14 March 1996

Press Briefing



With tomorrow's impending launching of the United Nations System-wide Initiative on Africa by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, a press briefing was held at Headquarters this morning to inform correspondents of the event's significance. Starting the briefing, Peter Gall, Deputy Director, Division of Public Affairs of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), introduced two other participants. They were Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Assistant Administrator of UNDP and Director of its Regional Bureau for Africa, and Steven Lewis, Deputy Executive Director of External Relations of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Ms. Sirleaf has been a Minister of Finance in Liberia while Mr. Lewis has been Canada's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Mr. Gall said that the launching of the 10-year, multi-billion dollar programme of concrete actions to provide renewed impetus to Africa's development would take place in the Economic and Social Council Chamber at Headquarters at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, 15 March. It would be followed by a press conference at about 11:15 a.m. Among key participants in New York include James Gustave Speth, the UNDP Administrator and co-chair of the Initiative's Steering Committee; Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director; Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); and Prabhakar Narvekar, Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Council chamber would be linked via live satellite to Addis Ababa, the seat of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), where Africa's response will be given by Ethiopian Prime Minister and current OAU Chairman Meles Zenawi, and a representative of OAU Secretary-General Salim A. Salim. K.Y. Amoako, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Steering Committee Co-Chairman, will also take part in the proceedings. Launches also will be held in other major African and European capitals.

[The Special Initiative is the United Nations system's most significant mobilization of support ever for developing a continent's people and its largest coordinated action. The Initiative's implementation will require up to $25 billion, mostly from reallocating existing resources at the national and international levels. The World Bank has agreed to lead in mobilizing the bulk of the funds, which will go primarily towards improving basic education and health in Africa. Peace-building, good governance, and water and food security are some of the Initiative's other areas of emphasis.]

Telling reporters about what the Initiative was about, Ms. Sirleaf said that its genesis was related to what had been termed the marginalization of Africa, concerns about declines in development assistance and the Secretary- General's own concern that Africa might have been slipping from the forefront of the development dialogue and initiatives. At that point, the United Nations was about mid-way through its New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s and about to prepare a report for the General Assembly and the various executive boards on where the New Agenda stood. It was then realized that, as with the previous programme, the United Nations Programme for Africa's Economic Recovery, concrete results appeared to have been lacking from those initiatives to accelerate Africa's development efforts. The Secretary-General then decided to bring the focus back to Africa. The Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) decided to focus on the continent to determine what could be done to help the nations there. At the same time, a concern about Africa's marginalization was growing in the countries themselves, leading to a meeting of the OAU in Cairo last year, when leaders adopted what was called the Cairo Agenda. It attempted to reassess Africa's own developments efforts, what it needed in terms of changes to quicken efforts and what support the leaders would seek from their development partners. The Secretary-General therefore asked Mr. Speth and Mr. Amoako to work out an agenda that the ACC could study and would combine the entire United Nations system's efforts behind a renewed impetus for African development.

"So, the special initiative grew out of this concern and out of this initial effort", she said. It was seen as an impetus for the New Agenda and as bringing an operation orientation to it. It would have a focused programme approach to bring together the United Nations system along with the Bretton Woods system in a comprehensive and collaborative way behind a few priorities identified by the African countries themselves. The Steering Committee was then organized, co-chaired by Mr. Speth and Mr. Amoako, different working groups set up, led by various United Nations agencies and the World Bank, which led the resource mobilization group. Together and looking at Africa's own development programmes, the Cairo Agenda and the compact contained in the New Agenda, the United Nations system came up with a series of programmes that would form the basis of its doing business in a different way to support Africa's initiative. Details on the programmes were available in a press kit. About 20 items were included in the plan, reflecting the stages of preparation of different development initiatives by United Nations agencies in dialogue with various African countries. Some initiatives were more ready for implementation than others.

The four or five that were ready to start, she said, included education, which was the primary one. The education of girls would be focused on in that regard. Another was the initiative on clean water, which would try to bring water security to more villages. The governance initiative, which the UNDP had been working on, would build upon what the United Nations system had been doing in some 36 countries. Such activities would range from strengthening

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economic management capacities, helping political transitions through electoral processes and conflict prevention and management. The OAU and many regional and subregional bodies would help carry out that programme. It would involve various non-governmental and community-based organizations. The health initiative would try to improve the health delivery services and focus on malaria eradication, with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO). The food security part was yet to be developed, something that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was working on right now.

The $25-billion cost of the initiative was about 20 per cent of the current levels of official development assistance (ODA), she said. That was why she did not expect the fund to be new money. "We know that ODA is on the decline. We know that the competition for resources is intense and that it is going to be difficult to pool significant amounts of additionality in resources for Africa", she continued. She would like to see the reallocation of existing resources to those activities not only on the part of Africa but also on that of the multilateral institutions and the United Nations system. However, some additionality was expected for those areas that were new types of interventions in, for example, the conflict prevention, peace and stability and civil service empowerment. Some donors would see them attractive enough to put in resources. For example, Norway had committed $10 million to the UNDP for the governance programme. She could not tell how much of the funds would be reallocations and what would be additions. The World Bank, which commanded some $15 billion of the $25 billion, was preparing sector investment programmes in several African countries. The resources to support that could be seen as being in hand. There were some uncertainties, however, as the threat to resources by the United States might have an impact on projections. With commitment, the objectives would be achieved and concrete results and measurable outputs could be shown at the end of the 10-year period of the initiative.

The implementation would proceed in different stages and there would be a small monitoring group, currently located in the UNDP, which would be reporting to Mr. Speth and the ECA. The results of the activities would be monitored and reported back to the African countries and their bi- and multilateral partners.

Continuing with the briefing, Mr. Steven Lewis, the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director of External Relations, said, "UNICEF throws itself behind this initiative with full heart. For us, it is the best and most promising of the succession of initiatives that has been part of the United Nations over the last decade. ... This has real promise. This has a gleam of optimism the like of which the previous initiatives have not contained or have not fulfilled." The UNICEF was already on the ground in relation with several of the key ingredients of the Initiative and it would like to continue working with the governments setting the agenda. It would be a very serious test of UNICEF's commitment to Africa.

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Asked where the projects would be sited and whether the funds would be 20 percent of ODA for Africa or globally, Ms. Sirleaf said that some of the activities were already in progress. The Initiative would try to enhance and scale them up and delve into new areas in some countries. For instance, the area of peace-keeping might be new intervention in some countries. The 20 per cent she had referred to was connected to ODA levels for Africa.

In response to a question as to whether the panellists would not return in five years and say that they had failed, Ms. Sirleaf said that the preceding plans had not specifically been programmes per se. The current programmes had been organized by African governments, with donors supporting and helping. There were a lot of successes in Africa, with many countries doing well, and many failures also. The international community should help those in crises get back to potentially successful paths. The preceding initiatives had not been programmes but merely compacts between Africa and its partners: statements of principles and undertaking. The current initiative was organized to give content to the past statements of principles and understanding. There was no guarantee that success would be met in five years but the current programme would give hope to coming generations and build on some of the successes being witnessed.

Replying to a question as to whether there were assurances that the African leaders themselves would be committed to the programme by, for instance, reallocating their budgets, she said that what they were doing right now gave her such confidence. Many of the countries were already in dialogue with the World Bank for investments in education. They had also put their resources to try to secure stabler and more peaceful environments for development and were allocating funds for better health services and food supplies. Those that were not doing so should be persuaded to pursue the goals, too. Commitment was needed and she expressed her belief that it was there. Mr. Lewis agreed. The main difference was that last time, no resources were generated while this time, the World Bank itself had said it would raise the $25 billion in 10 years. The current situation was so different than the past that it was not worth comparing them.

Since the World Bank had bled Africa of capital in the 1980s, it was asked, how could it be trusted to turn around and become its saviour? In response, Mr. Lewis said that the Bank was under a new administration in the 1990s, with Mr. Wolfensohn as President, and it could mobilize the funds needed.

Ms. Sirleaf added that attempts would be made through strong advocacy to try to get some relief from Africa's trade and debt problems and to help it. The right approach on how to proceed on that matter was still being sought. The various countries would identify their own priorities and the World Bank, the United Nations system and others would be asked to commit money to implement the priorities set. Such an approach had been used to fund education in Mali, for instance. She expressed the hope that large sums of

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money would be reallocated away from arms purchases, security systems and conspicuous consumption and channelled to the set priorities. The donors, for their part, should focus their contributions on those priorities.

Mr. Lewis said that monies would be targeted to specific programmes unlike in the past when mere declarations had been made.

Asked how the Initiative would help lessen Africa's debt burden, Ms. Sirleaf said that it would continue the advocacy to find appropriate debt relief. For example, the Naples terms for debt reduction had come about as a result of the push by United Nations agencies. The Initiative would look for action from the Bretton Woods institutions to find new ways to deal with the debt. Dialogue would continue between the institutions and countries that did not have policies that would help them pay off their debt. The nations might be helped to develop a strategy to work collectively to find a solution to the debt crisis.

African debt at the end of 1994-1995 was more than $300 billion, with sub-Saharan countries holding about $211 billion of the total, Mr. Lewis said, adding that 24 to 25 countries would be crippled by debt well into the next century. The question of debt relief was woven carefully into the Initiative's fabric. Its documents deal with the debt and make recommendations to the Paris Club and international financial institutions. The Initiative was trying to deal with debt and trade in a more precise, detailed and focused way than the preceding initiatives.

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For information media. Not an official record.