we worked to ensure that WPS was included in all peacekeeping mandates, and that gender-based violence was introduced as a sanction criterion in the UN system. We also must work together to include youth when addressing peace and security and the root causes. I am therefore very thankful for the close cooperation we have with the UNOAU in this regard, and I am glad we could highlight these key issues together through joint events at both, the AU and ECOWAS through the podcast “She Stands For Peace”. In this podcast, our Minister for International Development cooperation shared our views on the developments in Africa.

I will always remember the historical events in Khartoum 2019, when I was the Swedish Ambassador to Sudan. Women and young people’s strong participation in leading the change of their country, made an enormous impression around the world. This was the opportunity for the international community to come together to find solutions, playing a key role in supporting the change.

Finally, as already stated, COVID-19 risks threatening peace and security in Africa through increasing discontent from political repression and economic downturn. As such, equitable and affordable access to vaccines for all present a critical question. Successful vaccination will be a pivotal factor to avoid continued transmission and possible mutation of the virus and prolonging the hardships millions of people face. Africa CDC has played and will continue to play a crucial role. Sweden, with a population of 10 million, is the largest per-capita donor to the UN-led COVAX cooperation. Considering recent delays in procurement of vaccines, the Swedish government has decided to donate one million doses bilaterally to the program. In a pandemic, solidarity is extra important, as well as strong partnerships. I believe AU, UN, EU, and Sweden in a strengthened partnership have an important role to play for the advancement of peace and security in Africa.