Monday, May 27, 2024

Africa: U.S. UN Ambassador – On Tackling Covid, Conflict and Climate

The United States this month holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. As she occupies the chair, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thoman Greenfield, has named food security and human rights as central issues she wants to promote. Late last week, AllAfrica’s Tami Hultman talked to her about those priorities as they affect Africa.

To begin, can you speak about the intersection of conflict, food insecurity and climate crisis?

When I started as ambassador here, I talked about the three c’s of food insecurity – Covid, conflict, and climate. And there’s a fourth – costs – which have gone up and have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and the restrictions that the Russian government has put on Ukrainian grain getting to market.

Africa is so dependent on the food coming out of Ukraine and Russia. When I was in Ghana earlier this year, I visited a farm in the north and heard from women farmers that because of climate, because of conflict, that they were not able to plant the same quantities of food that they were able to plant prior to the war in Ukraine.

So those all do intersect. But even before Covid and the war in Ukraine, Africa had food insecurity. Climate was a big part of that, which I think is little recognized in media coverage.

It should be recognized. Look at how deserts have expanded. In north Africa alone, going into the Sahel, you see conflict that has resulted from herders who are having to push further and further south into agricultural areas because of climate change.

Look at patterns of rain across the continent – the flooding we’re seeing in Mozambique and in other areas, and the droughts countries are experiencing. This is all a result of climate change; it’s not Africa’s fault. And Africans have been very vocal on the impact of climate change on their agriculture.

Some coverage tends to portray images of Africans as waiting for handouts or as not knowing what to do, as in the phrase ‘Let’s teach Africans how to farm’! Of course, Africans have been farming for generations. Could you say something about the resilience of African communities and the innovations that need support from the United States?

Africans are extraordinarily resourceful. Resources on the continent are abundant. They’re abundant for agriculture.

Africa does need help. For example, the impact of Covid on African economies was really far reaching. Some African countries are devastated by debt that us undermining their futures, and they need help dealing with financing. This is debt that China has contributed to and should be held responsible to address.

Africa’s growth is certainly being impacted by conflict. We look at Ethiopia, Sudan, the terrorism across the Sahel and migrations of people leaving the continent. We’ve seen coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea Conakry. And now we have the troubling situation in Niger. We are moving in a concerted way to address the situation in that country

You spoke recently about the central role of women in peace building. Could you elaborate on that?

I have a strong message on that. We just joined the women’s peace and security commitments here in the United Nations. You know that I served as ambassador to Liberia when the first woman ever to be elected president in Africa was in office. It was women’s power – women engaging in peace and security – that led Liberia to success under President Johnson Sirleaf. In every country around the world, women’s participation is essential to peace and security. Women need to be at the table, never sitting in the background. Women make up 50 percent of the population and more than 50 percent of the victims of conflict.

You will see, during our month as Security Council President, we will be amplifying the role of women in peace and security, bringing women’s voices and civil society voices to the table.

Let’s looks at Sudan and the role of women and civil society generally. There is great concern among the people to whom we talk inside Sudan and on the borders of Sudan, that the current peace process does not include civilians, the ones who were instrumental in ousting one dictator and then blocking the authoritarian rule that followed. So what is the role of women and civil society in peacebuilding in Sudan when they are not a part of the peace process?

We applauded the role of women to overthrow the nearly 30-year dictatorship of Omar Bashir. The current situation in Sudan requires that women also be part of the process of peace. We’re not in a place where peace is even happening in Sudan, and we need to push harder to get a sustainable ceasefire, so that we can move forward on a political process that will bring civilians back into the process.

I am planning during this month as president of the council to bring Sudan back into our discussions. We have huge concerns. The situation is getting consistently worse. Look at the large number of IDPs [internally displaced persons] that have been generated from the conflict. We really do have to address these issues.