Secretary-General Says United Nations Stands 'Ready To Help Africa, Wherever And However It Can'
Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's address to the Annual Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), in Lomé on 10 July:
Let me add my voice to all those that have thanked the people and Government of Togo for their generous hospitality.
Let me thank this Organization for its abiding commitment to the United Nations.
And let me say how deeply honoured I am to address your Assembly again.
I have a strong sense of doing so in a dual capacity -- as Secretary-General of the United Nations, but also as a fellow African.
Ever since I became Secretary-General, I have sought to mobilize support for Africa around the world.
In particular, I have stressed the obligation of industrialized countries to ensure that Africa, with other developing regions, has a fair chance to compete in the new global economy:
- by opening their markets to African products;
- by halting the subsidized exports which drive African farmers out of business;
- by reversing the shameful decline in official development aid; and
- by cancelling debts, so that African governments no longer have to service and repay them at the expense of their peoples' health and education.
First, there are many misconceptions about Africa elsewhere in the world. Somehow, it is always the bad news that gets attention. Somehow the resources, which flow in abundance to halt "ethnic cleansing" and relieve refugees in Europe, are not available when even worse things happen in Africa.
I feel the injustice of these double standards, as any African must. But I also know that some of the harsh perceptions of Africa are true. Too many of Africa's problems are self-inflicted.
Repeatedly, I have tried to spread the good news. But the rhetoric of African "renaissance" is greeted with scepticism, or even derision, often by Africans themselves -- especially young Africans who see their own countries going backwards.
My friends, let us face some unpleasant facts:
- Africa is the only region where conflicts are not decreasing.
- Africa contains almost half the world's refugees and internally displaced persons.
- Africa, according to this year's Human Development Report, is still at the bottom of the table for quality of life.
- And Africa still has 33 of the world's 48 least developed countries.
The impact of HIV/AIDS alone makes that implausible, especially in southern Africa where the statistics are simply terrifying. The epidemic now threatens the whole future of this region. The United Nations Security Council began the Millennium year with a meeting, not on conflict but on AIDS in Africa - rightly, because this disease cannot be isolated from peace and security issues. In the last year it has killed many more Africans than conflict has.
In short, Africa is being bypassed by the economic forces which are transforming the rest of the world. Only the natural resources, with which we are blest in abundance, seem to be of interest to the global economy. But they, instead of being exploited for the benefit of the people, have been so mismanaged and plundered that they are now the source of all our misery.
This is not something others have done to us. It is something we have done to ourselves. If Africa is being bypassed, it is because not enough of us are investing in policies which would promote development and preserve peace. We have mismanaged our affairs for decades, and we are suffering the accumulated effects.
We cannot disguise that fact. The best we can do is to insist that not all is wrong -- that Africa is a large and diverse continent, with room for good news, as well as bad. Indeed, there are many hopeful stories to tell.
Senegal, for instance, has shown that an African country can protect itself against HIV/AIDS, by a timely and well targeted education campaign. And Uganda, perhaps even more encouragingly, has shown that the rate of infection can be slowed, even after it has reached epidemic proportions.
South Africa, after a long night of segregation and injustice, continues to transform itself -- more smoothly than anyone dared hope -- into a non-racial democracy.
Indeed, democracy is alive and well in many African countries. It has taken root in Benin, Botswana, Djibouti, Senegal -- and is now being consolidated in Nigeria. Zimbabwe, too, has given us a vivid reminder of Africans' attachment to pluralism, and their courage in defending it.
But sadly, even those countries which do practice good governance are often penalized by their neighbours' bad performance.
How can we change this? We must work together to govern better, and manage our resources better. As the Senegalese writer Hamidou Kane puts it, "the age of separate destinies has run its course".
In many areas, African States are already helping each other.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) are creating subregional networks for trade and cooperation. The countries of the Senegal River basin have shared their limited water resources, so that droughts in that region no longer cause famine. The Treaty establishing an African Economic Community has been signed.
Both west and central African leaders are also setting up new security structures, to help resolve conflicts in their neighbourhood, and prevent new ones breaking out. These institutions will build on the experience gained so painfully by ECOWAS members, who went to the rescue of Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Mali and its neighbours are limiting trade in small arms. Conflicts in the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau and the Niger have been resolved, with the help of neighbouring countries, through multiparty elections leading to peaceful transfers of power. Botswana and Namibia have resolved their border dispute through a decision of the World Court.
But much more needs to be done despite these encouraging developments.
Transport and communications links in most parts of Africa remain woefully inadequate. Here, surely, is a role for the African Development Bank - and, indeed, the World Bank.
Perhaps the time has come to forge a stronger link between economic and security integration. The European Union, which is probably the most successful example of conflict prevention in the last half-century, began as an economic community - specifically, a coal and steel community. After the devastation of World War II, France and Germany decided to make another war impossible by jointly administering resources which were then the "sinews of war". Is it unthinkable that Africans could work together on similar lines? Why not an African Oil and Diamond Community?
In any event, this Organization, the OAU, must play the central role that its name implies.
This Assembly already took a big step forward, last year in Algiers, when you decided that those who come to power through unconstitutional means will no longer be welcome among you. I look forward to the day when the General Assembly of the United Nations takes the same principled stand and follows the lead of the OAU.
This year, the OAU has shown great persistence in making peace between two of its members in the Horn of Africa. We owe a special debt of gratitude to President Bouteflika for his effort in making peace possible.
But we shall achieve little through international institutions unless we liberate the energies of our people.
They are our greatest resource. They never cease to inspire us by their cheerfulness and enterprise in the midst of calamity and deprivations. Against all odds, they keep society going by their unfailing solidarity with their extended families and communities, and their generosity to others, including refugees and displaced persons. They are a model and a reproach to other parts of the world, especially the richer parts. It is they who have kept the peace in by far the greater part of the continent, in spite of so much deprivation. It is they who have hauled themselves out of conflict and built peace - in Mozambique, in Uganda, in South Africa and many other countries.
If we invest in people - if we give them the education and freedom they need to choose their own path, there is nothing we cannot achieve.
That means, above all, investing in education.
On my last visit to Africa, at the World Education Forum in Dakar, I announced a United Nations initiative to promote the education of girls. This is a global programme, but nowhere is it more important than in Africa. Educated women can play a decisive role in solving Africa's problems.
Unhappily, in African societies where incomes are low and schooling expensive, girls' education is often sacrificed. It is up to you, Excellencies, the leaders and guides of your peoples, to speak out and change these skewed priorities.
Once educated, young people of both genders must be able to find jobs. Their chances of doing so will be much greater if we can bring the new information technology within their reach.
Of course, information technology will not, by itself, solve Africa's problems. But its potential benefits - in improving health care and education, in making governance more transparent, in supporting agriculture and trade - are becoming more and more obvious. I believe it offers an unprecedented chance for African countries to "leapfrog" some of the earlier stages of development. But access is crucial. Countries in which most people don't have access to information technology cannot play a full part in the new global economy. And the longer they remain outside the global economy, the harder and costlier it will be to catch up.
The "digital divide" must be bridged before it is too late. It is incumbent on us and it is entirely possible, as a United Nations consultant reported last month, that by the end of 2004 any African farmer should be able to reach a point of access in half a day's journey, on foot or by bullock cart.
I am writing to the leaders of the "Group of Eight" industrial countries, who are meeting in Japan in a few days' time, to urge them to show global leadership on this issue and make a major commitment of resources. But equally I urge you to do whatever you can to ensure that your peoples do not miss out.
The United Nations and its Economic Commission for Africa are eager to help. I have already announced three specific initiatives in my Millennium Report - all of them backed with significant resources by the private sector. The big international information technology companies are increasingly interested in partnerships with the United Nations to help the developing world. We must put information technology to work for development. I am sure there will be more initiatives soon.
The United Nations is ready to help Africa, wherever and however it can. Indeed, it spends more and more of its time and resources on African issues.
The Security Council has shown a keen interest in following up the report I delivered two years ago on the causes of conflict in Africa, which made clear that peace and development are indivisible.
It has authorized a series of new peacekeeping operations in Africa, and is now preparing to send another to play the role assigned to it in the agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
It has also conducted an inquiry into the illicit funding of conflict in Angola, and it plans to do the same for Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have recommended that it take a more general look at ways of curbing the illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth, which fuels many of the conflicts in our continent.
More broadly, I believe the international community is prepared to help Africa, especially when it knows that help will be put to good use. We saw this in the case of Mozambique, when disaster struck last February. Not only was there an outpouring of sympathy and humanitarian aid from all over the world. When it came to reconstruction, and relaunching Mozambique on the path of development, the country's record of good governance was rewarded. Donors rallied round to pledge support.
Africans need help from the world, but they also have much to offer the world. I have been reminded of that in the last few weeks as I wrestled with the problems on the Israeli-Lebanese border, where a United Nations force under an African commander -- my countryman, General Obeng - is playing a crucial role, as many African peacekeepers have done before them in zones of conflict in other regions of the world. I find it entirely fitting that this year's Conference of New and Restored Democracies, and next year's World Conference against Racism, will both be held in Africa - in Benin and South Africa, respectively. These too will be opportunities, not only to consolidate democracy and racial tolerance within Africa, but also for Africans to help people on other continents with similar problems.
On a more personal note, I was lucky enough to grow up during Ghana's independence struggle, and to see it crowned with success. Soon afterwards, a British prime minister recognized the "wind of change" blowing through Africa.
My friends, I feel winds of change blowing afresh today. This time they are winds of democracy, of respect for individual dignity, and for the rule of law.
I am convinced this process is irreversible. We must take heed of it, and respect the will of the people, who are insisting more and more that their votes be fairly counted, and their voices clearly heard. Thank you very much.