6 December 2005

Secretary-General, in Message to Africa-France Summit, Stresses Importance of Investing in Education, Jobs for Continent's Young People     

NEW YORK, 5 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan message to the twenty-third Conference of Heads of State and Government of Africa and France, in Bamako, on 3-4 December, as delivered by Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs:

It gives me great pleasure to extend my best wishes to the twenty-third Conference of Heads of State and Government of Africa and France taking place in the beautiful, historic and hospitable city of Bamako.  The United Nations thanks the hosts -- President Touré and the Government and people of Mali -- and appreciates the opportunity to participate in this valuable forum.

Africa is undergoing great and in some cases potentially momentous political change.  Despite devastating conflicts in some areas, most notably in Sudan, the vast majority of Africa's people are determined to forge ahead with peaceful democratic governance.  Mali, for example, has conducted three peaceful and successful multiparty elections since the 1990s.  Last month, the people of neighbouring Liberia voted not only to move beyond the violence that has ravaged that country, but also to elect Africa's first female head of State.  More than two thirds of Africans now live relatively peacefully in countries with multiparty political systems.

Much remains to be done, however.  The quality of life for Africa's people continues to lag behind that of all other regions.  While a number of African countries are fighting corruption and registering significant economic growth, the continent's share of global trade has declined by almost 50 per cent in three decades, to just 1.5 per cent today.  At a time when globalization is contributing to growth and development gains in several other developing countries, Africans are terribly marginalized in the world economy, and continue to face subsidies and tariffs, especially for agricultural goods, that thwart their efforts to compete fairly in the global trade regime.

This Summit has rightly identified Africa's youth as a key path to lasting progress.  Young people below 25 years of age make up the majority of Africa's population.  The investments we make today in their education, in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and in promoting the peaceful resolution of disputes could be decisive in liberating their talents and energies and enabling them to manage the continent tomorrow.

Education must be central in this effort.  Employment is equally essential.  Tens of millions of youth across the continent lack prospects of decent work.  This is not only a tragic waste of a precious human resource.  It can also have security implications for almost every country in Africa, since desperation often leads young people to fall prey to warlords, criminal gangs or illegal migration syndicates.  Here in this subregion, the UN Office for West Africa and its partners have just published an important report on the links between youth unemployment and regional insecurity.  I urge you to explore its recommendations.

Technology is another resource that must be tapped to prepare Africa's youth for responsible citizenship and effective leadership.  The World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis last month revealed that Africa suffers severely from limited access to information technology.  Let me salute here the initiative announced at the Tunis Summit to manufacture laptop computers costing only $100 each, for distribution in developing countries.  This could be a real advance in bridging the digital divide in Africa.

I welcome France's support for recent international efforts to find innovative sources of financing for development.  While there is no doubt that international partnership is necessary, it cannot replace the responsibility of African stakeholders themselves to combat corruption and promote respect for the rule of law and human rights.  Such action is vital if Africa is to build confidence and create a climate conducive to domestic and international investment.

Like their parents, Africa's young people believe that their continent is potentially one of the richest regions on earth, but needs more accountable and inclusive policies to make it a place where they can live safely, in freedom and dignity.  I share their faith in Africa's enormous potential, and along with the entire UN system will continue to work with Africa and its partners to turn our hopes for a better Africa into reality.  In that spirit, I wish you every success in your deliberations.

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