COMMISSION OF THE AFRICAN UNION

Statement 

by

His Excellency Amara ESSY
Chairperson of the Commission 
of the African Union

at the
WORLD SUMMIT ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Johannesburg, South Africa
29 August 2002




Mr. Chairman, 
Honourable Ministers 
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since the Stockholm Conference, some thirty years ago, the symbiotic relation between development and environment has been a source of constant concern in the process of world development. The international community reiterated this concern by adopting the Agenda 21 programme, at the memorable conference of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. In this programme, the international community adopted individual and collective strategies for the promotion of world development taking full account of the need to protect the environment.

However, it must be recognized that within the framework of a speedily changing world, the implementation of Agenda 21, over the years, has been, at best, modest. The interest of the countries in the field of development have evolved or changed according to the circumstances. The establishment of political blocs in the world continue, the phenomenon of globalization, moved by technological progress, gave important advantages to some countries while others were the losers.

As regards Africa, in particular, we have noted that there has been some progress as well as some failures. We should recall that since Rio many have become aware of the fragile nature of the environment and the depletion of natural resources. Many countries have established political, legislative and regulation frameworks or strengthened the existing mechanisms, particularly by ratifying regional and international conventions on environment. Many countries have prepared and implemented various environmental plans of action.

Life expectancy in many countries is still low even if it has risen since Rio. In some countries, it has even fallen. If the literacy rate remains slow, access to education has improved especially for the girls who play a crucial role as agents of change for sustainable development. However, only 58% of the population of the continent have access to drinking water.

At the natural level, there is an increase in natural disasters, which is not peculiar to the African continent. This results in substantial loss of human lives and heavy socio-economic costs, which is a major obstacle to the efforts made by Africa to attain sustainable development, considering the lack of capacity in the region to forecast, monitor, manage and mitigate natural disasters.

Furthermore, we note that food security in Africa has deteriorated and reached a critical low level, since 200 million persons are at present undernourished and 500 million hectares of land are affected by the soil degradation, including 65% of agricultural land. These unfavorable trends worsen the problem of poverty in Africa for the agricultural sector comprises 70% of the poorest people and represents 40% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the region.

Furthermore, most African economies are declining in quality and quantity. The GDP growth rate in half of the region remained below 2% per year. Africa, in contrast to the other regions of the world, receives little private investment. At the same time, the Official Development Assistance (ODA) has never attained the objectives set in Rio and the debt burden has kept increasing.

In addition, wars, civil strife and proliferation of light weapons impede the efforts made by many African countries to establish sustainable development.

It is within this framework that the OAU/AU has been greatly involved in the African preparatory process of Johannesburg, in co-operation with the UN Environment Programme, the Economic Commission for Africa, the Sub-regional Economic Communities and the African Development Bank.

We finalized this process with a report and a ministerial declaration. I am satisfied that the proposals made by the continent have been integrated into the framework of the preparatory negotiations.

Let us not forget that the primordial objective of the Johannesburg Summit is to identify the critical priority areas of development and to agree on concrete implementation strategies. For Africa, this Summit is important in so far as its substance corresponds with the recent developments that have taken place on the continent.

In this regard, I would like to recall that on 9 July 2002, in Durban, here in South Africa, Africa took a gigantic step towards the establishment of the African Union (AU). The continent, through this Union, has the will to speed up the promotion of sustainable development, to reduce poverty and to resolve the other problems such as conflicts and political instability which undermine it. One of the major strategies of the African Union is to ensure the integration of markets, democratic political participation, good governance and the establishment of continental political and economic infrastructures.

But before that, in July 2001, in Lusaka, Zambia, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government adopted a resolution on the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as a programme for sustainable development. NEPAD stresses particularly the critical areas of agriculture, poverty, health and capacity building.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As far as Africa is concerned, the outcome of this Summit will be valid for sustainable development only if it proposes satisfactory solutions to fundamental issues. For example in the area of health, in addition to the devastating effects of infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS has considerably impeded the development process on the continent of the past 10 years. The impact of HIV/AIDS has had serious economic and social consequences in many African countries to such and extend that we wonder about the prospects of development. This is why African countries committed themselves to implement the `Abuja Declaration on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other Infectious Diseases', adopted on 27 April 2001. The Plan of Implementation of the Johannesburg Summit must take into account the health related issues.

Another issue of interest for Africa is foreign aid. It must be recalled that Agenda 21 recommends cooperation between partners in development in this matter. However, the mid-term review of the programme in 1996 and the studies carried out recently, revealed a fall in foreign aid flow towards the developing countries, particularly African countries. It will be necessary to increase foreign aid to these countries to enable them meet their commitment to sustainable development. Similarly, the debt alleviation strategy mus go beyond the present initiative for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPPC), to release resources in favour of the Least Developed Countries.

The obstacles to the expansion of international trade of African countries constitute also serious impediments to sustainable development for these countries. We appeal for a speedy implementation of the agreements concluded in Doha. Thus, an expansion of international trade in the African countries can, among others, lead to the diversification of their exports, make it possible to increase their negotiating power, to remove the tariff barriers and the stress on their export products, particularly their agricultural produce on the market of developing countries.

The downward trend of the flow of foreign direct investment to most African countries is another urgent problem which is not to be neglected in the efforts made by Africa to attain sustainable development. The challenges are huge. Many African countries cannot, on their own, take up these challenges with their national economies and investments. African countries have taken important measures to establish an environment conducive to foreign direct investment. In this regard, the co-operation of international community is more than necessary.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The time has come for the international community to consider the best prospects for attaining sustainable development. It is high time to eradicate poverty and put an end to the deterioration of the environment.

Consequently, the present Summit will only be useful to mankind if it results contribute to the strengthening of the development objectives of the Millennium and the Monterrey Consensus. But better prospects presuppose a firm political commitment to implement the Policy Declaration and the Plan of Implementation which will be adopted by this Summit. The issues related to the eradication of poverty, health, finance, trade and institutions must be dealt with more effectively, that is, they must be considered thoroughly in order to find realistic solutions.

As regards the Plan of Implementation, we must first of all, give special attention to matters related to sustainable development in Africa, the weakest link in the ongoing world development process. Furthermore, the promotion of sustainable development in Africa will serve as a catalyst in the implementation of the African Union and its programme, NEPAD.

To conclude, I would like to pay tribute to the Government of South Africa which left no stone unturned to host this Summit. We are grateful for the warm welcome accorded to us and we express satisfaction at the excellent facilities placed at our disposal.

I thank you for your kind attention.