10 March 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY Secretary-General, Millennium Development


Goals africa steering group


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today emerged from a meeting with leaders of key regional and global development institutions today convinced that, with scaled-up action from development partners, donors and African countries themselves, existing commitments were enough and sufficient to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in the whole of Africa.


“We see important reasons to be optimistic […] tremendous gains are possible if the international community translates its commitments into deliverables,” Secretary-General Ban told reporters at a Headquarters press conference after chairing the second meeting of the MDG Africa Steering Group, which he set up last September to help get Africa on track to meeting the ambitious goals the world set for itself in the Millennium Declaration towards slashing poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy by 2015.


Mr. Ban said that, with the exception of maternal mortality, each individual Goal would be reached in several African countries.  “We have seen plenty of successes due to carefully designed programmes and sound policies, backed up by strong Government leadership and support from the international community,” he added, pointing to achievements such as Malawi’s lowering of child mortality rates, Senegal’s accomplishments in enhancing its water and sanitation facilities, and the United Republic of Tanzania’s improvements in primary education.


“The challenge is now to replicate these successes in more countries,” said Mr. Ban, who was joined at the press conference by others participating in the meeting, including:  Donald Kaberuka of the African Development Bank; Alpha Oumar Konaré of the African Union; Robert Zoellick of the World Bank; Louis Michel of the European Commission; Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Mohammed Ennifar of the Islamic Development Bank; and Angel Gurría of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).


Mr. Ban said that the Steering Group identified several key programmes that needed to be implemented in the near future, including launching an African “Green Revolution” to speed up economic growth and tackle hunger, control infectious diseases, provide comprehensive AIDS treatment, and deliver emergency obstetric care to all.  He also cited several pressing challenges, especially the current jump in world food prices.  It was essential to raise the productivity of farmers, while also mobilizing resources to combat malnutrition and hunger, he said, adding that $500 million would be required to meet the “most urgent needs”.


He emphasized that the systems, knowledge and tools were in place to meet ambitious targets in each area, an effort that would save millions of lives and empower African countries to achieve sustained growth.  To finance those programmes, African countries needed to mobilize domestic resources, and receive the support promised by development partners.  In some areas, particularly in infrastructure, the private sector could provide important co-financing.


He noted that on 25 September, he and the General Assembly President would convene a high-level meeting on the Millennium Development Goals, bringing together world leaders, civil society and the private sector.  He voiced hope that this upcoming gathering will “make a real difference in bridging the implementation gap”.


Responding to questions, he noted that the Steering Group had called for special attention to achieving solid progress in sub-Saharan Africa, where no country was on track to meet the Goals.  They had also touched on the need for more predictable resources targeted to areas such as data collection and analysis, which were crucial for monitoring and following-up implementation efforts.


Asked whether Africa was considering some of the important and innovative initiatives that had put his home country -- the Republic of Korea -- on the path to sustained socio-economic growth, especially towards boosting the use of broadband networks, Mr. Ban said that the “digital divide” between Africa and the rest of the world was a serious issue.  Moreover, he had noticed that the gap was widening as the rest of the world was being swept by an information revolution that was leaving Africa in its wake.


At the same time, he said that countries such as Rwanda seemed to be taking examples from the Republic of Korea, among others, especially by targeting so-called “community movements” or self-help initiatives.  Such programmes, with financial and material support from Governments could transform a country from the village-level up.


Indeed, village leaders could be powerful “agents for change” countrywide.  He had advised United Nations country teams to follow similar examples.  Reiterating that “just being a recipient of aid is not the answer”, he said he would be pleased to contact the Government of the Republic of Korea on behalf of any country requesting technical or material assistance regarding community-driven programmes.


To a reporter’s query as to whether African leaders “feel powerless” against the challenge of resolving conflict while promoting sustainable development, Mr. Konaré, Chairman, African Union Commission, said that without question there was an “African responsibility” to deal with the peace and security problems on the continent, which were most often sparked by badly organized elections or long-simmering border tensions.


“These are all conflicts that we can see coming,” he said, adding:  “We have set up institutions and we must give them the power and the means to take appropriate and timely action.”  Africans must also resolve disputes on the basis of international law, not simply on the basis of people pursuing power, he continued.  “We must do better to resolve these conflicts.”


To several questions on China’s increased investment in the continent and whether China’s perceived “honey pot approach” was actually hurting Africa’s development by covering up deeper issues such as China’s involvement in the Sudanese oil business,  Mr. Konaré, said that, today, all countries were trading with China.  Many world leaders were visiting that country.  Why was only Chinese investment in Africa questioned?


The reality was that Africa could be content with “bargain basement” investment of any sort, and China could be a major development partner, operating in a fair and democratic manner.  At the same time, he stressed that he was not an advocate for China, but an advocate for Africa and, as such, Africa would never become a battleground between major Powers over resources.


Responding to a question from a reporter about the bidding processes for United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa that favoured European and American enterprises, Mr. Konaré said that Africa was satisfied with collaboration with the United Nations, and that the world body’s relationship with the African Union continued to grow.  Nevertheless, the Secretariat had rules that must be followed and must be implemented in a transparent manner.  He appreciated that the press and the African public were doing their part to address and report on issues of concern, or to “denounce scandals”.


What he really regretted, however, were the enormous sums poured into conflict prevention in Africa, which could be better used to address the continent’s development challenges.  For instance, current estimates were that the long-delayed United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) would cost nearly $2 billion.  “This is scandalous,” he said, especially since the key to solving that problem, complex as it was, rested “with us”.  The Governments of Africa must do more to drive home-grown conflict resolution efforts.


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For information media • not an official record