Africa Renewal: What is your assessment of the UN and AU relations?
Dr. Mayaki: UN-AU relations are not only critical but a necessity today in Africa. Thankfully, the UN has had a close interaction with the AU, and in instances, jointly implemented missions on the continent. As an example, I was part of a group selected by Madam Zuma [Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former chair of the AU Commission] to join a delegation of the former secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to the Sahel region. This collaboration delved into how to tackle the problems of the Sahel. Secretary-General António Guterres has gone a step further, with the UN signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the AU on operationalizing joint projects.
At AUDA-NEPAD we actively interact with the UN system, particularly with the office of the Special Adviser on Africa, which is managed by Cristina Duarte, a former finance minister of Cabo Verde.
How do you envisage the UN work in Africa in the future?
As you know, multilateralism is a product of the motivation of Member States to cooperate better and to delegate some form of capacity to the UN system to solve problems such as hunger, conflict, abuses of women's rights, etc. However, geopolitically, multilateralism is being criticized — multilateralism is not as strong as it used to be, which has evidently constrained the efficiency and effectiveness of the UN. A significant consequence is the financial cost of UN operations. If we look at the constraints and the challenges that the UN system faces, we need to be mindful that we are using available resources the best way possible. The fact that the World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize illustrates this.
Globally, we are observing resilience of the international system, which will allow a new type of multilateralism to emerge. Many countries strongly believe in strengthening multilateralism. The AU, countries in Latin America, in Asia—China and Japan—are strong supporters of multilateralism. Europe is as well. In this context, I foresee a UN that will be renewed in its thinking and can operate even when its financial means are constrained.
How relevant is Africa within the multilateralism space?
Africa is extremely relevant. International relations experts will tell you that Africa plays a critical role with its 54 Member States that are represented in the UN— in terms of numbers, but also in terms of thinking. We should never forget that during the negotiations for the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], there was strong input from Africa, especially from the AU. The African group used Agenda 2063 to flag Africa's interests to ensure the SDGs reflect the objectives and the rationale of Agenda 2063.
Additionally, there has been growing representation of African experts that head several international agencies. You see Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at WHO [World Health Organization]; hopefully, the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be managed by Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Nigeria’s former finance minister; Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, a former prime minister of Togo, is the President of IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development]. The more Africans are present in these positions, the more the continent’s voice is being heard within the international system.
How significant would it be for an African woman to head the WTO, in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)?
There are two areas of significance should an African woman lead the WTO, in the AfCFTA context. The first is viewed through the gender lens, where we need to level the playfield and address women’s under-representation in leadership roles in emerging institutions.
Additionally, it is a recognition of African expertise to drive the continental free trade agenda, through the recognition of an African woman with very high credentials. She [Okonjo Iweala] was number two at the World Bank, the first woman finance minister of Nigeria and she is currently playing a critical role at Gavi [the Vaccine Alliance], working on vaccines. The establishment of the AfCFTA means that Africans are serious about trade and would need all the expertise on the ground for its effective implementation.
You established the AUDA-NEPAD COVID-19 Response Plan of Action. How is that going?
Arguably, the COVID-19 pandemic is a new turf for institutions globally. Our first strategy was to react immediately, in terms of shaping a response by adapting our workplans and our activities to the pandemic. So, everything we are currently doing in health, agriculture, infrastructure, etc. is mainstreamed along with the COVID-19 response. As we are considerably still not out of the woods, the institution hasn’t focused on a “post-COVID-19 response” but is rather supporting mitigation and control efforts.
Control efforts required that our work, to an extent, aligns with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). We did not invent a response plan in a vacuum; rather, we interacted with the Africa CDC, flagged our mandate and our capacity to implement different programmes on health, agriculture, etc., and then inserted our activities into the Africa CDC roadmap. This ensures that our response plan is fully coherent with the response plan of the AU based on the Africa CDC strategy.
Our efforts so far have yielded positively. Against initial expert projections, Africa has managed the pandemic quite well, if you consider the current numbers globally in terms of deaths. A city like New York has roughly the equivalent number of deaths as in Africa with a population of about 1.3 billion.
In terms of policy response, we have put together the critical elements to help stop the spread of the virus. But we need to continue; we should not relax.