To grow, Africa has to address basic needs (Victor Angelo)

Victor Angelo, a former United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG, Peacekeeping Operations), thinks that for Africa to be a land of opportunities it has first to address basic needs such as security. Indeed, extremist groups like Boko Haram have shown big numbers do not mean effectiveness since a significant part of the security issues originates from the lack of adequate means and coordination. If Ebola acted as a major destabilizer, explained Angelo, it has also proved that having reduced the operational capacity of the international agencies for 30 years has been a major mistake. This trend may have also played a role in Europe’s inability to deal with ongoing mass migrations effectively. Although the migratory pressure to move North continues for a very long time, most of the migrants would have to be repatriated, concluded Angelo who answered our questions below:

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Victor Angelo is a retired United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG, Peacekeeping Operations), at the level of Under Secretary-General. He spent more than 32 years with the United Nations addressing development, humanitarian and political affairs. Currently living in Brussels, Victor Angelo is a board member of the Swiss peacebuilding foundation PeaceNexus, a senior level international consultant working on peace and security matters, and a columnist on global affairs for Visão, a weekly Portuguese magazine. He has also authored several academic studies and regularly writes opinion pieces for a range of publications.

The Interview

1) In recent years, numerous articles have introduced Africa as the 21st century growth’s continent, the land of opportunities and the next frontier for the world’s economy. Do you share such an optimistic viewpoint?

V.A.: I have worked in Africa and on African affairs since 1978. I have seen many positive changes and also many crises. Based on my experience and taking into account key trends such as the very high rate of population growth and the explosive urbanization that defines many country situations, I can see major challenges ahead. For Africa to be a land of opportunities it has first to address the basic needs of the Africans, from education to health, from jobs to energy. And therefore create the opportunities for its peoples. This would require much better governance, more democracy and greater respect for human rights as well as a new type of international cooperation with Africa, including a large number of economic investments to be made by the private sector.

2) Overall, there is real economic growth but Africa has to deal with security issues that still have the potential to hamper Africa’s development. The latest wave of attacks carried out by Boko Haram has shown there is a real shortage in security in large areas, how and can African countries do more altogether to address the threat?

V.A.: The issues of national and people’s security remain a core problem for several African States. Boko Haram is the most visible example of a country’s weak security systems. Nigeria has large military and police forces and services. It has been one the most assiduous participant in UN peacekeeping operations. But when challenged by a domestic group of extremists and fanatics it became obvious that big numbers do not mean effectiveness. Nigeria and many other countries will have to reform the armed forces and ensure a better coordination between the military and the police services. The reform includes a greater emphasis on professionalism, discipline, good management of the resources and better links with the citizens. Better security is also related to a regional response. The cooperation within the framework of the African Union (AU) and the Regional Economic Communities calls for an acceleration of the current efforts and a greater commitment to collective defense.

3) Ebola has been both a catastrophe for western Africa and an opportunity, according to officials who dealt with the situation. To your mind, what have Africa and the international community learned from the crisis? Should we expect that something similar will happen again someday?

V.A.: Ebola had a huge negative impact on fragile West African countries. Liberia and Sierra Leone, in particular, had been successfully engaged in rebuilding their societies after years of deep national crisis and widespread violence. The epidemic acted as a major destabilizer. Fortunately, these countries are very resilient. With time and the support of their international partners, they will be in a position to resume the peace and reconstruction consolidation process. Furthermore, Ebola has showed that the policy the international community has followed during the last three decades in terms of reducing the capacity of the UN specialized agencies – in this case, the World Health Organization (WHO) – calls for a change of direction. We need international agencies with operational capacity, including the capacity to respond quickly and assist the nations that have yet to build their own response architecture.

4) The European Union (EU) has seemed powerless to deal effectively with the mass migrations from North Africa. The debate over admission quotas of a fixed number of migrants by each European country has been very controversial. Most of the European population wishes that migrants go back home. How can we address the issue in the most humane way without exacerbating tensions between the European peoples and migrants? Is the solution African rather than European?

V.A.: Mass migrations are a new feature in the international relations list of collective challenges. They will remain in the list for a long time. As such, they require a comprehensive response and the engagement of all the key players, including the EU States and Africa. We, in Europe, cannot see the matter as an Italian or Greek problem, we cannot keep a country-based perspective. This must be a shared problem. We should also avoid a simplification of the matter and say this will be solved when the Libyan crisis is over or the day Niger and other countries in the Sahel have a better control of their borders. We should also realize that the responses can only be partial, as the pressure to move North will continue for a very long time. But that does not prevent us from taking action now. People crossing into Europe have to be properly screened. Those who have genuine reasons to apply for asylum should be processed fast and given a chance to start a new life in one of the EU countries. Everybody else should be treated with greater scrutiny, including their work skills. In the end, most of them would have to be repatriated.