On trip to 3 West African nations, UN chief urges investment

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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — To start his three-nation tour of West Africa, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on rich countries to increase their investments in African nations as the continent recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and is impacted by the war in Ukraine.

“This war is aggravating a triple crisis: food, energy and financial, for the region and well beyond,” Guterres said.

He added that Africa’s food security problems will not be solved without “reintegrating the agricultural production of Ukraine and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus into world markets.” He said he was “determined to do everything to facilitate a dialogue that can help achieve this objective.”

Guterres was speaking Sunday in Senegal before sharing an Iftar dinner — the meal breaking the Ramadan fast — with President Macky Sall, who became president of the African Union earlier this year.

The U.N. secretary-general is to travel to Niger Monday where he plans to join Muslims marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan and onward to Nigeria on Tuesday to highlight the violence of Islamic extremism.

Guterres said he is concerned about how the war in Ukraine is affecting the African continent. Guterres created a Global Food, Energy and Finance Crisis Response Group to mobilize U.N. agencies, development banks and other international organizations to deal with these issues, he said. Senegal’s president is co-chairing that group, Guterres said.

Sall, for his part, deplored the “dramatic impact of the war on the economies of developing countries.”

Guterres also called for reform in the global financial system, calling it “morally bankrupt,” and saying that every available mechanism needs to be used to benefit developing and middle-income countries, especially in Africa.

While in Senegal, Guterres visited Diamnadio, a planned city being built about 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of the capital where he viewed the construction of an office building that will be a part of a new U.N. complex there. He also went to a vaccine manufacturing facility that will soon produce COVID-19 shots where he called for vaccine equity to help Africa recover from the pandemic.

“It is unacceptable that today almost 80% of the African population is still not vaccinated,” he said, calling on rich countries and pharmaceutical companies to accelerate dose donations and invest in local vaccine production.

He also urged better action on climate change, saying that African nations suffer the most while contributing the least to the problem.

Ahead of his trip to Niger in the Sahel, the vase semi-arid area south of the Sahara Desert, he and Sall called on military juntas in power in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso to speed up their transitions to democracy.

“We agreed on the importance of continuing the dialogue with the de facto authorities of the three countries in order to establish the return to constitutional order as soon as possible,” Guterres said.

The Sahel region has been shaken by the recent coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea. The three countries have been suspended by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, which has urged the juntas to return the countries to democratic rule as soon as possible. On Saturday, the head of Guinea’s junta announced a 39-month transition that does not take into account the months that have already passed. The head of Mali’s junta, Assimi Goïta, has proposed a transition of 24 months while the military in Burkina Faso wants 36 months. These periods are considered too long by ECOWAS and others in the international community.

Guterres vowed to advocate for African peace and counter-terrorism operations.

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AP journalist Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

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