25 June 1999
ADDIS ABABA, 24 June (ECA) -- One way of improving the United Nations effectiveness could be for it to help "mainstream" the role of the private sector as the driving force behind economic development in programmes of national and international organisations, a participant in the first panel discussion at the African Regional Hearing on the Millennium Assembly proposed.
The United Nations should also be an integral player in the creation of an environment for sustained and durable peace, without which there could be no growth. Only the United Nations possessed the "minds and the infrastructure" to deal with issues of governance in Africa, ethnicity, and conflict management that could bring about an environment conducive to economic and social development, one delegate contributed.
Investments in education, particularly of women, were stressed as essential to boosting the growth and development of African economies. According to Nalini Burn of Mauritius, who served as a panellist on the "Cooperation for Economic and Social Development in Africa" panel, educating women and incorporating their often uncounted contribution to the economy might even make it possible for African countries to pay their debt faster.
Moderator Joe Abbey, former Minister of Finance and Planning in Ghana, opened the hearing with a remark on burgeoning global interdependence, commenting that "the time is long past when anyone could claim ignorance about what is happening in Africa". He echoed the sombre appraisal of the region's performance made by the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, in his opening statement, adding: "The time is also past when the responsibility for change can be shifted to others shoulders."
It was commonly agreed by panellists and delegates that even as the United Nations looked to a new millennium, Africa was still dealing with the same old problems. Issues relating to regional integration had been on the table since the days of decolonization, said panellist Tekalegne Gedamu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Bank of Abyssinia. While other regions such as Europe had got down to the business of concrete economic, industrial and monetary integration, Mr. Gedamu said Africa had "concentrated on vision-building [while] not enough energy has been focused on the nuts and bolts".
The debilitating effect of the debt burden, coupled with the crisis of capital flight, raised questions of the extent to which Africa should bear the responsibility for repayment and address the "moral hazard" of non-payment. The chair questioned why debt was seen as such a major barrier to development when only 20 or so per cent of the continent's debt was actually being serviced.
It was also stressed that rather than continuing to propound theories, energies would be better spent focusing on best practices, examining how practical case studies of successes in other regions could be applied to the African context. In response to a proposal from the floor, Under-Secretary- General and Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Executive Secretary K.Y. Amoako said that written submissions would be welcome to bolster the discussion.
Note: Documents on the Africa Regional Hearing -- including the agenda, statements and press releases -- are available on the ECA Web site at http://www.un.org/depts/eca.
Dates for other regional hearings:
-- Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Beirut, 23-24 May;
-- Economic Commission for Europe, Geneva, 7-8 July;
-- Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, 19-20 August; and
-- Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Santiago, 1-2 September.
For more information, and for facilitation of interviews with participants, please contact: Peter K.A. da Costa, Senior Communication Adviser, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), United Nations, P.O. Box 3001 (official) or 3005 (personal), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Tel: +251-1-51 58 26; Fax: +251-1-51 03 65; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com; Web: http://www.un.org/depts/eca