For information only - not an official document.
23 January 2001


Focuses on Need for Improved Governance,
Education, as well as Debt Relief and Market Access

NEW YORK, 18 January (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text of an address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Yaoundé, Cameroon, today to the Africa-France Summit:

It is for me a great pleasure to be here once again in Cameroon and a great honour to participate once more in this assembly.

Let me, first of all, express my gratitude to President Biya and to the Government of Cameroon, the hosts of this meeting.

I also wish to pay my respects to President Chirac, who has shown by his presence that France remains faithful to its commitment to Africa as the continent continues its search for peace and prosperity.

However, like each and every one of you, my pleasure in being here is tempered by the uncertainty over the fate of President Laurent Désiré Kabila, whose active participation in the Africa-France Summit held in Paris two years ago we all remember so well.

As we begin our deliberations, whose early sessions are in fact devoted to the problem of conflicts, peace and security in Africa in the context of globalization, I should like from this rostrum to reaffirm the determination of the United Nations to contribute to the peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I should also like to make an urgent appeal to all the parties to the conflict to work towards this objective. And lastly, I wish to extend my sympathy to the Congolese people at this time of uncertainty.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Let us first decide on the image of Africa that we would like this conference to portray to the world. What message would we like to send to our brothers and sisters in the South and to our partners in the North, namely, the Europeans, who are represented here today by President Chirac, the Russians, the Japanese, whose Prime Minister for the first time has just completed a tour of Africa, and the Americans, whose new President will assume office on Saturday?

It is not enough merely to appeal to the generosity, or even to the sense of justice, of the industrialized countries. We must also make them see that they have everything to gain by helping us. We must convince them that Africa matters and that, given its present condition, they must intensify and not moderate their policy of engagement with us.

Why does Africa matter? Because it contains over 700 million fellow human beings -- all of them would-be consumers -- and because its crises cannot be contained within its borders.

The battle against HIV/AIDS cannot be won in the wider world if it is lost in Africa, where two thirds of all deaths from the disease have happened.

Nor can the world environment and climate be unaffected by the loss of African flora and fauna, of African forests, and indeed of fertile farmland being turned into desert.

Our present poverty makes us a source of problems for other continents, from crime and unwanted immigration to religious and political extremism. How much better it will be, for everyone, when Africa is full of productive, successful people, whose prosperity and ingenuity are sources of hope for the rest of the world!

We must convince our partners that that is not an impossible dream -- that Africa is not a hopeless case, nor yet a passive victim, aspiring only to live on charity. We must show them that we Africans are, in the words of the poem that helped sustain Nelson Mandela during his long imprisonment, "the captain of our soul" and "master of our fate".

Happily, we do have evidence to offer.

We can cite the recent peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the intensive efforts being made by African leaders and institutions to resolve other conflicts in different parts of our continent.

Better still, we can cite efforts to deal with the causes of conflict -- from the conflict prevention mechanism you have set up here in central Africa to the courageous stand taken by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) against the seizure of power by unconstitutional means, which has contributed to so many African conflicts.

We can cite the firm resolve that was in evidence last month at the Africa Development Forum in Addis Ababa, where African leaders showed that they are at last breaking the wall of silence about HIV/AIDS, and taking charge of the response.

And we can cite the growing courage and outspokenness of our citizens and journalists: their insistence on democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Last month's conference of new and restored democracies in Benin made that message very clear. And, since then, my own country, Ghana, has given us another fine example of the new African way of transferring power -- peacefully, through the ballot box.

This spread of democracy is a very positive aspect of Africa's response to the challenge of globalization -- the theme of this conference. By using new global media -- the Internet and cellular phones -- election observers inform the world of results as soon as votes are counted in each district, forestalling any attempt at fraud by the authorities. And voters are emboldened by knowledge of what is happening in other African countries, or as far away as Yugoslavia.

In all these cases, Africans are showing a new will to look their problems squarely in the face, and a new capacity to take charge of them.

But globalization is, above all, an economic phenomenon, and in this crucial area Africans are in danger of missing out on it. The central challenge we face today is that of making globalization work in Africa, and for Africa, instead of leaving Africans behind.

Last September, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, the leaders of the whole world resolved to halve the proportion of abjectly poor people in the world by 2015.

History will judge this generation by what it did to redeem that pledge -- which, in Africa, implies a spectacular leap in the annual growth rate. It will judge African leaders, in particular, by whether they enabled their peoples to board the train of the new global economy, and made sure that everyone had at least standing room, if not a comfortable seat.

The countries that have achieved higher economic growth in the last 10 or 20 years are the ones that have successfully integrated into the global economy and attracted foreign investment, as well as mobilizing the savings and resources of their own citizens. We must make sure that every African country has access to those opportunities.

That, in turn, depends largely on the quality of governance a country enjoys, and the level of education of its people. In both these areas, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and other branches of the United Nations family, are helping African governments to improve the quality of service they provide to their citizens, and in so doing to improve the climate for investment. I urge you all to work with us to further these ends.

Our future also depends on technology -- especially the new information technology. At present, Africa has fewer than 1 per cent of the world's Internet users. If we allow ourselves to be left on the margins of the new knowledge-based world economy, we shall fall ever further behind.

That need not happen. Unlike earlier technologies, this one does not require vast amounts of hardware, or financial capital, or even energy. What it does require is brain power -- the one commodity that is equally distributed among the world's peoples. So for a relatively small investment -- mainly an investment in basic education, for girls and boys alike -- we can bring all kinds of knowledge within reach of poor people, and enable poor countries to "leapfrog" some of the long and painful stages of development that others had to go through.

India is showing the way. Its software exports exceeded four billion US dollars last year, and are projected to reach 50 billion by 2008. A much smaller country, Costa Rica, saw its growth rate surge to 8.3 per cent in 1999 -- the highest in Latin America -- thanks to the development of its microchip industry, whose high-tech products find a ready market in other countries.

We need not look so far afield. Some African countries, too, are learning the lesson. Mauritius uses the Internet to position its textile industry in the global market. Mali has established an intranet to provide better administrative services.

There is much, much more to be done. I have tried to help by launching "UNITeS" - the United Nations information technology service, a global consortium of high-tech volunteer corps, to train people in developing countries in the uses and opportunities of information technology. It is already active in 12 countries, seven of which are in Africa.

But there is no easy fix for the institutional impediments, which still block the new technology in too many African countries. Too often, State monopolies charge exorbitant prices for the use of band widths, thereby putting the new world economy beyond the reach of most of their citizens.

I urge you all to review your arrangements in this area, and make sure you are not denying your people the opportunities of the digital revolution.

Yes, Excellencies, there is much that we Africans can do to help ourselves. But we will still need help from others. More fortunate countries have a vital part to play.

At very least, we are entitled to expect them to practise the free market rhetoric they preach, by removing the barriers that keep African products out of their markets, and cutting back the subsidies to their farmers, which make it so hard for African farmers to compete.

By so doing, they would give Africa, along with other developing regions, the chance to export its way to prosperity.

But many, if not most, countries in Africa will also need positive help before they can seize that chance.

Everyone now agrees, in principle, that the burden of debt must be lifted from the poorest countries -- and I'm glad to say several African countries did benefit from accelerated debt relief in the last months of 2000, the Jubilee Year. But substantial new resources are still needed, if the agreed debt-relief schemes are to take effect.

And many African countries, whether indebted or not, need help to reach the stage where they can produce goods and services that the rest of the world wants to buy. They need infrastructure and technical assistance -- not least in halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Many also need help in resolving their conflicts and rebuilding a peaceful, productive society.

In all these tasks, we look to the industrialized world for support. We need both official assistance and commercial investment. We need to find new ways of mobilizing resources for development.

That is the purpose of next May's conference on the least developed countries -- the first United Nations conference ever to be hosted by the European Union. Unhappily, as we know, 34 out of the 48 least developed countries are here in Africa. It is, therefore, vital that Africa prepares thoroughly for this conference, and comes to it with constructive and carefully argued proposals.

Early next year, there will be another important United Nations meeting on a closely related subject: Financing for Development. In preparation for it, I have formed a high-level panel, with former President Zedillo of Mexico in the chair, to recommend concrete, achievable steps to augment the flow of resources to the developing world.

The panel includes two distinguished Africans -- my countrywoman, Mary Chinery-Hesse, and Majid Osman from Mozambique -- as well as a most distinguished Frenchman, Jacques Delors. I believe it can make a very significant contribution to our thinking, and help build up political momentum. Most crucially, I hope it will help convince the industrialized world that development -- and African development in particular -- is not a lost cause.

That is the task that faces us, my fellow Africans. We have to convince our partners in the industrialized world that we are people worth helping, because we are helping ourselves. We do not need to hide our shortcomings, or the grim reality of our problems. We do need to show that we are facing up to those problems, and that we intend to beat them.

That is the message that must go out today from Africa to Paris, to Washington, to Tokyo, to Moscow -- to the entire world. Let it sound loud and clear!

Thank you very much.

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