17 July 2001


NEW YORK, 16 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the high-level segment of the 2001 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council in Geneva:

We meet at a time of uncertainty in the world economy. At such times, more than ever, the United Nations has a responsibility to defend the interests of its most vulnerable members. It is therefore most timely that you are devoting this High-level Segment to the role of the United Nations system in African development -- as indeed it was timely that, two month ago, we held the Conference on the Least Developed Countries. Most of those countries are in Africa, as you know.

At the conference, it was accepted by all that the Least Developed Countries are entitled to special and differential treatment, both in terms of debt relief and in terms of access for their products to the markets of more fortunate countries. That was an important breakthrough.

It was no less timely that, last month, we held the Special Session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS. This epidemic is now clearly recognized as a global scourge from which no region is immune, and as far more than a medical emergency, but as a social and economic one, which has become the greatest threat to the development prospects of a significant number of countries. The Special Session revealed a striking consensus on this point, and also on the need to fight the epidemic by empowering those who are most vulnerable to it -- especially women -- so that they can exercise their full rights and make their fullest contribution.

Finally, it is very timely that this autumn the World Trade Organization will be meeting at ministerial level in Qatar. The greatest danger in times like these is that people will listen to the sirens of protectionism. Nothing could be more disastrous for the world in general, or for developing countries in particular. Yet many of the developing countries themselves are now close to losing faith in the world trading system, because they feel that the advantages they were promised from the Uruguay Round have not materialized.

It is important, therefore, that we restore the momentum of open markets by launching a new round of trade negotiations, which this time must be a true Development Round, in the sense that it will give genuine priority to the concerns and interests of developing countries.

At the same time, we Africans must not delude ourselves. Even though trade and markets represent the best hope for Africa, as for other regions, in the longer term, the sad truth is that at present few African countries are really equipped to seize any market opportunities they are offered. Most African countries have long been accorded preferential access to European markets for most of their products. Yet they remain on the margins of the world economy.

Indeed, for that very reason, Africa is relatively unaffected by the current slowdown. But that is small consolation, given the slow rate of growth Africa was already experiencing. Unless that rate improves spectacularly in the next few years, Africa has no hope of achieving the targets of poverty reduction and social progress set by last year’s Millennium Summit.

Africa has suffered from decades of mismanagement during which its resources, instead of being exploited for the benefit of its people, have become a source of misery. These resources are not only wasted by incompetent governments, but misappropriated by corrupt ones. They have become the cause of devastating wars, not only among the citizens of the country they belong to, but also between the armies of neighbouring States, which intervene in their neighbours’ conflicts and cynically take advantage of their misfortunes.

Africans have many hard questions to ask of themselves and their leaders. I am glad to say those questions are now being asked.

And that is yet another reason why your theme this week is timely. If Africans are taking a cold, hard look at their own record, it is surely appropriate that the United Nations should take a similar look at its own record in Africa.

Over the decades, the United Nations system has been involved in so many African development initiatives that even I cannot remember what all the acronyms stand for!

Unfortunately, few if any of them have been very effective.

One reason for this is that, although African experts and diplomats certainly played an important role in devising these plans, they were often perceived, by the African men and women who were expected to implement them, as the work of remote bureaucrats with no understanding of African conditions.

In future, we must make greater efforts to listen to the people on the ground. We must be less eager to devise and promote United Nations initiatives, and more constructive in finding ways to support local, African initiatives.

That was precisely what we agreed on in Nairobi in April, when the heads of all the different branches of the United Nations family pledged to support only African-led and African-owned development plans, such as the Millennium Action Plan proposed by Presidents Obasanjo, Mbeki, and Bouteflika, and the OMEGA Plan proposed by President Wade.

Of course, that has long been the philosophy of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, which, as you know, is based on African soil and staffed mainly by Africans, under the able leadership of Mr. K.Y. Amoako, from whom you will be hearing in a moment.

In the last two years, the African Development Forum organized by the Economic Commission for Africa has played an invaluable role in helping African leaders to focus their energies, first on the effort to make new information and communications technology more widely accessible in Africa; and latterly on the battle against HIV/AIDS.

And now the Commission will have a major role to play in the implementation of the new African initiative that was adopted at the Summit of the Organization of African Unity in Lusaka last week. That role will be essentially a technical one, but that is as it should be. The United Nations will be at the service of an African initiative, and not the other way round.

Indeed, it has been very encouraging to see the emergence of this serious, home-grown African recovery plan at a time when Africa’s leaders have declared their commitment to an African Union.

Mr. President, this could be a turning point in Africa’s history.

That has been said so often before that it may seem folly to repeat it. Yet I believe that African leaders are, at last, taking more seriously the need to put an end to the conflicts which have laid waste so much of the continent -- causing untold human misery, making normal economic life impossible, and frightening away investment even from countries that are not directly affected.

My overall impression, after attending three African summit meetings this year -- in Yaounde in January, Abuja in April, and Lusaka -- is that Africans, including African leaders, are now much less disposed to blame all their troubles on outsiders and more determined to take responsibility for their own future.

If they do, they are surely entitled to the international community's support. And the role of the United Nations system in mobilizing and delivering that support will be crucial.

We must make ourselves Africa’s advocates, not only for improved market access, but also for the reduction of the subsidies paid by rich countries to their farmers, which currently amount to 1 billion dollars a day. This lowers world prices, leading to lower incomes and poverty in Africa.

We must make ourselves Africa’s advocates for increased official development aid, without which many African countries will not be able to develop their physical or social infrastructure to the point where they can take advantage of new market opportunities, let alone defeat the new and deadly obstacle of HIV/AIDS.

We must make ourselves Africa’s advocates for deeper and faster debt relief, to end the same absurd and unjust situation where there is a net transfer of resources from poorer to richer countries.

We must make ourselves Africa’s advocates for the prompt repatriation of the illegally acquired wealth which was transferred to Western banks by some corrupt African leaders and officials.

We must make ourselves Africa’s advocates for a larger share of private investment. At present, the continent receives a smaller share of foreign direct investment than any other developing region, while 37 per cent of Africa’s total private wealth is currently held outside the continent -- as compared to 3 per cent of Asian private wealth held outside Asia, and 17 per cent of Latin America’s outside Latin America.

This is true even though Africa’s needs are the greatest, and at present it offers the highest returns to those who do invest.

Now that African leaders are getting more serious about putting an end to the conflicts on their continent, about improving governance and reforming their economies, the international business community should look again at the investment opportunities which Africa offers -- and of course those Africans who do own private capital should take the lead.

That indeed, is the purpose of tomorrow’s African Investment Promotion Forum. I am encouraged by the number of companies that have asked to participate.

And finally, my friends, we must make ourselves Africa’s advocates in dissuading foreign companies and governments from being accomplices in Africa’s destruction, through the illicit sale of arms and the purchase of illegally extracted resources. I am glad to say that in this area the Security Council has taken the lead -- and as you know, a major United Nations conference on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in now in progress in New York.

All these, my friends, are things the United Nations system can do to help Africa, if Africans are really willing to help themselves. And I’m sure there are many more.

It is the task of this meeting to discover them. We all owe it to Africa to make it truly productive.

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