Let me first express my appreciation for attending this important meeting and for the very active engagement of your departments in this very important process. The importance of this exercise stems at least in part from the fact that the Secretary-General has placed Africa at the top of his agenda and has called for a renewed focus on sustainable development. The MDG Africa Working Group, which he set up, is putting forward concrete recommendations to the September Summit to ensure that the MDGs become a reality by 2015.
Since I convened our last Inter-Agency Task Force on Africa, we have been consulting with a wide array of partners to ensure that the views and the concerns of all those who are working to support Africa in its efforts to address the current causes of violent conflict, take on the democratic and human rights agendas and promote the economic and social wellbeing of its population are appropriately reflected.
During the last few months we have consulted with representatives of Member States, think tanks, universities, the Bretton Woods institutions and the United Nations system through the Inter-Agency Task Force on Africa. Most important, we have tried to reflect the concerns and vision of the African Union and its NEPAD programme, the Regional Economic Communities and African civil society organizations.
In mandating the comprehensive review of the recommendations contained in the 1998 Report of the Secretary-General on the Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa, the General Assembly acknowledged that Africa has experienced substantive progress in many areas and that the United Nations needs to take a fresh look at the manner in which it engages with the continent.
Since 1998, many of the recommendations have been addressed. Others have been overtaken by events. The recommendations contained in the report we are now discussing make reference to the need to address unresolved issues and to pay attention to new and emerging ones. More important, the report notes the need to change the discourse around Africa, focusing upon opportunities as well as challenges and acknowledging the existence of many different realities in the continent.
The recommendations contained in this report have a common theme; Africa is moving and changing rapidly and we need to move along with it. Africa is today more resilient to external shocks and institutionally stronger. Through new institutions and a clearer sense of its political and economic strategic position in the world, Africa is taking full responsibility for preventing, managing and resolving its conflicts and promoting the economic and social development of its people. Thus it is not for the United Nations or for the international community to “address” African problems but to support and reinforce Africa’s own efforts. If we want it to be relevant, our engagement in Africa must be proactive and aligned with the views, visions and expectations of African governments, peoples and institutions.
Yet the report also highlights significant challenges. In the next decades, the persistent weakness of some states and regions will pose a great strategic challenge as the African Union, the United Nations and the international community are still learning how to deal with fragile states. Smaller-scale, low-intensity intrastate wars and conflicts triggered by the systematic exclusion of significant portions of society from political institutions and participation and from access to key economic assets will require new, flexible approaches from the United Nations grounded in the realities at the country level.
Managing diversity and identity politics; the youth bulge and youth unemployment; ending chronic poverty; making food security a reality; securing borders and maritime routes to assist in effort to prevent activities of international organized criminal groups, mitigating climate change and the impact of economic crises; addressing corruption and ensuring transparency in the exploitation of natural resources. These are some of the challenges that need urgent attention.
Going forward, UN interventions will require a strong simultaneous focus on peace, humanitarian needs and development as well as a better understanding of the economic dimensions of armed conflict. Issues of social justice will increasingly be the centre of UN interventions. This includes improving the economic environment, ensuring full participation of women in the political and economic development of countries, delivering on the commitments made to Africa’s development and strengthening the state so that it can perform its obligations as a source of stability, socio-economic development and protection to its citizens.
The causes and triggers of conflict are multiple and interconnected and none of them can be handled alone. While reaffirming the commitment of the UN system to stand by the continent, the report notes that the UN must acknowledge its limitations and ensure that it cooperates with partners that may be better suited to respond to new challenges. The UN’s relations with regional and subregional organizations, local governments, civil society organizations and the private sector must be considerably enhanced.
There are many issues covered in the report. We have tried to highlight them, conscious of the limitations imposed by the time and resources available for this exercise. The objective of the report is to stimulate debate in the General Assembly and within the United Nations system on the need to urgently and comprehensively address the issues highlighted and reflect on how to construct common UN approaches. This is only the beginning of a process that will necessarily take time and further consultations.
The Office of the Special Adviser on Africa is mandated to coordinate the Interagency and Interdepartmental Task Force on African Affairs, to ensure a coherent and integrated approach for United Nations support for Africa. The exceptional engagement of the UN system in this exercise speaks of the need to continue examining these questions and of the value of having a forum in which the system and its partners can discuss issues of common concern.
Let me finish by thanking you again for your cooperation. We look forward to further engaging with your departments in moving the United Nations and the Secretary-General’s Agenda on Africa forward.
Thank you very much.