16 April 2003

Investment in Africa Now Can Make Sustainable Difference Deputy Secretary-General Tells Capital Markets Forum

NEW YORK, 15 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks delivered today by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at the African Capital Markets Forum in New York on 15 April:

It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to join you this morning. Let me say right at the outset that the Secretary-General deeply regrets his inability to be here. As you may know, official travel linked to the situation in Iraq has made it impossible for him to participate. Let me first read a short message he has asked me to share with you.

"Dear friends in Africa, America and Europe, "You have come together because you believe in Africa -- its people and its potential. It has never been easy to draw the world's attention to investment opportunities in Africa. That challenge has been made even more difficult by the situation in Iraq, which has monopolized media attention, diplomatic energies and much else for many months now, and looks likely to do so for some time to come.

"That makes it all the more important for all of us to show the entire world the real progress that is being achieved every day, across the continent, despite obstacles that would dishearten even the richest and most powerful countries. To neglect these efforts would be deeply unfair to Africans, and a mistake for the rest of the world, too. There can be no credible vision of a humane and peaceful world order for the twenty-first century that does not include a positive future for Africa. I am glad you have come together with each other and with the United Nations to act on that belief, and I pledge to be your strong partner as we move ahead."

Like the Secretary-General, I think this forum is a source of great encouragement. Key players in African, American and European capital markets -- portfolio managers, financial experts and others -- have come together in one place. You are discussing the factors that hinder the growth of capital markets in Africa. You are sharing best practices. You have witnessed the launching of a comprehensive handbook on African stock exchanges. And you are exploring ways the United Nations can help to advance our shared agenda of investment for economic and social development.

Of course, it is one thing to sit together in New York and map out potential ventures, and quite another to see them take root in African soil. Indeed, some prospective investors -- foreign and domestic -- may be nervous about conflict. All of us are also aware of the devastation being inflicted by HIV/AIDS. And there may be questions about whether the basic conditions for investment exist.

It is perfectly reasonable to ask such questions and voice such concerns. But there are answers that should give us all confidence.

Despite conflicts in some places, most African countries are at peace. A majority of Africans now live under democratic systems, led by elected leaders accountable to their peoples. Moreover, a vigorous civil society is emerging, giving voice to the views and concerns of ordinary people.

Ordinary people have also been central to Africa's response to the AIDS epidemic. Spurred on by civil society groups, a number of African leaders have taken bold steps to raise awareness of AIDS, to remove stigma, to show that prevention is possible and that treatment can work. Most African countries have adopted national plans of action. And there is hope that President Bush's recent pledge to spend $15 billion over the next five years will galvanize much-needed contributions from others.

AIDS has certainly imposed an enormous burden, but it has not deterred African countries from trying to create an enabling environment for investment and business activity. Indeed, under the New Partnership for Africa's Development, known to you all as NEPAD, many of the private sector's main priorities -- such as effective regulatory systems, fair judicial systems and legal safeguards against corruption -- are becoming African priorities as well, as African countries work hard to liberate the entrepreneurial energies of their people.

In short, we have reached a moment when investments in Africa -- even small ones -- can make a real, sustainable difference. As evidenced by this forum, the United Nations is eager to do its part in supporting such efforts. Some of you in the private sector may think the United Nations is no friend of the business community. Quite the contrary. One of the most welcome developments at the United Nations in recent years has been the tremendous growth in partnerships with the business community in finding solutions to poverty and other challenges. More and more businesses are themselves recognizing how much they depend on the norms and standards set by the United Nations for the conduct of business on a global scale, and on the United Nations wide-ranging work for peace and development.

So how shall we move forward? We have a template for action: the Millennium Development Goals -- an internationally agreed set of targets and timetables for combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. What we need is action. That is where you come in.

Your expertise can help Africa build well-functioning capital markets, and banking institutions that conform to international standards. Your investments can help small enterprises in particular gain access to financing. Mobilizing the African diaspora can be especially helpful in this regard. As people who occupy leadership positions, your influence can move governments to fulfil their promises to create a truly open, equitable and rule-based international trading and financial system.

The number of stock exchanges in Africa has increased from 10 to 18 over the past decade. Recent studies have shown that, even when adjusted for risk, investments in Africa have yielded high returns. If we are to consolidate these gains and provide a catalyst for further progress, it is vital that the more experienced and established financial communities work in partnership with Africa and with the United Nations.

These are difficult times for the world, for Africa and for multilateral cooperation. At a time when the world feels a sense of considerable anxiety and vulnerability, I can think of nothing better than for nations to come together behind an agenda of positive change. And at a moment of great concern about the world economy, and about people being left behind by globalization, I can think of nothing that would send a more hopeful signal than to promote real, concrete action that will help people lead better, more prosperous lives.

The United Nations looks forward to working with you, the financial community -- among our newest partners -- in helping Africans to secure a better future for themselves and future generations. In closing, let me thank everyone involved in making this forum possible.

Thank you very much.

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