|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Africa’s Potential Boundless, Gabon Poised to Become ‘Beacon of Hope’
for Continent, Secretary-General Tells Country’s National Assembly
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the National Assembly of Gabon, in Libreville, today, 1 July:
Good afternoon. Thank you for this warm welcome. What a pleasure to be in your beautiful country of Gabon. As we now call it, Le Gabon Emergent! I have very happy memories of the last time I was here in Libreville, 15 years ago.
I travel a great deal in my work. And wherever I go, I make it a point to visit parliament and meet with lawmakers. Parliaments make the laws. They are the voice of the people; they express a nation’s diversity — and your country is more diverse than most.
As parliamentarians, you are the crucial link — between the local and the national, between the national and the global.
It is an honour to meet you. Thank you for convening this special session of parliament. This is evidence of your commitment to moving forward together with the United Nations. Thank you for this commitment.
I have made three trips to Africa in the past six weeks: to Malawi, Uganda and Burundi. To Cameroon, South Africa, Benin and Sierra Leone. To the Democratic Republic of Congo, just yesterday, and now your beautiful Gabon. I made three visits to this wonderful, dynamic continent in such a short time for one simple and powerful reason: because I wanted to see for myself the enormous strides that you are making, that all Africa is making.
We are now preparing for the summit on the Millennium Development Goals, which will be held in September. That, too, is why I am here. I wanted to meet with you, to understand your needs and find the best way that we can cooperate.
But, there is one more reason why I wanted to be with you at this time: to share the World Cup Experience, here for the first time in Africa! Now, I am no expert on football. Yet I know who will win the World Cup. The people of Africa.
This is your time. This is your moment. Your continent is taking its rightful place at the centre of world sport. As in sport, so in culture, in diplomacy, in economic development.
As many are rightly suggesting, it is time to think of sub-Saharan Africa in the ranks of the biggest emerging economies in the world. Like the Asian economic “tigers” of previous decades, Africa’s “big cats” are on the move.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, sub-Saharan Africa has grown faster than Brazil and India. From 2000 to 2008, African economies grew at twice the pace that they did in the 1980s and 1990s. And, last year, despite the worst recession in generations, Africa was one of only two regions on earth where economic growth was alive. The other region, of course, was Asia.
Meanwhile, inflation has fallen almost everywhere in Africa. A new private sector is emerging. We are seeing a new political stability. That is a big change, which I can easily sum up: Africa does not need charity. Africa needs investment and partnership.
I met more than a thousand top business leaders in New York last week, at the tenth anniversary meeting of the United Nations Global Compact. It was the biggest corporate responsibility event in the world, and this is what I told them: We are entering a new era. It is time for global investors to think in new ways about how they invest, and where. It is time to invest in Africa, I said. Africa means business.
This year, Gabon and many other African countries are celebrating 50 years of independence, 50 years on the international stage as vital members of the United Nations. Your greatest contribution has been your commitment to peace -- the United Nations founding principle. Peace and stability are the most precious assets of any country.
Gabon’s stability is exceptional. Its ethnic diversity has never been the trigger for tension or war. And Gabon is building on this peace by taking the lead in regional dialogue and reconciliation — as seen in your important role in the Central African Republic.
With the passing of your late President, El Haj Omar Bongo Ondimba, we lost a committed peacemaker. We have a car named “Bongo” in the Republic of Korea. He was a champion of peace and the non-violent mediation of conflict — in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Angola, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire.
Your new President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, follows that noble path. I particularly welcome the decision by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to seek a judicial settlement to their border dispute.
Today, Gabon is a member of the United Nations Security Council for the third time — a testament to the strength of its values and its example. Already, you have used your presidency of the Council to highlight the terrible effects of arms trafficking in Central Africa. Thank you for this important contribution.
Let me speak for a moment about the Millennium Development Goals — our campaign to reduce world poverty and improve health and education for millions of the world’s poorest people.
You have made impressive gains. Gabon is showing the world that the Millennium Development Goals are within reach. Child mortality has declined over the last two decades. You have made progress towards improving maternal health. Your school enrolment rates are the envy of many.
Some may call this a miracle. But there is nothing miraculous about it. This is the result of good policy and strong leadership. And it illustrates a simple but very important truth: When we try, we succeed. When we do not, we fail. I took this message to the G-20 summit in Canada. I will take it again to the Millennium Development Goals summit in September in New York.
Let me say again. That message is clear: Africa can achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Africa’s potential is boundless — vast human and material wealth. One billion people, half under the age of 30. These people need only the tools to create jobs and generate incomes. Developed countries should make good on promises to double aid to Africa — promises made repeatedly at summit meetings of the G-8 and the G-20, and at the United Nations.
There must also be more room for free trade. As President Bongo Ondimba says, Gabon is open for business, and its products must not be priced out of the markets by heavy import taxes.
Africa’s farmers should not have to compete with unfair agricultural subsidies. Africa’s Governments, with the help of development partners, must be enabled to scale up investments in agriculture, water, education, health and infrastructure.
Maternal health is the goal that has lagged furthest behind. But we know that if we make progress here, it will help to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals. Healthy mothers raise healthy children. Healthy children help create healthy societies. Healthy societies bring prosperity and peace.
At September’s summit, I will call on Governments, civil society, international organizations and businesses to develop a coordinated and comprehensive action plan to accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals, with concrete steps and timelines.
If we are to achieve our goals by 2015, we need less talk and more action. Today, I call on the international community, and all Africa, to score the goals. To score the goals on the Millennium Development Goals — just as they are being scored in the World Cup.
Let me close by congratulating you. With last year’s peaceful transition, and the recent elections, you are consolidating your young democracy.
Looking ahead to next year’s legislative elections, I trust you will build on this momentum. As you have shown, inclusive, free, fair and transparent elections are crucial to continued stability and peace.
Africa has seen too much election fraud, too many unconstitutional changes of government, too many manipulations of the law to preserve the privileges of those in power.
Democracy depends on elections — but also on good governance and respect for the rule of law.
Your Government has made progress towards eradicating corruption and mismanagement. I urge you to continue along the path of reform and social development. This is the only way to improve living standards, to ensure a fairer distribution of your great national wealth, and to win the lasting trust and respect of your people.
Gabon has been blessed. Now is the time to realize that enormous potential. Now is the time to modernize. To embrace new technology and build an economy for the twenty-first century. To create opportunities for future generations, to invest in your greatest natural resource — your young people.
Fifty years after independence, Gabon is poised to become a beacon of hope for all Africa, to play its part in crafting the new Africa. The United Nations is your unwavering partner — in peace and security, in human development, in protecting your bountiful resources and the beauty of your country. To the people of Gabon, I say: we are with you, every step of the way.
* *** *For information media • not an official record