Conflict in Africa neither inevitable, nor intractable, says Secretary-General to Paris Summit

from UN Secretary-General
Published on 27 Nov 1998
Press Release
Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's address to the Africa-France Summit in Paris on 27 November:

C'est pour moi un plaisir et un honneur de m'adresser à cette assemblée des dirigeants des pays d'Afrique.

Permettez-moi tout d'abord d'exprimer toute ma gratitude au Président Chirac et au Gouvernement français qui accueillent cette réunion. Ils démontrent ainsi que la communauté internationale veut véritablement s'associer à l'Afrique dans sa recherche de la paix et de la prospérité.

L'Afrique traverse une époque de profondes mutations et de crises graves. Nous sommes tous ici conscients de l'importance notre mission et résolus à mettre fin aux guerres qui déchirent le continent.

Que nul n'en doute: seule l'instauration de la paix peut permettre au développement de prendre véritablement racine en Afrique. C'est pourquoi le thème retenu pour le sommet de cette année - "La sécurité en Afrique" - revêt une importance et une actualit é toutes particulières.

Nous savons tous que la sécurité a des dimensions très diverses - politique, sociale et économique - et que ces dimensions sont interdépendantes et indivisibles. Nul ne peut se sentir véritablement en sécurité s'il n'a pas accès à l'enseignement, à l'emploi, à la santé. Or, trop de fils et de filles de l'Afrique en sont encore privés aujourd'hui. Les coupables sont la pauvreté, la maladie, et la guerre.

Nous savons tous aussi que sans la paix, sans la sécurité, sans la bonne gouvernance et la démocratie, aucune aide, aussi volumineuse soit-elle, ne permettra aux Africains de sortir définitivement du chaos pour créer une véritable communauté africaine. Plus que jamais, nous devons garder cette réalité à l'esprit.

De la Guinée-Bissau à la Sierra Leone, du Soudan à l'éthiopie et à l'érythrée et de la République Démocratique du Congo à l'Angola, la violence et la guerre ensanglantent notre continent. Trop nombreux sont les Africains tués par les conflits. Trop nombreux sont les innocents qui ne peuvent exercer les plus fondamentaux des droits de l'homme. Trop nombreux sont les enfants qui n'ont pas la moindre possibilité de mener une vie simplement normale. Et trop nombreux sont les dirigeants qui, ne connaissant toujours que la raison du plus fort, veulent régler les différends non par le pouvoir de la raison mais par la force des armes.

Comment faire pour que la raison l'emporte sur la rage, la modération sur la force, la tolérance sur la violence, la paix sur la guerre? O=F9 trouver les solutions qui permettront à l'Afrique de régler ses conflits? Et à qui s'adresser pour trouver ces solutions? La réponse est très simple: nous devons compter sur nous-mêmes.

Nous portons une lourde responsabilité. Les Africains de la prochaine génération observeront nos actes - ils les observent déj à, d'ailleurs - et se demanderont si nous avons tout fait pour préparer l'Afrique au XXIe siècle. Si nous leur avons donné la paix et la prospérité qu'ils méritent. Si les valeurs que nous leurs avons léguées sont celles du respect des droits de l'homme, de la tolérance et de la coexistence pacifique.

The answers, my friends, will be in deeds and not words. They will be found in our determination to ensure pluralism within States, so that there can be peace between States. They will be found in our willingness to end conflict, so that development can be given a real chance.

Yes, we must have African solutions to African problems. But the test of those solutions must be in their results, not in their origins. What matters is not who provides the solutions, but whether they provide lasting peace and equitable prosperity.

That we can provide those answers, now and in the future, I have no doubt. Africa's extraordinary human and material resources, the resilience and humanity of its peoples, the growing appreciation for the rule of law, the education of our youth -- all these offer a potential without equal in our Continent's history. We must now do our part.

In my 20 months as United Nations Secretary-General, I have done my best to make Africa's security and development a priority. I have tried to focus the energies and ideas of the United Nations clearly and resolutely on Africa's challenges.

I said when I delivered my report on conflict in Africa to the Security Council last April, and I say to you again today: For too long, conflict in Africa has been seen as inevitable or intractable, or both. It is neither. Conflict in Africa, as everywhere, is caused by human action, and can be ended by human action. But, that action requires imagination, persistence, patience and, above all, will. It requires the political will, specifically, to solve conflicts by political and not military means, to take good governance seriously, and to promote economic growth.

Already, the follow-up to the report has begun within the United Nations, primarily in the economic area, but also including special conferences on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Last week, the Security Council passed two new resolutions on Africa in response to my report, one on the safety of refugee camps, the other on illicit arms flows. These decisions illustrate the Council's active concern for two issues which are critical to our Continent's security.

Indeed, it is worth noting that over 60 per cent of the Security Council's work is devoted to African issues and other organs of the United Nations are not lagging behind. The General Assembly, after an extensive debate, is now ready to adopt a resolution which, among other things, will establish its own ad hoc mechanism for monitoring the implementation of my report. The Economic and Social Council, too, will address the report in depth during its next substantive session.

During the Assembly's general debate, I convened a meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and other high officials of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Development Assistance Committee, and drew their attention to several priority areas. I stressed, in particular, the need to increase the volume, and improve the quality of official development assistance, and to provide significant debt relief for the poorest African countries.

I also stressed the importance of expanding access to the markets of industrialized countries and -- perhaps most important of all in the long run -- of increasing inward investment flows into Africa. But alas, my friends, we all know that no private investors -- not the most far-sighted multinational corporation, nor yet the most patriotic African -- are going to risk their hard-won capital in a chronically insecure neighbourhood. Without political stability and a predictable environment, neither investment nor development assistance will be forthcoming.

Unhappily, in this respect, the seven months since the report's publication have not been so encouraging. Long-dormant rivalries have re-emerged to threaten new conflicts, while festering wars and unruly militias continue to inflict great suffering on civilian populations, making peace ever more distant.

Many of these conflicts are rooted in a culture of armed intolerance, spread by self-interested leaders who use ethnic, religious or social diversities as pretexts. Yet, we know that Africa's history is replete with examples of coexistence and cooperation across borders and creeds, defying difference and inspiring unity. What we also know, however, is that some leaders have exploited those differences and sown hatreds, where they could not provide peace or produce genuine prosperity.

The consequences are apparent for all to see. In the wake of ethnic hatred, unspeakable crimes have been committed in Africa in recent years -- above all the genocide in Rwanda.

In too many parts of the continent, ethnic divisions continue to obstruct economic progress and good governance, making every peace fragile and every division explosive. And these conflicts affect the way the entire continent is seen by the rest of the world.

I know this is very unfair. Some African countries have achieved very respectable growth rates and eminently deserve to attract investment. But, we are all affected by the negative image of a continent in crisis. It is a handicap we cannot afford, least of all at a time when events in other parts of the world pose a threat of financial contagion, causing many investors to become risk-averse.

My friends, we must bring our collective focus to bear on the settlement of these crises in order to free up resources and energies for the essential task of economic and social development. We must remember that our economic position is weak in comparison to other regions -- and would be so even if Africa were united. Divided and conflict-ridden, we simply do not stand a chance.

My greatest anxiety at present concerns the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a war in which half a dozen or more other African States are now implicated. In this war, we may well face our greatest challenge. But, it is a challenge that holds lessons for all of Africa, in achieving both internal progress and external stability. In the Congo, as everywhere, what is needed is for all parties irrevocably to choose peace and compromise, turning their backs on violence and conflict.

Above all, we must recognize that what happens within States will greatly affect what happens on the borders between them. States that promote tolerance, respect human rights, invest in education, prize their ethnic diversity, and pursue responsive policies of governance will, as a general rule, be less vulnerable to external attack -- and less prone to external adventure. In other words, by addressing the causes of internal malaise we can help ensure the absence of external conflict. And I'm glad to say that many African States are addressing their internal problems in a constructive way. Let me conclude on a hopeful note by mentioning recent events in one of them.

In Nigeria, General Abubakar has seized the challenge of his country's future. He has chosen the route of genuine democracy and the rule of law. Repression is lifting, political and financial accountability is taking hold. Nigeria's prospects now seem brighter than they have for many years. I was privileged to assist this process, in a small way, by my visit to Nigeria last June. The United Nations will remain actively engaged, doing whatever it can to help bring the process to successful completion. We are not there yet. But, already Nigeria has shown us that sound and sober leadership, dedicated to discovering and implementing the people's will, can transform a nation's prospects and begin to create lasting wealth out of tragic waste.

It shows us that the past need not be prologue, that we can turn a new leaf and learn from our mistakes, and that we can ask a new generation to shoulder Africa's burdens with faith in the future. If carried through successfully and emulated by others, Nigeria's experience will enable us to tell our children and grandchildren that, yes, we did choose peace, we did choose democracy, we did choose human rights.

Let us pray we will be able to tell them that, in our time, Africa did find solutions to its own problems -- and that they were the right solutions.