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    24 August 1999
    Secretary-General Says Peoples of Africa Cannot Continue to Pay Exorbitant
     Costs of the Conflicts Raging in and among Their Countries


    NEW YORK, 23 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message delivered on behalf of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, by the Deputy Director of the Africa II Division of the Department of Political Affairs, Sammy Kum Buo, to the World Conference of Kings, Queens, Traditional Chiefs and Religious Leaders on Conflict Prevention in the Twenty-First Century, held in Cotonou, Benin, on 16 August:

     First of all, I should like to thank Africa-Cultures International Institute for organizing this conference on a topic so crucial for our common future: conflict prevention in the twenty-first century.  I applaud the Institute's tireless efforts to breathe life into the ideals of peace, harmony and brotherhood which the United Nations is responsible for promoting.

     I should also like to thank all the eminent personalities, Beninese and non-Beninese, whose presence here testifies to their concern for the well-being of the peoples of Africa and to their desire to see peace prevail on our continent in the coming century.

     This desire for peace will undoubtedly be one of the keys to our future.  There are already encouraging signs that peace is present in many parts of Africa.  It is now clear that many African countries are ready to face up to occasionally harsh but nevertheless unavoidable realities; that they have the courage and the determination to face the challenges that confront them; that they are able to look at problems together and to put in place mechanisms for conflict prevention and resolution; and that they are ready to take themselves in hand and deserve help because they will put that help to good use.

     These signs are important not only in themselves, but also because they are helping to change an image of Africa that works against us.  Many non-Africans see our continent as one vast battlefield.  For them, Africa simply evokes an endless succession of violent conflicts accompanied by untold numbers of dead, wounded and refugees.  They may tell themselves that no matter what they do, war is inevitable in Africa.  We know that this is not the case, but we also know that there is some truth to their way of thinking:  we are still far too tolerant of the culture of war.

     For the African countries which are tearing themselves or each other apart, the costs are exorbitant.  By devouring precious human and material resources and destroying infrastructures, armed conflicts wipe out the results of years of development efforts.  By forcing external aid to be spent on humanitarian assistance and by discouraging investors, they also mortgage the future.  This is a price which the peoples of Africa cannot continue to pay.

     Unfortunately, there are no simple formulas or foolproof solutions for preventing or resolving conflicts.  Given the complexity of the factors at stake, only a sustained effort to combat poverty and promote social justice, human rights, good governance, the rule of law and democracy can help to preserve or restore cohesion within societies.

     The United Nations has been pursuing this task without pause since its inception, with all the African Governments that turn to it, but the issue touches so closely on the social fabric that it would be unthinkable to undertake it without the participation of civil society.

     I see non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in particular, as being valuable partners for the United Nations and powerful forces for progress.  First, because they are the direct representatives of citizens, who are always the first to suffer the consequences of conflict, and thus have the greatest stake in the establishment of just and stable societies.  Secondly, because we have seen that they are able to build coalitions that can exert tremendous pressure on government decision-making, as we saw, for instance, with the international campaigns for the adoption of the Landmines Treaty and the Statute of the International Criminal Court, two instruments that are vitally important for the maintenance of international peace and security.

     So I place great hopes in the work of organizations such as yours, which is known and respected beyond the borders of Benin and Africa.  Your deliberations may give rise to ideas of national, regional and even universal relevance that will reinforce the progress made by humankind in its quest for lasting peace for all the peoples of the world.  I encourage you to show creativity and open-mindedness, and I wish you a very fruitful debate and every success in your noble undertaking.

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