Press Releases

    SG/SM/7884
    AFR/331
    10 July 2001

    SECRETARY-GENERAL EVOKES PROMISE INHERENT
    IN LAUNCH OF AFRICAN UNION

    NEW YORK, 9 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) at Lusaka, 9 July:

    It is a special privilege for me to join you, once again, for a Summit of the Organization of African Unity. I wish to pay tribute to President Chiluba for hosting this meeting in Lusaka at an important moment in Africa’s search for a new beginning on the path to peace and sustainable development. I wish also to express my most profound gratitude for your early and strong support for my re-appointment to a second term in office as Secretary-General of the United Nations. I pledge that I will make Africa no less a focus of my energies in my second term than in my first, and that I will work with you to give our continent the priority it deserves in the work of the international community.

    This Summit holds a great promise for Africa’s peoples -- the promise that it will be remembered for launching the African Union, and setting the continent as a whole on a firm path to peace and development. At this stage, I would like to pay tribute to [Libyan] leader Al-Qadhafi for spearheading this effort. But this promise will not be realized easily. Unless it is pursued with singular determination by you, Africa’s leaders at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it will not succeed. This historic effort will require leadership, courage and a willingness to depart from the ways of the past, if it is to do for Africa what the European Union has done for Europe. That, Excellencies, should be our aim -- to rebuild, as Europe did, after a series of devastating wars, uniting across old divisions to build a continent characterized by peace, cooperation, economic progress, and the rule of law.

    The obstacles we will have to overcome in realizing this aim are immense. Some are the product of geography or of a history stretching back over centuries. Others are the result of political and economic mismanagement over recent decades. And today, we face a new one: a deadly disease that haunts our peoples, and threatens to rob our continent of its most precious resource -- our youth. Fortunately, the impact and threat of HIV-AIDS is becoming apparent to every leader in every society.

    The International Partnership against AIDS in Africa -- bringing together African governments, the United Nations, donors, non-governmental organizations and the private sector -- is now up and running, and has built a formidable framework for action, which is already showing results. At the recent OAU summit in Abuja, African countries pledged to increase the share of their budgets devoted to health, especially the fight against HIV/AIDS. A growing number of donors -- public and private -- have pledged contributions to the Global AIDS and Health Fund, which I hope will be operational by the end of this year.

    And with last month’s historic special session on HIV-AIDS in New York, the world has committed itself to combating this disease, in Africa and elsewhere, with the resources required.

    AIDS is today the primary cause of death in Africa. The total number of Africans living today with HIV or AIDS is now believed to be more than 25 million. Africa is home to nearly 70 per cent of adults and 80 per cent of children living with HIV in the world, and has buried three quarters of the more than 20 million worldwide who have died of AIDS since the epidemic began. This disease is all around us -- within our communities, our families, our homes -- and it will defeat our best efforts at peace and development unless we defeat it first.

    We shall not defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague Africa until we have also won the battle for basic health care, safe drinking water, and sanitation. We shall not defeat them until we have also defeated malnutrition, and overcome the ignorance of basic precautions which leaves so many poor people exposed to infection. Essential, therefore, to curing these ills is a sustainable process of economic growth and broad-based development.

    The special session on HIV-AIDS is only one example of the attention Africa’s challenges have received globally over the last year. While official development assistance remains unacceptably low, the international community has sought new ways to help Africa realize its potential. From trade to debt relief to youth employment to education for girls, we have a vast agenda which enjoys the support of our partners in the developed world. To focus on these central tasks, however, Africa must reject the ways of the past, and commit itself to building a future of democratic governance subject to the rule of law.

    Such a future is within our reach, I am convinced. But only on one condition: that we end Africa’s conflicts, without which no amount of aid or trade, assistance or advice, will make the difference. At the OAU Summit in Algiers two years ago, you pledged to make the year 2000 the "year of peace" in Africa. When I issued my own report on Africa three years ago, I said that "for too long, conflict in Africa has been seen as inevitable or intractable, or both. It is neither. Conflict in Africa, as everywhere, is caused by human action, and can be ended by human action". This is no less true today, and yet Africa’s wars continue to fester and spread instability.

    There has been progress, thanks to the efforts of the OAU and individual leaders, often working with the United Nations, to foster peace. In Ethiopia/Eritrea, a United Nations peacekeeping operation is patrolling the ceasefire line, and helping solidify peaceful relations after a tragic war. And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we now have the prospect of all-party negotiations which could begin the process of bringing stability and security to that vast country.

    But from Burundi to Sierra Leone to Angola to the Sudan and Western Sahara, we are confronted with persistent conflicts and crises of governance and security that threaten to derail our hopes for an African Union of peace and prosperity.

    Bringing these conflicts to an end requires that we acknowledge two central truths: that they imperil the peace of all of Africa, and that they are in great measure the result of misguided leadership which is unwilling or unable to put the people’s interests first. That these conflicts should be a common concern is apparent when you look at the way the crisis in Sierra Leone has spread to Guinea and Liberia; or when you look at the large number of States which became involved in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and which will be affected by its resolution.

    These crises are the responsibility of each and every African leader. No war leaves the neighbouring countries untouched. Indeed, it may imperil their stability and prosperity. What often begins as an internal dispute over power and resources can quickly engulf an entire region, causing refugee flows and delaying still further the flow of aid and investments. Individual leadership is decisive here -- whether it points towards war or peace, reconciliation or division, the enrichment of the few or the development of an entire society.

    At the root of these conflicts are often prejudices and hatreds tied to ethnic and racial differences which are exploited by leaders for destructive ends. From the genocide in Rwanda to the conflict in Sudan to the tensions in Burundi, our continent is living with the most devastating consequences of racism and intolerance. While Africa and Africans have suffered terribly in the past few centuries from slavery and colonialism, and people of African descent still suffer discrimination in many societies, we cannot hide the fact that today some of our own societies are also disfigured by ethnic hatred and violence.

    Next month in Durban, Africa will host a Conference aimed at uprooting these evils throughout the world. The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance will aim to produce a Declaration and a Programme of Action with specific, forward-looking, and practical recommendations on how governments and civil society can make the new century free of the scourge of racism.

    We need a document that looks unflinchingly at every society in the world, and at those flaws which exacerbate, rather than eliminate, conflicts rooted in race and ethnicity. We need a forward-looking document that acknowledges and builds on the past, but does not become a captive of it. We need a document that all people can recognize as their own. And we need a document that inspires all people, not just governments, to do their part, to understand the past and build a better future.

    Africa has an immense stake in the success of this Conference, not least because it is hosted by democratic, post-apartheid South Africa, and because Africa has much to teach the world about how to bridge tribal and ethnic divisions, and manage diversity successfully. Each of you has a critical role to play in making this a constructive, creative Conference dedicated not to rehearsing the arguments of the past but to improving our common future. We must not allow the weight of disputes about the past to distract us from that crucial challenge.

    I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my hopes for Africa’s future with you, and I pledge to you today that the United Nations will be a steadfast and constructive partner in this vital endeavour. The African Union that you have launched at this Summit has the potential to provide our continent with the framework, the tools and the common purpose necessary to succeed in the twenty-first century. I wish you all success.

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