Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message to the "In Search of the Consolidation of Peace in Africa" conference delivered by his Special Adviser on Africa, Ibrahim Gambari, in Tokyo on 12 March:
It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to all the participants in this conference. I would like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan Institute of International Affairs for the strong support they have given both to the United Nations and to the cause of African peace and development.
African leaders have taken important steps towards helping the continent to consolidate peace and realize its full potential. They have joined their destinies in an African Union. They have agreed on a far-reaching New Partnership for Africa's Development. Democracy and the rule of law have made further advances. And African civil society has stepped forward as never before, holding governments to account and injecting new dynamism into African societies.
But such progress merely sets the stage for the hard work ahead -- and hard work there is. We are all struggling to calm a conflict in Côte d'Ivoire that has provoked tragic rifts along ethnic and religious lines, and caused hundreds of deaths and large-scale displacements of people. We must all do our utmost to help Ivorians regain the secure path they had known for so many decades.
What is happening in Côte d'Ivoire should not, however, cloud progress being made in other parts of Africa. Angola is now in consolidating peace after three decades of war. In Burundi, Sierra Leone, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africans are showing real determination to settle their conflicts, with tangible results. That makes it all the more important for the international community to support Africa's peacekeeping and peacemaking mechanisms and institutions - as set out, for example, in the Group of 8 industrialized countries action plan for Africa. Africa cannot afford further turmoil - but if it erupts, Africa must have the capacity to respond.
The consolidation of peace is not just a matter of disarmament and demining, truth commissions and reconciliation, reconstruction and the repatriation of refugees. It also means strengthening democracy further, so that people have a vote and a voice in the decisions affecting their lives. It means good governance - transparent, and accountable. It means respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and it means coming to grips with the AIDS epidemic. For in addition to the health crisis, the disease is killing the most productive members of society, including many of the very people responsible for planning and implementing programmes to address society's key concerns. The agricultural sector is especially hard hit, setting up a lethal interplay of disease and hunger. And, with infection rates in many national security services at alarming levels, peace and security is increasingly in jeopardy. Immediate action is needed: to replenish Africa's human resources; to rebuild the capacity of the State to provide essential public services; to devise a strategy that combines long-term food security with the fight against HIV/AIDS; and to place women at the centre of the response, since it is they who, as caregivers and keepers of agricultural know-how, are the continent's lifeline.
The consolidation of peace in Africa will require all the will and creativity we can muster. We can succeed, if we put our minds to it and use the tools and knowledge at our disposal. The United Nations, for its part, will remain Africa's strong partner, and I look forward to working with all of you in this quest. Please accept my best wishes for a successful conference.