On Africa Day, UN chief spotlights continent’s achievements, reflects on challenges of 2015

Social mobilizers going door-to-door, speak with residents of a slum in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, in the fight against Ebola. Photo: UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

25 May 2015 – Each year, Africa Day is an opportunity to celebrate the continent's achievements and to reflect on its challenges, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, highlighting the courage and determination it took to make remarkable progress to end the Ebola outbreak and urging leaders to commit to ending violence against women and empower them.

“The dominant story of the year has been the Ebola crisis that swept West Africa, claiming at least 11,000 lives and threatening hard-won social, economic and political achievements,” Mr. Ban said in his remarks on the Day, which is celebrated worldwide on 25 May.

Now, we have to intensify efforts to get to zero and stay at zero cases, repair the damage and strengthen social and institutional resilience throughout the continent, Mr. Ban urged.

To help mobilize support for this important task, the UN chief will convene an International Ebola Recovery Conference at the United Nations in New York in July.

Overall, the continent's economy grew by roughly four per cent in 2014, creating one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted positive economic expansion in Africa's history.

“As a result, a growing number of Africans have joined the middle class each year. With investment in education, health and infrastructure increasing, the prospects for much of Africa are bright,” the Secretary-General added.

The challenge now is to spread these benefits of Africa's progress more broadly and deeply, particularly to the women and girls who represent Africa's future. Empowering women will help build better, more equal and more prosperous societies, Mr. Ban said, commending the commitment of the African Union to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

“While we work to break down the social, economic, environmental and cultural obstacles that women and girls face, let us also recognize the gains that have been made,” he emphasized.

“Africa leads the world in female representation in parliaments and the continent has one of the highest rates of female entrepreneurship. Let us be inspired by these successes and intensify efforts to provide Africa's women with better access to education, work and health care and, by doing so, accelerate Africa's transformation,” the Secretary-General said.

He called on the international community to do more to end violence against women and girls while strengthening their role in all fields, including peacebuilding.

Despite an overall decline in the number of conflicts, too many Africans still experience violent conflict. Women and girls bear the brunt and are frequent targets of sexual violence and abuse.

“We know that conflicts breed where people suffer from poor governance, human rights violations, exclusion and poverty,” the UN chief said, applauding Africa's vision to build, by 2063, a peaceful and prosperous continent where democracy, human rights and the rule of law are entrenched and flourishing, starting with the aim to silence all guns by 2020.

“I reaffirm the commitment of the United Nations to work with the African Union, the regional economic communities and African countries and their citizens to make this vision a reality,” he added.

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