Speech/statement | Date: 09/06/2020 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
By Former State Secretary Marianne Hagen (Oslo, 9 June)
State Secretary Marianne Hagen's videobrief concerning the African-Nordic Initiative at the UN: the status of the initiative in light of Covid-19 and possible ways forward.
Dear Excellencies, dear Nordic colleagues,
Thank you for attending this video event concerning the African-Nordic initiative at the UN. In light of the changes brought forward by Covid-19, we believed an update on the initiative would be timely. I trust you all got the background information about the initiative we sent out on Friday May 29th. I will also use this occasion to give you an update on how we are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In these unusual times, we have had to think creatively about ways of meeting and communicating. I am therefore happy to see that we can maintain our dialogue through digital events like these.
Let me first convey my sympathy and solidarity with you and your respective countries, and appreciations for your efforts to contain further spread of the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic knows no borders and has had dramatic impact on all sectors.
Since we are all in this together, we need a coordinated effort in the spirit of multilateralism. Global threats require global responses. And a united global response will need a strong UN at its centre.
I am very pleased that the Secretary-General’s Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund is now a reality. We worked closely with the UN to establish it. The fund aims to assist countries in their recovery and in building more resilient health systems, in close collaboration with World Health Organization (WHO).
We are very pleased that 16 African countries received support in the first round, and we will support inclusion of more in the next round.
Norway fully supports the WHO, and its leadership by Dr Tedros. Only the WHO can play the global leading role in ensuring a well-coordinated and effective response. Of course there will be lessons learned for the WHO – as there will for all of us.
The current global challenges underlines the importance of initiatives such as the African-Nordic initiative at the UN. It shows the need to strengthen multilateral cooperation and a rules-based world order.
The African and Nordic countries share a common interest in maintaining a well-functioning UN-led international system. Through strengthening the dialogue between our countries and joining forces, we can show a united front in support of multilateralism.
Norway has friendships with many African countries that go back to the struggle for decolonization and for independence. In the past decades, these relations have further expanded, among other things through increased political dialogue.
The African-Nordic initiative deepens our political partnerships with African countries, beyond traditional development cooperation.
We welcome this opportunity to strengthen the dialogue, both between our colleagues in New York, between our Ministers and between colleagues in our capitals.
Since launching the African-Nordic Initiative at the UN in New York in the spring of 2019, we have received a lot of constructive input from African countries. This includes bilateral meetings at last year’s UNGA and the discussion at the African Nordic Foreign Ministers’ meeting in November in Tanzania. We have also had fruitful consultations in New York and Addis Ababa.
An African core group has been established for the initiative in New York, whose members were selected by the African group. These are; Algeria, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea, Lesotho, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Zimbabwe. The Nordic countries and the core group have together identified a non-exhaustive list of priority issues. These are areas where our interests align and the potential for increased cooperation is the greatest.
Among the priorities so far identified are the links between peace, security and sustainable development, the link between the SDGs and Africa’s Agenda 2063 as well as multilateralism as a priority to preserve the ideals of the UN Charter.
The list of overall priority issues for the initiative will continue to expand as our dialogue within the initiative develops further. Discussions on this is currently ongoing between our colleagues in New York, and we wish to extend this dialogue also to our capitals. The aim is to elaborate a platform, for example in the shape of a common statement, for intensified cooperation between the African countries and the Nordic countries.
As the first major event under the initiative, we organised a workshop on climate related security and development risks in the Sahel. The event was held in Dakar in the beginning of March, with Senegal and Norway as co-hosts.
The purpose of the meeting was to deepen our collective understanding of the impact of climate-related human security and development risks, and how multilateral cooperation can contribute to preventing, mitigating and adapting to its effects. The aim of the meeting was to generate policy recommendations for enhanced multilateral cooperation in this area.
The meeting brought together representatives of countries from West Africa, the Sahel and the Nordic region with delegates from a number of regional and multilateral organisations and experts from civil society and research institutes.
The experiences and the insights from this meeting can be drawn upon in future cooperation between our countries in the field of climate, development and security.
Covid-19 and its impact has consequences for planned activities under the initiative.
The meeting in Dakar was meant to be followed by a continental meeting in Addis Abeba in April, with Ethiopia and Norway as co-hosts. This event would have had a broader participation and a broader thematic focus, and was foreseen as an important stepping-stone towards a possible common statement in support of multilateral cooperation.
The event was postponed, due to the current circumstances. Nevertheless, we are still planning for the event to be organised later this year or in 2021, with the same broad focus and participation.
All African countries will be invited to send one representative to the meeting in Addis Abeba from the respective capitals, on senior government official level, and one representative from their UN missions in New York.
By bringing together representatives both from our capitals and New York, we hope to build a solid platform for a future dialogue on multilateral issues.
The celebration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations would provide us with another excellent opportunity to identify more precisely how we can work together to protect and reform the rules-based international order. However, it is still unclear in what way the UNGA75 will be organised. Plans for a meeting or event in the margins of the General Assembly is therefore on hold for the moment, while we are exploring the possibilities.
The current situation also had consequences for the dialogue on the initiative between the Nordic countries and the core group in New York, with a temporary halt in the meetings. However, the dialogue is currently restarting. A new meeting between the core group and the Nordic countries will happen soon.
We are currently exploring how the initiative should be adjusted in order to respond to the crisis, and how to consolidate the initiative as a platform for dialogue and partnerships between African and Nordic countries in multilateral settings.
In New York, the upcoming meeting with the core group provides an opportunity for our colleagues to have new look at the state of the initiative and its relevance to the current global situation. This includes the possibility of adding subjects such as global health and food security to the list of priority areas for cooperation.
We are similarly trying to facilitate a dialogue between our capitals on possible ways forward. To that aim, we welcome input from all Nordic and African countries, whether from representatives based in capitals or stationed at foreign missions.
As part of this dialogue, we look forward to answering your questions concerning the initiative, either during the Q&A session following the remarks from our Nordic colleagues, or by other means of communication in the coming weeks and months.
I would like to underline that maintaining the strengthened dialogue gained through the initiative is a long-term Norwegian interest. We will continue to promote the initiative and multilateral dialogue with African countries independently of our candidacy for the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, we hope to pursue the goals and objectives of the initiative as an elected member of the Council.
Norway will, if elected, bring a small-country perspective to the Security Council, and we will speak with an independent voice. Norway has a long tradition of working closely with African countries and the G77 in all fora at the UN. We have a proven track record of considering each proposal on its merits.
Norway is also a consistent partner to the UN. Our support for the UN is predictable and recognisable, even when our government changes. We are the seventh largest net contributor, and more than 42 000 Norwegians have served in UN-led peacekeeping operations since 1947 - and continue to serve in Mali and South-Sudan today.
Many of the conflicts on the Security Council’s agenda concern the African continent. If elected to the Council, Norway will seek even closer cooperation at the UN and around the world. We will strive to be a fair player and listen to the views of all sides. Building on our extensive experience in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, Norway will contribute to finding solutions through pragmatic diplomacy.
One important way of doing this, is promoting a more representative multilateral system. In order to ensure effective multilateral cooperation, the international order, with the UN at its core, needs to better represent the geopolitical realities of the world today.
This means, among other things, that we must right the historical injustice done to the African continent by increasing the number of both permanent, and non-permanent, seats for Africa in the Security Council.
Norway’s commitment to solving common problems through international cooperation is who we are and what we do. It is also the core of our Covid-19 response.
Covid-19 represents an unprecedented global crisis. The economic impacts of the pandemic will be severe. No country can solve this crisis on its own.
Norway strongly supports a coordinated international response to the Covid-19 outbreak through the leadership of the UN and WHO. Let me briefly mention some of our priorities in the global health response.
As a founding member of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), Norway will continue to support the development of an effective vaccine against the coronavirus.The Norwegian government has committed an additional 200 million dollars over the next 10 years to Cepi.
We are also supporting the work of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. As one of the original six Gavi donors, Norway has steadily increased its political and financial support for the Alliance and its innovative mechanisms over the last two decades. May 5th, our Prime Minister announced a pledge for a billion dollars to Gavis strategic period 2021-2025, including a renewed commitment to the International Finance Facility for Immunisation Company (IFFIm) until 2030.
We firmly believe that once developed, a vaccine must be made globally available and be rapidly and fairly distributed, including to vulnerable groups and low-income countries.
We commend the African Union’s efforts in promoting a united and coordinated response in Africa. Norway will support the AU and the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to build national capacities, coordination and distribution of medicines and other equipment, and to mobilize and deploy experts.
Norway will continue to take a lead in efforts to solve new cross-border health challenges. Meeting the challenges requires evidence-based decisions that contribute to strengthening health systems, particularly in developing countries, and that are well-coordinated across sectors.
When supporting the Covid-19 response, we will not neglect other challenges. This includes the need to keep primary health care services broadly operational, and giving special attention to reproductive health services.
We know that the pandemic is impacting men and women differently. More women are health workers and caretakers, and women are still overrepresented in the informal sector. We also see that the pandemic is reinforcing pre-existing inequalities, and that women and girls in already vulnerable situations become even more vulnerable. Therefore, we need a gender lens in our Covid-19 response. Both women and men must have access to health services, and financial incentives must respond to women's situation in the labour market. We must ensure that women participate on an equal footing with men when needs and actions to fight the pandemic are defined.
Norway supports WHO's efforts to assist vulnerable countries with weak health systems to help mitigate the long-term consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak, including in African countries, through our humanitarian support for WHO's Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP).
This effort is closely linked to our support for WHO's long term efforts.
Finally, in spite of all good efforts we are concerned that the Covid-19 pandemic will result in an economic downturn, hitting low-income countries particularly hard.
It is clear that substantial financing packages will be needed, to provide both immediate support and longer-term financing. To this end, Norway has committed funding through the Multilateral Development Banks and IMF.
We look forward to continuing the dialogue between our countries on these and other multilateral issues.