July 12, 2024
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Christine N. Umotoni, UN Resident Coordinator for Mauritius and Seychelles : “2021 is a year of hope and opportunity for Africa”

The UN is playing an important role in various fields in Africa. Like addressing the problem of the availability of vaccines, climate change, health security and many others. Through this interview, Christine N. Umotoni, UN Resident Coordinator for Mauritius and Seychelles, focuses on the role of the UN for Africa and the future of Africa in this pandemic era.

First and foremost, a critical role of the UN is to support all nations, including Mauritius, in their access to Covid-19 vaccines backed by the COVAX facility. This is a vital step forward in bring-ing the pandemic to an end with equity and solidarity. But globally, equitable access to vaccines is not happening fast enough and it is in everyone’s interest that we get there sooner. The longer it takes to protect people most at risks, such as health and social care workers and vulnerable people, the longer the virus will continue to circulate and the greater the risk that new and potentially more dangerous variants will emerge. Moreover, any delay will also prolong the economic misery as ef-forts to resume commerce, trade and travel continue to stall.

An essential role of the UN is then to draw lessons from the current pandemic to recover better and bolster the Sustainable Development Goals. These lessons call for investing in the African green transition, including smart agriculture, renewable energy, and sustainable infrastructure, to bounce back better from the current socio-eco- nomic crisis, but also to prepare for the threats posed by cli-mate change. From early in the Mauritius crisis, based on the international experience of how Covid-19 would affect people and the economy, our work focused on support to the Covid-19 re-sponse in the health sector and support to deal with its impact on all sectors. Advocacy and infor-mation campaign on the pandemic will continue to be crucial since this is an all-society issue that needs an all-society approach to deal with it and to increase efforts on prevention of the spread of the virus.

Finally, the convening role of the UN will be critical in 2021 – convening expertise, partners, and constituencies on issues of public interest. All activities will be implemented in collaboration with and development partners (France, UK, Australia, the US, The European Union, The International Financial Institutions to cite only a few), but also with the private sector and civil society, including non-government organizations, academia, and the labour organizations. We will further promote regional collaboration through entities such as the Indian Ocean Commission.

The 2021 United Nations Country Team retreat was held recently. What was the aim? Who is the UN in Mauritius?

The UN team covers both Mauritius and Seychelles and is coordinated by the UN Resident Coor-dinator. It is composed of 20 agencies, funds, and programs namely FAO, IAEA, IFAD, ILO, IOM, OHCHR, UNHABITAT, UNWOMEN, UNAIDS, UNDP (and SGP), UNECA, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNOCHA, UNODC, UNWTO, WHO. (Note – UNICEF only operates in Seychelles)

Every year all UN agencies led by the UN Resident Coordinator, organizes a strategic retreat to reflect on the achievement of the past year and plan for the year ahead. The last UN strategic retreat was held in 2019 in Seychelles where we discussed the UN partnership frameworks for each country, the UN reform agenda and brainstormed on issues of concern at the regional level like health security, disaster risk management, and a regional framework on climate change.

In 2020, due to Covid-19 the UN retreat took place online and main discussion points were:

· COVID-19 recovery strategies that promote resilience, sustainability and inclusion while ac-celerating progress towards the 2030 Agenda.

· Approaches for financing sustainable development in the context of high-income SIDS

· Areas of collaboration at the regional level – on health security, migration and labour and climate change

· How to promote resilient leadership and maintain a UN team that is fit-for-purpose.

The UN retreat was attended by representa- tives from government, colleagues from the develop-ment communities’ partners, the private sector, civil society, academia, and our extended UN fami-ly including UN Resident Coordinators from Madagascar and Comores. We had the honor to hear from the honorable Prime Minister to guide the meeting and from the Honorable Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security in our closing remarks.

What were the key conclusions?

The UN retreat Clarified that in high income countries, the United Nations System’s comparative advantage is the unique expertise from the UN family and global networks to support develop and implement strategies, policies, and programmes around the world in full alignment of national pri-orities. The knowledge offered is based UN global mandates on the normative work conducted by all the agencies to realize decisions taken by UN members of the general assembly on major world issues.

Following the COVID-19 Pandemic, there is a clear convergence between the expectations ex-pressed by Government, civil society and the private sector in terms of defining what a resilient, inclusive, sustainable recovery should be and what both the UN, bilateral and multilateral actors are proposing to develop in the mid and long term. This opens space for strengthened collaborations between the UN and other development partners in engaging with national stakeholders in Mauri-tius and Seychelles.

The UN will continue to collaborate with the government in Mauritius and Seychelles by inshaping and implementing the national COVID-19 recovery plans with a view to accelerate progress to-wards the SDGs. There is need to partner with the private sector, CSO to ensure all stakeholders work towards contributing to the SDGs.

New approaches are rapidly emerging to finance COVID-19 recovery, sustai- nable development and climate change adaptation. As the UN, we must work together with International Financial In-stitutions to promote the mechanisms that can best support Mauritius and Seychelles in developing innovative financing systems. There is also need for mechanisms that will be the most effective in dealing with long term challenges of debt management.

Island states in the region face similar challenges and must develop shared responses to the imme-diate needs of recovery that enhance long term sustainable development. We must collaborate among UN Team to develop shared solutions and help SIDs gain a political voice at the highest level. This will require strengthened collaboration among the Resident Coordinators and their offic-es in the region, and between the UN teams and regional entities.

With the existing electronic tools and facilitated methods of consultations as the ones we have used for the UN retreat, we can continue to strengthen our work as a UN team to develop synergies and collaboration, independently of whether we are considered resident or non-resident UN entity.

What happens now with the UN 2030 Agenda? Is it realistic to expect to achieve the Sus-tainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030?

The Covid-19 pandemic damaged economies, destroyed jobs and livelihoods, reversed develop-ment gains and still threatens to push up to an additional 115 million people back into extreme pov-erty in 2020 alone. Progress in improving people’s lives everywhere through the achievement of SDGs will be affected. Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated deep-seated imbalances in our eco-nomic and social structures. However and like any disruptive force, Covid-19 presents us with an opportunity to re-imagine a better future through our response to a fairer and more equal world.

These extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Before the pandemic, the financing gap to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals was $2.5 trillion per year. Now, as we set up stimu-lus packages, the focus must be on directing these unprecedented investments to foster inclusive and sustainable growth, meeting the needs for decent jobs, social protection floors, and connectivi-ty for a green transition and to spur innovation – leaving no one behind. The 2030 Agenda for Sus-tainable Development, which is aligned with the African Union Agenda 2063, remains the best framework for doing just that. The SDGs are our compass for bolstering long-term Covid-19 re-covery.

In Mauritius, the UN and government signed the strategic partnership framework (SPF) towards achieving national priorities and SDGs. The main areas of support include: promoting innovation and increased productivity in targeted traditional and new sectors (ICT, Pharma, Renewable ener-gy, Agri-food), addressing population ageing and population health, improved labour market, in-creased economic diversification, promoting a sustainable marine sector, education and training system with higher quality for enhanced employability, social protection policies and programmes that reach the most vulnerable, eliminate GBV, enhance the socio-economic and political empow-erment of women, enhanced community action for climate change adaptation, disaster resilience, biodiversity protection, and renewable energy.

Mauritius also approved a socio-economic response plan (SERP) focused on the following pillars: protecting health services and systems during the crisis, social protection and basic services, pro-tecting jobs, SMES and vulnerable productive sectors, macroeconomic monitoring and forecasting activities plus social cohesion and community resilience. All these plans and other efforts in the country will accompany the nation to recover better and continue the path to sustainable.

What is your outlook for the future of African countries particularly that of Mauritius, post-Covid-19?

2021 is a year of hope and opportunity for Africa. Despite the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and inadequate global response, the continent stood up to the challenge and is charting a path towards a recovery that can deliver the agendas 2030 and 2063 ???. This has been possible thanks to a robust continental response led by the African Union, and the resolve of African coun-tries including Mauritius to seize the opportunity presented by the crisis to trigger a paradigm shift. African leaders at all levels are changing the narrative of Africa as a continent of conflicts, poverty and lost opportunities. They are showing that Africa is a place of dynamism and innovation, richly deserving greater investment. Now, more than ever before, international cooperation can and must play a crucial role in ensuring that Africa recovers better, implementing the vision of the SDGs during this Decade of Action. Rules and institutions governing trade, finance, and technologies must enable Africa’s aspirations of building a peaceful, secure and prosperous continent. The gov-ernment and the people in Mauritius have advanced a coordinated response which is good. There is need to continue to strengthen the country’s response mechanisms and national capacities in all are-as to deal with the pandemic. Everyone must be mobilised, men, women, young people to partici-pate in national development. With cutting-edge technology and innovations, Africans can drive transformative change over the next ten years.

What would you hope governments and community do to overcome it and emerge strong-er?

The risk of Covid-19 resurgence remains high in African countries due to poor adherence to public health measures. The current upsurge in India could also have a negative implication on vaccine availability globally, particularly in Africa. Several countries have extremely high rates of commu-nity transmission, and these are of serious concern. Health worker infections remain of concern as the numbers continue to increase across the region.

Governments have done a lot to sensitize people to continue the public health measures. There is need to continue the whole of government and whole of society approach. Prevention should be everyone’s business. Mauritius must continue the measures from the best practices some of which include:

Early assessment and strengthening of preparedness and response capacities. Vigorous surveil-lance and contact tracing and case management

Clear leadership with the creation of a High-Level committee on COVID-19 chaired by the Prime Minister and strong political commitment from all leaders.

Whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach in the national response to COVID-19 to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on livelihoods.

Strong engagement of the UN Country Team in the national response and support from regional platforms. Plus, continuous engagement with Development Partners: bilateral and multilaterals, private sector, civil society and all stake holders.

The national vaccination campaign is a move in the right direction and it must continue alongside the public health measure to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

For the long term however Covid-19 response should build on lessons learnt. We have seen that COVID-19 affects people and economies, hence governments like Mauritius must adhere to the call for investing in the green transition, including smart agriculture, renewable energy, and sus-tainable infrastructure, to bounce back better from the current socio-economic crisis, but also to prepare for the threats posed by climate change and other global challenges.

Is the UN working on a plan for vaccination equity?

Although large progress has been made, there remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribu-tion of vaccines. And the shocking global disparity in access to vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic. Developing countries account for 47% of the world’s population but have received just 17% of the world’s vaccines. The UN Secretary-General has advocated for equi-table distribution of vaccines. The World Health Organization has developed a fair allocation mech-anism for Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility. It is a strategy to rapidly contain the pandemic, save lives, protect health care systems and restore global economies, based on the hu-man rights principle of equity and epidemiological evidence from the pandemic.

We have COVAX and it works. The fact that the world came together in a time of unprecedented crisis and threw its weight behind it is something to be celebrated. If we want to end this crisis, then the world needs to do everything it can to let COVAX deliver. To ensure equitable access to vaccines, the UN is calling on countries to share doses and allow free export of critical materials for vaccine manufacturing, sharing technology and manufacturing know-how. We are also work-ing closely with national authorities to ensure that global norms and standards are developed and implemented to assess the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines.

African Union is advocating for Africa to producing his own vaccine and Mauritius should sup-port such initiatives while also advocating for vaccine producing countries to share equitably. No one is safe until everyone is safe.

Word of caution: Even if we get enough vaccines, we must continue to DO IT ALL. Vaccination must go along with continued sanitary measures! We must all commit to be responsible citizens.