Press Releases

    SG/SM/8611
    21 February 2003

    Secretary-General Announces Intention to Set Up High-Level Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa in Address to Africa-France Summit

    NEW YORK, 20 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Africa-France Summit in Paris on 20 February:

    It is a great pleasure to join you for this timely and important Summit. Allow me to pay special tribute to President Chirac for hosting this meeting. And let me thank the many African heads of State and government who are here today, as well as their partners from around the world, for everything they are doing for the cause of peace and development in Africa.

    Since the last Africa-France Summit two years ago in Yaoundé, African leaders have taken a number of important steps towards helping the continent to realize its full potential. You have joined your destinies in an African Union of shared values and common institutions. You have agreed on a far-reaching New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). Democracy and the rule of law have made further advances. And African civil society -- women's groups, journalists, lawyers, trade unionists, youth groups and others -- has stepped forward as never before, holding governments to account and injecting new dynamism into African societies.

    But such progress merely sets the stage for the hard work to come. And hard work there is. Conflict, misrule, crop failures and disease in particular continue to inflict great misery on the continent's people.

    Like you, I have known, for almost all of my adult life, a Côte d'Ivoire whose stability and spirit lit a beacon of hope across West Africa and beyond. Yet today, we are all struggling to calm a situation that has provoked tragic rifts in that country, along ethnic and religious lines, and to cope with a crisis that has caused hundreds of deaths and large-scale displacements of people. We must all do our utmost to help Côte d'Ivoire regain the secure path it had known for so many decades. I call again on all Ivorians, and particularly the country's political leaders, to make the agreement they signed last month a concrete first step towards peace.

    What is happening in Côte d'Ivoire should not cloud progress being made in other parts of Africa. Angola is now consolidating peace after three decades of war. In Burundi, Sierra Leone, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africans are showing real determination to settle their conflicts, with tangible results. That makes it all the more important for the international community to provide strong support to Africa's peacekeeping and peacemaking mechanisms and institutions -- as set out, for example, in the G-8 Action Plan for Africa.

    Africa cannot afford further turmoil -- but if it erupts, Africa must have the capacity to respond.

    Nowhere is an effective African response more critical than in the fight against AIDS. In agriculture, for example, there is an emerging pattern linking food insecurity with AIDS. In many parts of the continent, and southern Africa in particular, AIDS is not just making a severe food crisis worse, it is the main underlying cause of the emergency. Because of the disease, farming skills are being lost, agricultural development efforts are declining, rural livelihoods are disintegrating, productive capacity to work the land is dropping, and household earnings are shrinking.

    There is a clear gender dimension to this AIDS-related food insecurity, as the burden falls most heavily on women. It is they who care for the young, the old, the sick and dying. It is they who nurture social networks that help societies share burdens. And in the past, it was their expert knowledge of alternative foods that kept their families going during times of drought. Yet with AIDS rising dramatically and disproportionately among women, that lifeline is being threatened.

    AIDS is precipitating a crisis of governance beyond the farm as well. The disease is killing the most productive members of society. Schools are losing their teachers; hospitals their doctors and nurses; private businesses their managers and engineers; government ministries the very people responsible for planning and implementing programmes to address society's key concerns. With infection rates in many national security services at alarming levels, peace and security is increasingly in jeopardy. Sector by sector, the loss of human resources is ushering in a governance and development crisis of catastrophic dimensions.

    The Millennium Declaration, NEPAD and the development objectives set out in the Millennium Development Goals provide both a framework and mechanisms for the international community to assist Africa in responding to this crisis. I would like to highlight three areas which should be addressed urgently.

    One is agriculture. Shipping in food is essential but is not enough. Africa has long needed a Green Revolution -- to feed itself and to free up the labour that would help generate an industrial revolution. That need remains. We need to restore soil fertility, develop the infrastructure for rural markets, strengthen agricultural research, and take other steps to counteract decades of intensive farming that has not put back what it has taken out. But today the re-greening of Africa will also require new agricultural techniques appropriate to a depleted workforce. Such an effort must be launched immediately.

    A second is governance. We will need to rebuild the capacity of the State to provide essential public services. Where once we spoke of capacity building, today we have to speak of capacity replenishment. I have asked the United Nations Volunteer Programme to be on standby to offer further help. I am also pleased to announce today that I will be establishing a high-level Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa. The Commission will study the links between AIDS and governance in various sectors, including agriculture, youth and the military. It will come up with detailed recommendations for stemming the tide of the disease across Africa, and advise African policymakers on how to address the profound structural impact it is beginning to have on their ability to tackle their many development challenges. More details will be announced shortly, and I appeal to you to give the Commission your full support.

    Third is AIDS itself. Many African leaders have taken truly groundbreaking steps to raise awareness of AIDS, remove stigma and show that prevention is possible and that treatment can work even in the poorest societies. In Abuja, two years ago, you adopted a landmark declaration, and most of your nations have since gone on to adopt national plans of action.

    For all you have done, much more is needed, by each and every one of you. I urge you to continue speaking out about the disease, and to stress the need for safe sex, including the use of condoms. I encourage you to support the initiatives of the many courageous grass-roots groups and community organizations battling the pandemic. I hope you will allocate greater shares of your national budgets to health care systems, and in general bring the full force of your office to this issue.

    I appeal to you to pay greater attention to the extraordinary proliferation of AIDS orphans. The number has now reached 11 million. By the year 2010, 20 million African children will have lost one or both parents to AIDS. On the small and fragile shoulders of the older AIDS orphans -- sometimes only 10 years old or less -- is placed the heavy task of caring for their younger siblings and other children bereft of their parents. In makeshift households, far from schools, far from opportunities -- indeed suddenly far from childhood itself -- they face the bleakest of futures. It would be unconscionable to allow their plight to persist any longer.

    Above all, I urge you to put African women at the centre of the fight against AIDS. On all three fronts, the role of women is absolutely crucial. A Green Revolution in Africa will happen only if it is also a gender revolution. Governance will improve only if women are genuinely empowered. And since AIDS in Africa and around the world is more and more wearing a woman's face, we will gain control of the pandemic only if women are the very centre of our strategies. In short, if you want to save Africa, you must save Africa's women first.

    I urge the international community to do its part -- universities, by spreading knowledge and training; the private sector, by spreading technology and expertise; non-governmental organizations, through their incomparable efforts at the community level. President Bush has galvanized the international response with his pledge to spend $15 billion over the next five years, and I hope other leaders will follow his example, especially at the G-8 meeting to be held later this year here in France, which offers a prime opportunity for contributions to the Global Fund. The United Nations system, for its part, especially at the country level, will need new approaches and will need to examine their activities through an "AIDS lens".

    Let me close with a word about our organizations, the African Union and the United Nations. Too many people see us as remote rather than responsive, distant rather than determined, in meeting their concerns and aspirations. Young people in particular, who make up more than 20 percent of Africa's population -- higher than any other world region -- are often sceptical or even estranged. We must all, as a matter of political responsibility and moral urgency, do our utmost to reach not only today's generations, but tomorrow's as well, bringing them both opportunity and hope. I look forward to working closely with you to make our organizations more effective, more responsive, and ultimately more successful in bringing us closer to the day when all of Africa achieves justice, peace and prosperity.

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