24 January 2006

United Nations, African Union Have Broad Common Agenda, Secretary-General Tells African Summit

NEW YORK, 23 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the message of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Summit meeting of the African Union in Khartoum delivered by Mohamed Mohamed Sahnoun, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa:

It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to the Heads of State and Government gathered for this important Summit of the African Union.

I welcome the decision to make "education and culture" the theme of this Summit.  In doing so, you are recognizing that durable peace and sustainable development depend not only on heavy investments in infrastructure, which have been emphasized in development programmes of the past, but also in human resources.  Education is a fundamental human right and a powerful vehicle for promoting social advancement, economic well-being and political stability.  Culture, while rooted in particular histories, traditions and values, can also be a potent force for cultivating dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding among the world's people.  It is crucial that these two domains be given the importance they deserve.  I wish you every success in developing a new agenda for educational and cultural development in Africa, and reiterate the commitment of the United Nations system to support you in those endeavours.

While the expansion of educational, cultural and scientific opportunities in Africa would contribute to human security, it is itself heavily dependent on security.  Where people are unable to meet their basic needs, are displaced by drought or are devastated by armed conflict, their ability to focus educational and cultural development is diminished or even eliminated entirely.  That is why the United Nations continues to call for development assistance, debt relief and real trading opportunities for African goods, and why you have made a commitment to producing national strategies for reaching the Millennium Development Goals.  That is why, with your agreement, the United Nations recently improved its ability to respond to post-conflict challenges and humanitarian disasters by establishing a Peacebuilding Commission and a better endowed Central Emergency Response Fund.  And it is why we continue to work closely with the African Union to find peaceful solutions to conflict.

Africa is undergoing enormous political changes.  Although destructive conflicts persist, their number has decreased and peaceful democratic governance has taken root in several African countries.  Last year was momentous for many of them.  In Burundi, the peaceful and democratic conclusion of the transitional process was a milestone for that country and possibly for the future of the entire Great Lakes region.  The year also saw the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Sudan, a successful constitutional referendum in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the restoration of constitutional order in Guinea Bissau.  We saw a further consolidation of peace in Sierra Leone, a peaceful change of leadership in Tanzania, some progress in the Somali national reconciliation process and a strengthening of democracy and economic growth in Botswana, Cape Verde, Mauritius and South Africa.  And a landmark vote in Liberia brought into office the first woman ever to be elected President of an African state.

This year brings huge challenges.  The situation between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains a source of acute concern.  The conflict in Northern Uganda has led to one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in the world.  In Cote d'Ivoire, during the past few days, violent disturbances, directed in particular at the United Nations, have endangered the peace process, reminding us of its fragility.  Once more, we are indebted to President Obasanjo for helping to bring the parties together and putting the peace process back on track.  We can expect more rough patches ahead.  The full implementation of the road map leading to free and fair elections by October 2006 will therefore require the strong support of the international community, first and foremost the African Union and the United Nations.

In Sudan, last year was both momentous and tragic: momentous in what was achieved in Naivasha, yet tragic that this feat, despite high hopes, was not translated into similar successes in Darfur and Eastern Sudan; momentous in the return of Dr. John Garang to Khartoum, yet tragic that he should perish just weeks later; momentous in the hope that inspired many refugees and internally displaced people to start returning to their homes, yet tragic that people in Darfur are still being forced to flee theirs.

This year has begun with huge challenges. There is optimism in the areas of Sudan directly affected by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But while the signing of the CPA marked the culmination of years of diplomatic work, agreements settling the conflicts in Darfur and Eastern Sudan must be achieved much more quickly. The fruits of Naivasha must be enjoyed by all Sudanese people.  Most importantly, the killings and rapes must be stopped, and any further deterioration of the situation prevented.  Following the commitments made by the AU Peace and Security Council earlier this month, the United Nations will continue to work closely with the AU in efforts to improve security, ensure humanitarian access and energize the peace process.  There is not a moment to lose.

The United Nations and the African Union have a broad common agenda.  The United Nations will continue to be your partner in strengthening African peacekeeping capacity, in pursuing balanced development, and in generating real improvements in the lives of ordinary men, women and children across the continent.  In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for a successful Summit.

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