Mabingue Ngom, Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Director of the UNFPA Representative Office to the AU and UNECA, explains the vision behind the setting up of the African Union’s African Humanitarian Agency (AfHA).
Mabingue Ngom is Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Director of the UNFPA Representative Office to the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. With decades of experience in directing the logistics needed to successfully orchestrate public health projects at a regional, national, as well as global scale, he is an expert in dealing with humanitarian crises.
The African Union’s African Humanitarian Agency (AfHA) was ratified in May 2022 and endowed with $140m in commitments, but the list of conflicts and crises continues to grow. Ngom spoke to us about the roadmap of the future agency.
New African: How is work on establishing the African Humanitarian Agency progressing?
Mabingue Ngom: It’s an old project that dates back to the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Next February, the Heads of State and Government should approve the rules of procedure, the statutes and perhaps even make progress in the negotiations about the headquarters agreements and the recruitment of staff. I hope that, once approval is given, a more refined roadmap will speed up the effective establishment of the agency. The commencement of activities should not be delayed. A team could be put in place to manage humanitarian emergencies.
The 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul enabled the countries of the continent to adopt a common position to make international humanitarian action more effective and to put an end to the many humanitarian crises that emerge in Africa. It is therefore for Africa a subject of capital importance, something the Secretary General of the United Nations has called an agenda for humanity. African countries have clearly expressed their strong political will to put an end to the numerous humanitarian crises and conflicts in Africa.
Africa must deal much better with the causes of these conflicts – to extinguish, reduce and contain the sources of tension, and not just respond to crises. Our interventions must be more local. Since 2016, African states have been determined to strengthen their role in humanitarian action. And international action must take place for as long as necessary.
We must no longer limit ourselves to establishing standards, but really invest in their implementation. We must strengthen the links between humanitarian action and development action by bringing all the actors around the table – the private sector, young people and women as well as the traditional state actors – to create a single front towards the challenges that paralyse Africa and prevent it moving forward.
How will the creation of the African Humanitarian Agency mark a break with the past?
Today, even if the continent accounts for less than 2% of global added value in manufacturing and represents 16% in terms of population, 75% of humanitarian crises take place in Africa. This agency will mark an important step towards the management of Africa’s many humanitarian challenges by Africans themselves, aiming for even more effective support from their international partners.
From the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, many regions have been plunged into major instability. Do African leaders have the means to halt this movement and find an African solution to these appalling humanitarian problems?
We have provided support during major crises in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel. We have successfully gone through the experience of Ebola and Covid in Africa. We have continued to solve humanitarian problems by learning from our experience. This has also enabled us to make quality responses to humanitarian crises that have surprised and inspired other parts of the world.
Nothing is easy, nothing is assured. And certainly, we are not going to solve all the problems easily. Communities at the local level and the financial and private sectors must play their part so that together we can put an end to this enormous number of crises.
With a focus on anticipation, intervention and adaptation, the African Humanitarian Agency must be a state-of-the-art tool, collecting all the data and all the experience that we have acquired during recent years in major crises, and capable of inspiring all the other humanitarian agencies in the world.
How will resources be mobilised and allocated?
Financial commitments were made in Malabo to support the political decision. In December, an important symposium on humanitarian aid and the promotion of the agency will be held in Nairobi.
But we must continue efforts to mobilise the massive resources that will enable Africa to improve the effectiveness and coordination of humanitarian aid. The number of crises is increasing. Therefore, the resources that we have to mobilise must also grow.
So that displaced persons can benefit from the attention of the highest authorities but also from the support of the United Nations, it will not be possible for us to carry out this important project without additional resources because we are approaching the deadline for the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 is also fast approaching.
I also hope that at some point a mechanism will be put in place for the regular mobilisation of resources, as is the case for the World Bank or the United Nations Emergency Fund. I note the incredible efforts led hand in hand by our colleagues in the African Union Commission and the United Nations system to accompany this process.