As part of the deliberate efforts to enhance popular participation and citizen engagement in finding sustainable solutions to address the challenges around issues of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons, the African Union (AU) convened the 8th High Level Dialogue focused on the full implementation of existing recommendations and also finding new opportunities to emerging challenges of forced displacement in Africa.
The three-day meeting was yet another opportunity to interact with, and hear first-hand experiences from returnees, refugees and internally displaced persons, who spoke to the existing gaps in addressing issues of displaced persons, but also shared practical solutions to ensure displaced persons are resettled and assured of safety, dignity and provided opportunities for self-sufficiency. In reaffirming their hope for a better continent, they also cited examples of countries such as Uganda, which they observed has a commendable model of hosting refugees. African Union member states, the AU Commission, organs and Regional Economic Communities and various partners, used the opportunity to brief on the ongoing AU-led efforts at the political and operational levels, around the theme of the year 2019, adopted to give visibility and rally more action to issues of forced displacement in Africa. Further, the African Union sought to strengthen the collaboration and galvanize more support from development partners and the international community, in line with the concept of global solidarity and burden sharing.
In seeking to drive the realization of Aspiration 3 of Agenda 2063, which envisions an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law, the Dialogue revisited the inherent, natural, institutional causes of forced displacement underscoring the nexus between displacement, good governance, development, peace and security in the continent. The meeting identified the need to make easily accessible, accurate and up-to-date data on displaced persons, the effects to, and conditions at the host communities, which are key to mapping out resultant immediate action, medium term and long-term solutions, to ensure no one is left behind in seeking to conclusively address the scourge of forced displacement in Africa.
The various speakers at the High Level Dialogue who included AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Minata Samate Cessouma; Equatorial Guinea Permanent Representative to the AU, Amb. Crisantos Obama; the Deputy Speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Jacob Oulanyah; Uganda’s State Minister for Bunyoro Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister, Apuuli Kiiza; UNHCR Representative to the African Union, Cosmas Chanda; AU Youth Envoy, Aya Chebbi among other senior officials, observed that the number of refugees and internally displaced person remain unacceptably worrying, adding that women and children continue to bear the greatest impact of the scourge. They called for strengthened efforts to promote peace and good governance, post- crisis reconstruction as well as harnessing the demographic dividend of its greatest asset- the youth. Further, the leaders reiterated a call to AU member states to translate the legal instruments on forced displacement at the national, regional and continent levels, into action. In particular, they underscored the need to sign, ratify and fully implement the AU Conventions addressing issues of protection and assistance of refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees, which they noted give detailed guidelines on hosting displaced persons with dignity and elaborate on the aspects of integration. Emphasis were made on the need to apply the Pan-African vision and the spirit of ubuntu as a strategy for unity and in seeking sustainable solutions to guarantee that no African is homeless in Africa.
The outcomes of the 8th High Level Dialogue will be part of the report by the AU Champion for the theme of the year, H.E Theodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, to be considered at the February 2020 African Union Summit. In July 2018, AU Heads of State and Government adopted a decision declaring 2019 as “The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa” in recognition of the existing challenges and the prevailing need to address the interlinking issues of displacement, peace and security and development. A number of activities have been undertaken in the implementation of the roadmap of the theme of the year. Africa is host to over 25.2 million forcibly displaced persons, made up of 7.4 million refugees and 17.8 million Internally Displaced Persons.
At the same time, 2019 marks 10th anniversary of the African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, popularly known as the Kampala Convention. Twenty nine (29) Member States have ratified the Convention, with the latest ratifications in 2019 deposited by South Sudan, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia. The OAU Refugee Convention marked its 50th Anniversary this year and has so far been ratified by forty six (46) member states. Other key continental frameworks include the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the 50th Solemn Declaration on Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance in 2013; and the Common African Position on Humanitarian Effectiveness.
The 8th High Level Dialogue was preceded by the Continental Consultative Meeting, the Continental Youth Consultations and the gender mainstreaming and youth empowerment meeting. Read satisfactory conditions of safety and dignity for forcibly displaced persons dominate Kampala meetings. The Dialogue was convened by the African Union Commission through the department of Political Affairs and the African Governance Architecture secretariat. As part of the African solutions to African challenges, the African Union and supported by GIZ awarded the “WeKonnect” firm as the winner of its 2019 Humanitarian Innovation Challenge. The 20,000-euro grant award will allow the Ugandan firm roll out the pilot phase of a mobile App that allows refugees at the Nakivale Refugee Settlement to access services easily.