24 June 1999
ADDIS ABABA, 24 June (ECA) -- While the United Nations has made a substantial difference in delivering its mandate over its five decades of existence, it has fallen far short of meeting the twin challenges of peace and security and reducing poverty in Africa.
This sober assessment, delivered by Ethiopia's Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin, marked the opening of the African Regional Hearing of the Millennium Assembly which took place here at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) this morning.
Addressing an audience of some 350 participants that included representatives of African Member States, academia, the private sector, the media and non-governmental organizations, Minister Seyoum asked: "Has Africa received the requisite solidarity and cooperation from the international community within the context of the United Nations for it to be able to overcome [its] challenges? Has the United Nations played an effective role for peace in Africa in conformity with the provisions of its Charter to the same degree that it has in other parts of the world?"
To answer these questions, said Minister Seyoum, one only needed to refer to the Horn of Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola. Most of all, he added, "the genocide in Rwanda which failed to be averted because of inaction is a reminder of this state of affairs of neglect of Africa and of the double standards applied to the continent".
Tackling the second challenge of reducing poverty, the Ethiopian Minister lambasted the level of international cooperation as being meagre and far from effective. He cited the debt burden as "an obvious illustration of the problem we are facing in this regard -- a problem which by universal consensus makes development in Africa unthinkable but regarding which no effective steps are taken within or outside the United Nations system".
That said, Minister Seyoum stressed that Africa must take its share of the blame. "That we often have made a mess of the narrow opportunities that we have had for peace and for economic development because of lack of good governance, mismanagement of the economy and because of human rights abuses cannot be denied for a moment." Unless Africa could put its house in order, he concluded, its aspiration for peace and economic development would "always remain distant dreams."
Minister Seyoum cited the promotion of real interdependence, ensuring the application of international law and democratization of the world body as three key challenges that should form part of the United Nations vision in the twenty-first century.
The two-day African Regional Hearing, convened under the broad theme "United Nations in the 21st Century", is intended to provide an open forum for African governments and civil society representatives to share views and elaborate proposals on the United Nations they want to see in the next millennium.
It is the second in a series of regional hearings being organized by the five United Nations regional commissions as part of the consultative process that will culminate in a Millennium Summit of Heads of State and Government, to take place in New York in September 2000.
In his introductory remarks, Under-Secretary-General and Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Executive Secretary, K.Y. Amoako, highlighted key questions common to all the regional hearings. "What are the new challenges and expectations of the United Nations? What kind of United Nations do Member States and stakeholders want to see? How should the United Nations interact with various constituencies? And how do Member States contribute to making this happen?"
To provide answers to these global questions, said Mr. Amoako, this hearing needed to zero in on the regional context and on the key challenges facing the continent -- among them the debt crisis, the imperative of regional cooperation and integration, and the spate of internal and inter-State conflicts. Nowhere, he added, were these challenges more eloquently articulated than in the Secretary-General's 1996 report on "The Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa", which he commended to participants as a key document.
Miles Stoby, Assistant Secretary-General and Coordinator of the Millennium Assembly, told journalists at a media briefing shortly before the start of the meeting that the regional hearings were considered essential to the process of building consensus on the role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century.
Stressing the importance of civil society participation in defining the United Nations of the twenty-first century, Mr. Stoby announced that -- further to a proposal from the Secretary-General that NGOs organize their own parallel event -- a civil society Millennium Forum would take place in New York four months before the Summit.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr. Stoby described the hearings as important because they represented an unprecedented opportunity for the United Nations to listen to non-governmental views that would inform the Organization's ongoing reform process. He stressed the informal nature of the format of the hearing, which had been designed to ensure a frank and open dialogue.
The African Regional Hearing is being conducted in full plenary, with discussion focusing on four sub-themes: Cooperation for Economic and Social Development in Africa; Approaching Humanitarian and Human Rights issues within a Global Context; Addressing the Challenges of Development, Peace and Security in Africa; and Addressing Global Problems: The role of the United Nations in the 21st century.
Unattributed views from the hearings will contribute towards a report to be prepared by Secretary-General Kofi Annan outlining a vision for the United Nations in the next millennium. These proposals will be presented to the Millennium Summit, which is expected to feature the largest number of world leaders ever assembled at a global conference.
Note: Documents on the African Regional Hearing -- including the agenda, Statements and Press Releases -- are available on the ECA Web site at http://www.un.org/depts/eca
Summaries of the panel discussions will be available shortly, both by e-mail and on the Web site.
For further information, including interviews with participants, 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: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org; Web: http://www.un.org/depts/eca