Press Releases

    25 September 2008

    Re-issued as received

    Africa's Partners Must 'Walk the Talk', Say World Leaders at the United Nations

    VIENNA, 25 September (UN Information Service) - African leaders have taken firm action to tackle their continent's problems, Mr. Jakaya Kikwete, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) and President of the United Republic of Tanzania, today told a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly on Africa's development needs. But because it is the world's poorest continent, Africa does not have enough resources of its own to adequately enhance the well being of its people or the productivity of its economies. Africa's development partners, especially the wealthy industrialized countries, have repeatedly pledged to increase their support for Africa's own efforts, Mr. Kikwete noted. But not all of those promises have been delivered. "Now is the time for friends of Africa in the developed world to walk the talk."

    That view was echoed by speaker after speaker at the day-long meeting, which featured the participation of 29 heads of state and government, along with other representatives of African, developing and donor countries, bilateral and multilateral agencies, and business and civil society organizations.

    The meeting's final political declaration served to "reaffirm the commitment of all states to addressing the development needs of the African continent," as expressed in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the AU's regional development blueprint.

    The meeting called for strengthening a "global partnership of equals" by, among other things, making the world trading system less unfair and discriminatory. It pledged to support African efforts at regional integration, to cope with the impact of climate change and to combat the scourge of HIV/ AIDS and other diseases.

    Financial crisis

    The challenge of reducing poverty in Africa has been worsened by a variety of recent developments, participants noted. Those factors include climate change and rising food and fuel prices. Most recently, the financial crisis in the US and other developed countries could have a serious impact. The strong growth of African economies in recent years has been helped by a growing world economy, Mr. Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, told a press conference. But if growth slows in the industrialized countries, that could weaken demand for African exports. "This is a crisis which is serious," he observed.

    Mr. Kaberuka also hoped that the rich countries' current financial difficulties would not keep them from meeting their pledges to increase aid to Africa. The UN Secretary-General's Steering Group on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa has estimated that about $72 bn a year in external financing will be needed to meet those targets. While seemingly large, that amount is actually quite modest, Mr. Kaberuka stated. It is "just a fraction" of the $267 bn that the industrialized countries spend each year on domestic agricultural subsidies.

    The urgency of Africa's situation was underlined by a report to the meeting by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (A/63/130, who noted that Africa remains "off track" in its quest to achieve the MDGs and other development goals. The MDGs were adopted by international leaders in 2000 to focus attention on improving the well being of the world's poorest people.

    While a number of African countries have made notable progress on some goals, no African country is likely to achieve all of the MDGs by 2015, on the basis of current trends. Two-fifths of the African population lives in extreme poverty, the Secretary-General reported. While Africa and its partners have made a number of commitments to attain those goals, noted the Secretary-General, those commitments "remain only partially realized."

    The international community's pledges to help Africa are well known, and no new promises are required, Mr. Jean Ping, President of the AU Commission, told the meeting's opening session. "The time has come for implementation," he declared. "We need a real schedule. We need firm funding commitments. We need innovative strategies. We need leadership."

    General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto, of Nicaragua, echoed that view, stating that Africa did not need the international community to make more commitments, but rather "the courage to live up to the words we have spoken many times over."

    Concern about aid

    Increased trade opportunities, debt relief, technical assistance and foreign investment are all vital for helping to generate more resources for Africa's development, declared the meeting's final political declaration. But it is especially important to enhance official development assistance (ODA). Many participants welcomed the pledges made in 2005 by the industrialized countries' Group of Eight to double their aid to Africa by 2010. However, while some donors have scaled up their efforts, overall ODA has risen slowly. "We are concerned that, at the current rate, the goal of doubling aid to Africa by 2010 will not be reached," said the declaration.

    A number of donor country leaders strongly agreed with that concern, and vowed to work harder.The European Union's commitment to contribute 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product in aid by 2015 will be achieved, French President Nicholas Sarkozy promised, speaking on behalf of the EU. Such aid "is not simply from the heart," he said. "It is motivated by reason. We know that the development of Africa is first and foremost an investment in our common future."

    Denmark has already achieved the target of contributing 0.7 per cent of its GDP in aid, and allocates two thirds of that amount to Africa, reported Minister of Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnaes. "We must remain focused on Africa," she affirmed, and invited other donor countries to join the "small 0.7 per cent club."

    Roads and food

    While Africa can do more to mobilize domestic resources, including for achieving the MDGs, acknowledged Mr. Kaberuka of the African Development Bank, the amount of financing needed for essential infrastructure is beyond its means. The continent's lack of adequate roads, railways, power networks and other infrastructure hampers its economic development and makes it very expensive for countries to transport goods to ports for export.

    Such infrastructure is vital for helping Africa move away from its dependence on exports of oil, minerals and other raw materials, he said. "You cannot process cotton without power." South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma added that Africa needs transfers of new technology to help it keep up with its energy needs. In addition, she said, Africa seeks international support "for the green revolution that Africa has initiated." Mr. Mark Malloch Brown, the UK's Minister for Cooperation, argued that the current food crisis makes it especially important to back Africa's strategy for food security and agricultural development under its NEPAD plan. The European Commission, its president, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, said, has proposed a €1bn food facility to help African and other developing countries acquire fertilizer, seeds and other essential farming inputs. The international community, he affirmed, must help "African farmers grow more food for Africans."

    Through its own efforts and with complementary support from the rest of the world, the obstacles to Africa's development can be overcome, President Kikwete, the AU Chairperson, concluded. "Africa is not a hopeless case. Neither are we desperate. We are determined to wrestle ourselves out of our predicament."

    * *** *

    For more information on the meeting, please contact:

    David Mehdi Hamam
    UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa
    Telephone: (+1-212) 963-2645

    Julie I. Thompson
    Chief, Africa Section, Strategic Communications Division
    UN Department of Public Information
    Telephone: (+1-212) 963-2645 or -6857

    See also (High-level meeting on Africa)