Excellencies and distinguished guests,
Faculty members, students,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today at Farleigh Dickinson University and to be given 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 for this wonderful initiative which gives the students the opportunity to engage United Nations. We at the UN welcome this opportunity to engage on the United Nations work with this type of audience, because we recognize the importance of partnerships with academia in advancing the UN agenda.
Africa has a formidable human potential, which translates both in terms of production as well and consumption potential. With its one billion mostly young people, harnessing this richness will be crucial if Africa is to take its rightful place among the community of nations. 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 for the Continent to position itself in the global production and consumption chain.
It is therefore important that greater emphasis is placed on the urgent need to provide the youth with quality education, skills and decent jobs as well as adequate space for effective political and social participation and representation. We must also be conscious at all times of the enormous contribution that young people can make to the development of their societies. Failure to harness this untapped richness could lead to the generational cycle of instability, underdevelopment as was recently seen during the Arab Spring in North Africa.
In this regard, the African private sector 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. An important cross-cutting issue that holds 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 South Africa, a large number of women are in parliament.
Ladies and gentlemen,
According to the World Bank, Africa is well endowed with natural resources, including large pools of water resources and over 200 million hectares of unused but potentially arable land, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa also 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 an enabling environment, Africa could benefit from the vast wealth beneath its soil.
African countries recognize this and have put in place measures to develop 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.
Looking at the first decade of the implementation of NEPAD, much progress has been made in several priority areas, including in agricultural development, 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 increase investment in priority sectors such as agriculture, health and education. In 2010, six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are 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 cannot realize her full potential without first building durable peace and security in the continent. 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. 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.
Furthermore, through the implementation of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), African countries are systematically institutionalizing democratic principles, good governance and rule of law. To date, 30 African countries have acceded to the APRM and 14 countries have been peer reviewed. These include Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa, Algeria, Benin, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Mali, Mozambique, Lesotho, Mauritius and Ethiopia. This is in an effort to improve economic and corporate governance in the continent through effective macro-economic reforms, and putting in place the necessary legal and regulatory frameworks necessary to ensure good democratic governance.
Despite the positive progress in the APRM, Africa still faces 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 unlikely to unleash its potential. Through the work of the NEPAD Agency, major infrastructure projects are now 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).
Ladies and gentlemen,
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, Turkey 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.
The United Nations has also 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 for enhanced international support through inter alia ODA, technology transfer, favourable market access conditions. 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 in order to unleash Africa’s great potential. However, Africa’s potential will remain untapped unless African governments put in place the right policies to allow for development and transformation. But this transformation will not happen until the private sector is fully engaged in agricultural production, processing, and marketing.
Governments must become more investor-friendly to attract private-sector investment. They must continue to deepen macro economic reform, the foundations of democracy and ensure the stability that is so critical to growth. It is also crucial that they continue to improve their laws and regulations to create an enabling for business as well as an environment for dynamic rural growth to transform subsistence farmers into entrepreneurs. Rural women hold the key to food security. Any nation that does not provide opportunities for women will not reach its full potential. Significant progress must be made to advance women’s empowerment and their status – particularly with regard to land and credit.
Finally, although investment in development assistance is key, nations will ultimately have to take responsibility for their own development. No nation, no people, ever experienced growth that sprang solely from external support. So Africa’s development must be made in Africa, by Africans, for Africans. Africa should continue with their reform processes, and in so doing change the perception of the African continent into one that is vibrant and open for business.
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.