Excellencies and distinguished guests,
Faculty members, students,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today at Farleigh Dickinson University and for the opportunity to address you on a theme “Unleashing Africa’s Potential”, a topic which I believe is both timely and relevant.
I commend the University’s leadership for this wonderful initiative, which gives the students the opportunity to engage United Nations. We at the UN welcome this opportunity to engage students, faculty and the entire FDU community on the United Nations work, because we recognize the importance of partnerships with academia in advancing the UN agenda.
Africa, with its one billion mostly young people, has enormous potential, and unleashing this immense potential will be crucial if Africa is to take its rightful place among the community of nations. Africa is well endowed with natural resources. It has 90 % of world’s cobalt, 50 % gold, 30 % uranium, 60 % of world’s manganese, 82 per cent of global reserves of platinum, 55 % of diamond reserves, and 50 per cent of phosphates. It has also 40 % of world unharnessed hydroelectric power generation potential. For example, the Congo River, if properly harnessed could generate enough electricity to power the entire African continent. With the right policies and enabling environment, Africa could significantly benefit from the vast wealth beneath its soil. However, focused policy interventions will be required to harness fully the benefits of natural resources for development and poverty reduction.
African countries recognize this and have put measures in place to unleash the continent’s vast potential. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) adopted by the African leaders in 2001 represents a bold vision for Africa’s overall economic and social renewal. It rightly recognizes the primacy of responsibility for Africa’s development on Africans themselves, with the international community providing complementary support. NEPAD’s primary objectives are to eradicate poverty; to place African countries, both individually and collectively, on a path to sustainable growth and development; to halt the marginalization of Africa in the globalization process and to enhance its full and beneficial integration into the global economy. NEPAD envisages a new effective partnership between the African people and their governments on one hand, and a better partnership between Africa and the international community, on the other.
Looking at the first decade of the implementation of NEPAD, much progress has been made in several priority areas, including agricultural development and food security, health and education.
Economic growth has accelerated in recent years across a large number of African countries and, this has enabled countries to increased investment in priority sectors such as agriculture, health and education. In 2010, six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies were in Africa. The macroeconomic environment has also improved considerably in the last decade. Investors’ sentiment towards Africa is steadily improving. For example, before 2009, there were less than 40 Africa focused investment funds. This is expected to grow to over 100 in the next 3-4 years.
Africa faces a massive infrastructure deficit and this constitutes a serious constraint to its development. Recognizing this challenge, African countries have identified infrastructure development as a key priority, without which the continent is likely to unleash its potential. Across the continent, major infrastructure projects are underway in power generation, transport, water and sanitation. Furthermore, a determined push is also being made to strengthen regional integration through development of highway corridors such as the one connecting North Africa and the Maghreb region with West, East and Central Africa. In Southern Africa, the Trans Kalahari highway connecting Botswana, Namibia and South Africa has increased cross-border flows of good and services among these SADC countries. Furthermore, A West African Gas Pipeline Project is being constructed to harness the vast natural gas resources of Nigeria for the development of other countries in the region.
Very recently the AU has established an AU-NEPAD Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative (PICI) in order to accelerate the development of regional and continental infrastructure. The initiative comprises seven regional projects drawn from the AU/NEPAD Africa Action Plan, also known as the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).
It is worth noting that the bulk of national and regional projects have been financed through domestic resources as well as pooling of funding from African countries. Africa has also forged and deepened partnerships with other countries, including traditional and non-traditional donors. New partnerships with countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia have been critical for scaling up progress in infrastructure development. Apart from providing support for infrastructure development, the new emerging development partners are also providing tens of billions of dollars in trade and investment to Africa and this is enabling the continent to make a big push towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
I believe that Africa cannot realize her full potential without building durable peace and security. Thus, peace and security is a sine qua non for unleashing Africa’s potential. Here too Africa is making steady progress. A number of mechanisms have been institutionalized to underpin efforts in the area of peace and security, including the AU Peace and Security Council; the Panel of the Wise; the Pan-African Parliament; the Early Warning System and the African Standby Force. Furthermore, through the implementation of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), African countries are systematically institutionalizing democratic principles, good governance and rule of law.
These important milestones have been critical in reducing conflict. However, further progress is needed through strengthening electoral systems, respecting the sanctity of constitutions, and putting a lid on the excessive abuse of executive power.
According to the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, 60 per cent of Africa’s population of approximate 1 billion is under the age of 25. This represents a huge opportunity which, if properly harnessed, can help in unleashing potentials in other areas. Much greater emphasis needs to be placed upon the urgent need to provide them with quality education, skills and decent jobs as well as adequate space for effective political and social participation and representation.
We must be conscious at all times of the enormous contribution that young people can make to the development of their societies. Failure to harness into this untapped potential could lead to the generational cycle of instability, underdevelopment and inequity.
The private sector in Africa has a central role to play in addressing youth unemployment. There are also significant employment gains to be made if the entrepreneurial potential of women is unleashed towards growth opportunities rather than the informal economy and low-yield, saturated sectors.
Last but not the least, an important cross-cutting issue that hold the key for unlocking Africa’s potential is gender equality. African countries have made progress in promoting gender equality and women empowerment. In some countries, the proportion of women in key policy-making structures of government such as the legislature has considerably increased. More girls are going to school and, in several countries girls outnumber boys in enrolment and completion. Despite these gains, much more progress is needed to unlock women’s potential in entrepreneurship through special funds as well as through giving them greater access to land and credit.
The African Union Commission has demonstrated its commitment to gender balance by ensuring as a statutory requirement that half of its Commissioners are women. In Rwanda and in South Africa, a large number of women are in parliament.
Now, let me say a little on the role of the United Nations in helping Africa unleash its potential.
The United Nations has launched a number of important initiatives to help African countries reach the MDGs. The Secretary-General set up the MDG Africa Steering Group to help support Africa in meeting its development challenges. On Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa, the Steering Group suggested that $72 billion a year is required to meet the MDGs. This objective can be met by fully implementing the pledges expressed at the G-8 summit in Gleneagles to double ODA to Africa and with the support of emerging economies through South-South cooperation.
Furthermore, in the context of its programme in support of the most vulnerable countries, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, convened in Istanbul, Turkey earlier this year adopted a number of measures, including urging more international support through inter alia, ODA, technology transfer, enhanced market access. The implementation of these measures will go a long way in helping LDCs, most of which are in Africa, meet the Internationally Agreed Development Goals, including the MDGs.
From these few examples, African countries, continental organizations and the United Nations are making all efforts to advance sustainable growth and development to unleash Africa’s great potential.
In closing I want to say once again how much I value the work of your University, especially in allowing me and other fellow Ambassadors and delegates to come to your excellent institution and speak about the range of topics affecting the regions we come from. I hope this information will serve to enlighten you on the work of the United Nations.
I thank you for your kind attention.