Press conference by UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the African Union Summit

31 Jan 2017

Press conference by UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the African Union Summit

30 January 2017, Addis Ababa

(Near verbatim transcript)

Ladies and gentlemen of the media, thank you very much for your presence.

I am extremely happy with the results of my contacts during this African Union Summit. I think we have created the conditions to establish a new higher platform of cooperation between the African Union and the UN.

As I said in my speech, I’m here with the expression of total solidarity and respect – respect for African leadership, both in relation to the African development process and in relation to the African capacity to deal with the problems of peace and security in the region, but solidarity, which means support of the UN and hopefully support of the international community as a whole to the very important actions that the African Union and the different African regional organizations have been developing in order to guarantee the future of the continent.

And I think we need to change the narrative about Africa in the international community. Usually, I see people discussing – in Europe, in the Americas, in Asia – the situation in Africa based on all the crises that exist in African countries. But that is a partial view. And I think we need to have a narrative that recognizes that Africa is a continent with an enormous potential, that Africa is the continent that has higher economic growth in the last ten years, that in Africa we have extraordinary success stories from the point of view of economic development and governance, and that in Africa, we have as we have seen just a few days ago, important success stories that show the capacity of African countries to come together and solve the problems that exist in the continent. The way ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] was able to act in relation to the situation in Gambia with the support of the African Union and the support of the UN, is something exemplary that I would hope could be copied in many other parts of the world.

So I want here to pay tribute to the African Union, to their very important work on behalf of the continent, and to say that the UN will be entirely at the disposal of the African Union to fully support its activities. And I was very happy with the fact that President [Idriss] Deby [of the Republic of Chad] has announced that every year in January, I will have, as it was the case yesterday, a breakfast allowing me to interact with all African Heads of State and to be able to have a very meaningful discussion about the relations of the African Union and the UN.

I’d also like to say that I’ve understood from the African Heads of State their frustration with the fact that Africa is today a weight in international organizations, namely in the UN, that is much smaller compared with the weight that Africa has in today’s world. I understood that frustration, and I also understood the African concerns with the problems of many peacekeeping operations that take place in areas where there is no peace to keep and the need to have an intense dialogue between the African Union and the UN to see how better we can work together in relation to also the problems of peace and security.

But having said so, development must be in the centre of our cooperation. The best prevention of conflicts is sustainable and inclusive development. And we have agreed that the Agenda 2063 of the African Union and the Agenda 2030 that was approved by the Summit in New York in relation to the whole international community – these two agendas on sustainable development will be aligned and that will be only one reporting line and that UN country teams will be supporting governments in the implementation of both agendas in a coherent way in order to have the maximum benefit for the African peoples under the leadership of the African governments and to have the strongest capacity to take profit of the different instruments that we have at our disposal, namely according to the Addis Ababa programme of action in relation to funding to make sure that we are successful in these extremely important objectives recognised both by the AU and the UN.

Having said this, I cannot disguise the fact that I also came with a deep personal concern and a deep personal commitment. I was High Commissioner for Refugees and when I started my functions the 15th of June 2005, the 18th of June I was in Uganda in a refugee camp to prepare for the celebration of World Refugee Day with South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. And then I had the chance to help support the return of half a million South Sudanese coming back to their country with joy and hoping that there would be a future of peace and prosperity for them, for their families and for their country. Unfortunately, we have been witnessing a level of suffering of the South Sudanese people that is extremely troubling and that I think should be of concern for the whole international community.

And so, since the beginning of the exercise of my mandate, I’ve been concentrating a lot of attention to see how the UN can help African leadership in dealing successfully with the problem of South Sudan. And I’m very happy to be able to confirm that we had yesterday a meeting of the leadership of the IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development], the leadership of the African Union and myself, and we were able to have a full agreement between the IGAD, the African Union and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. A full agreement, in relation to the need to work together with one voice. A full agreement, in underlining the mandate of President [Alpha Oumar] Konaré on behalf of the African Union, with total support of the UN, and also the work of President [Festus] Mogae of IGAD in his mission in relation to the verification of the peace agreement, and that we all believe in the need to have in South Sudan a national dialogue that is fully inclusive of all parties, to move to a political solution in South Sudan, and that I had the opportunity to discuss with President Salva Kiir and with the key neighbours of the country and I think that we have a consensus on the way forward. There will be difficulties, there will be problems, there will be gaps but I leave Addis with hope that we can find a common way to address the dramatic situation of South Sudan, a common way to help the South Sudanese come together and solve their problems.

Of course, there are different other problems that I had the occasion to discuss with the African leaders, namely today with the Group of Five in relation to the situation in Mali -- very important discussions about the future of peacekeeping operations; how better the UN can support the AU in the missions of the AU that are also covered by Security Council decisions, as it is the case with AMISOM; how we can really work together better also in relation to the prevention of conflict, conflict resolution and sustaining peace. But, I repeat, the best prevention is always development, inclusive and sustainable development, and this will be the very centre of our cooperation.

I’m at your disposal for any question that you might want to ask.


Q: On reform of Security Council – African participation.

SG: This was one of the issues that were raised by Heads of State. I have said several times that in my opinion reform of the United Nations will not be completed without reform of the Security Council, but it is not in the hands of the Secretary-General to do it. This is a decision that needs a change in the Charter of the United Nations and needs to be approved by the General Assembly, by a qualified majority, with the five concurring votes of the five permanent members of the Security Council. So this is an area in which, of course, I would be very interested in the dialogue in order to see if it is possible to move forward, but I recognise and it is important to say that the fact that there is no African permanent member of the Security council doesn’t correspond to the present situation in the world and the weight of Africa in the international community.


Q: (In French) On the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

SG: Pas seulement inquiet, mais déterminé. J’ai eu l’occasion d’avoir un entretien avec le Vice-Premier ministre de la République Démocratique du Congo, en attirant son attention sur le besoin de faire que l’accord soit effectivement traduit dans la pratique et que la situation puisse s’améliorer dans tous les domaines que vous avez mentionnés. Mais j’ai aussi parlé avec les voisins de la République Démocratique du Congo en demandant à tous de maintenir un dialogue permanent avec les autorités congolaises pour que cet accord puisse vraiment être concrétisé et pour que la République Démocratique du Congo puisse avoir une solution politique pour une situation qui traine déjà depuis longtemps.


Q: On US threats to cut UN budget.

SG: Of course, this is a matter of concern, but I am determined to engage, and I already had a constructive meeting with the new ambassador of the US to the United Nations. I am determined to work in order for, as President Trump said, the UN has enormous potential. We need to make sure that that potential translates itself into full reality. That is what I think is the basis for a constructive dialogue and cooperation, and I hope that we will be able to build a relationship based on trust, allowing for the UN activities to go on without any dramatic evolution.


Q: Thoughts on US announcement re ban on refugees; where will they go?

SG: First of all, I would like to underline that this is an African Union Summit, not a summit of the Organization of American States. Having said so, it is clear to me that refugee protection is something that is absolutely essential to guarantee, that access by refugees to where they can find adequate protection is of extreme importance. The US has a large tradition of refugee protection, and I strongly hope that measures that were taken will be only temporary. I strongly hope that refugee protection will become again high in the agenda of the United States of America.


Q: On South Sudan – sexual violence.

SG: There is a decision by the African Union together with South Sudan for accountability in a special court, and obviously that will have the full support of the UN.


Q: On Kenya and spat regarding South Sudan.

SG: I had a very positive and constructive meeting with the President of Kenya.  I am very grateful for his very positive attitude. Obviously all the neighbours of South Sudan are absolutely crucial for the solution of this problem. I count a lot on the role of Kenya in all aspects, in all aspects, including the military one. I have a long experience of cooperation with Kenya in my past capacity and I am very encouraged by the excellent meeting I had with the President of your country.


Q: If Morocco is accepted to the AU, it implicitly reaffirms the independence of Western Sahara but the UN has yet to recognize. Do you think in your tenure that might change?

SG: As you know, there is a process and the resolution of the Security Council in relation to Western Sahara. This has nothing to do with the decisions the African Union might take about membership. This is an area where we have no interference at all. It is a sovereign decision of the African Union. Thank you very much.