GA/10747-AFR/1748

TURN ‘VISION INTO ACTION’ BY LIVING UP TO COMMITMENTS, SPECIAL ADVISER URGES WORLD LEADERS ON EVE OF GENERAL ASSEMBLY MEETING ON AFRICA

19 September 2008
General AssemblyGA/10747
AFR/1748
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

TURN ‘VISION INTO ACTION’ BY LIVING UP TO COMMITMENTS, SPECIAL ADVISER


URGES WORLD LEADERS ON EVE OF GENERAL ASSEMBLY MEETING ON AFRICA

 


On the eve of the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on Africa’s development needs, which opens on Monday, Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser on Africa Cheick Sidi Diarra urged world leaders to live up to their promises to advance the continent’s progress, saying that rather than issuing new pledges, they should follow through on existing commitments and turn “vision into action”.


Mr. Diarra highlighted the main messages of a new report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (document A/63/130), which notes that, while most of Africa’s economies are now growing more rapidly than they did a decade ago, the continent remains “off track” in its quest to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and other development targets.  The General Assembly mandated the report -— a comprehensive balance-sheet of achievements and shortfalls, analysis and recommendations –- for its High-Level Meeting on Africa’s Development Needs:  State of Implementation of Various Challenges, Commitments and the Way Forward, in which some four dozen Heads of State and Government are expected to participate.


The meeting, Mr. Diarra noted, would be an “extraordinary opportunity” for Member States to thoroughly assess actions taken by Africa, donor countries, the United Nations and the rest of the international community since African leaders adopted the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as the continent’s main development blueprint in 2001.  Monday’s gathering would be taking place at the midpoint of the global campaign for the Millennium Development Goals, as concerns mounted that Africa was lagging behind other world regions.


While a number of African countries have made notable progress on some Goals, the Secretary-General’s report notes no African country is likely to achieve all of the Millennium targets by 2015, on the basis of current trends.  Two fifths of the continent’s people live in extreme poverty, and compounding that persistent challenge are several looming problems:  a global food crisis; profound climate change; and soaring energy prices.


Finding solutions to such challenges was important not just to Africa, Mr. Diarra stressed.  “ Africa’s development problems are everyone’s problems.”  The Secretary-General’s report examines the initiatives of Africa and its development partners to overcome such difficulties.  However, commitments on both sides “remain only partially realized”, the report emphasizes.


Also on Monday, some 15 seminars and workshops, organized by United Nations agencies and programmes, would take place alongside the official Head of State round-table discussions, engaging Heads of State, business and non-governmental organizations in many of Africa’s priority issues. The schedule can be found at www.un.org/ga/president/62/ThematicDebates/adnhlm.shtm


Aid


In 2005, a summit meeting of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries agreed to double aid to Africa by 2010.  By the following year, overall official development assistance to Africa (excluding debt relief) had risen by only 8 per cent, and since then, “donors are falling behind”, the Secretary-General reports.  A greater share of European Union assistance is now going to Africa, reaching 62 per cent in 2006, although 2007 saw a slight decline in global European Union aid commitments.  The Secretary-General proposes that external financing for development in Africa reach $72 billion annually to support achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.


The Secretary-General also reports that, while there have been improvements in how donors deliver aid to Africa, aid programmes often remain uncoordinated and directed only partially to recipient countries’ national development priorities.  His criticisms do not spare the United Nations, where there has been a tendency “to support a proliferation of Africa-related activities, which creates incoherence”.


Debt


One bright spot has been seen on the debt front.  As of July 2008, 19 African countries had received major reductions in their official debt to Governments and multilateral institutions.  As a result, Africa’s total official debt fell from $205.7 billion in 1999 to $144.5 billion in 2007.  However, private debt has been creeping up, from $92.4 billion to $110.2 billion over the same period.  Debt relief should be extended to other African countries as well, the Secretary-General recommends.


Trade


Progress in improving Africa’s trade prospects has been very limited, the Secretary-General reports, noting that the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations stand “at a critical juncture”.  In particular, African countries have been pressing for a reduction in agricultural subsidies by the European Union, United States, Japan and Canada, which have totalled $750 billion since 2001, and which greatly depress the world market prices for Africa’s agricultural exports.  The Secretary-General strongly urges a reduction in such agricultural subsidies, as well as other trade reforms to improve market access for African exports.


Mr. Diarra commented that, to better engage in trade, Africa needs to improve its infrastructure, including roads, railways, ports and power systems.  The continent needs some $52.2 billion per year in public and private investment to resolve its critical bottlenecks in infrastructure, “a prerequisite to connect African markets to the rest of the global market”.


Peace and Security


To help Africa better resolve armed conflicts, the G-8 pledged in 2005 to train 25,000 African peacekeepers and provide technical support to the African Union’s projected African Standby Force, the Secretary-General notes.  The United States alone is expected to train some 75,000 troops in Africa by 2010, and the European Union transferred €250 million to the African Union’s peace and security efforts between 2005 and 2007.  However, such G-8 assistance has been provided “on an unharmonized and ad hoc basis”.


African Actions


African countries themselves need to do more to enhance domestic revenues and improve the productivity of their economies, the Secretary-General argues.  To support NEPAD’s agricultural development programme, African Governments pledged in 2003 to devote 10 per cent of their public expenditures to agriculture and rural development by 2008.  So far, only six African countries have met that target.  Similarly, African Governments agreed in 2001 to increase their health budgets to 15 per cent of public expenditure, but only six countries have reached that goal.


Under NEPAD, a number of African Governments agreed to establish a voluntary scheme, known as the African Peer Review Mechanism, to review each other’s adherence to democracy, human rights and good governance, according to the report.  To date, 29 countries -— more than half -— have acceded to the Mechanism and 7 have completed peer reviews.  The Secretary-General recommends that African Governments, media and civil society groups do more to involve their citizens in the peer review process.  He also suggests that African countries embark on a similar peer-review exercise of their activities to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.


African women have made some political gains, the Secretary-General reports, with the share of women holding parliamentary seats rising from just 7 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent in 2007.  More generally, the Secretary-General recommends that African countries strengthen mechanisms “for participation, inclusion and empowerment of all segments of society” in their political and development processes.


For more information on the meeting, contact David Mehdi Hamam, United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, tel.: 1 212 963 2645, e-mail:  hamamm@un.org; or Julie I. Thompson, Chief, Africa Section, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information, tel.: 1 212 963 2645 or 1 212 963 6857.


See also www.un.org/AR (High-level meeting on Africa).


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.