SECRETARY-GENERAL, RECEIVING HONOURARY DEGREE IN YAOUNDE, CAMEROON HIGHLIGHTS KEYS TO AFRICA"S FULL PARTICIPATION IN GLOBAL ECONOMY

2 May 2000
SG/SM/7376

SECRETARY-GENERAL, RECEIVING HONOURARY DEGREE IN YAOUNDE, CAMEROON HIGHLIGHTS KEYS TO AFRICA"S FULL PARTICIPATION IN GLOBAL ECONOMY

2 May 2000

Press ReleaseSG/SM/7376 AFR/221

SECRETARY-GENERAL, RECEIVING HONOURARY DEGREE IN YAOUNDE, CAMEROON HIGHLIGHTS KEYS TO AFRICA’S FULL PARTICIPATION IN GLOBAL ECONOMY

20000502

Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, upon receiving the degree of “Docteur Honoris Causa en Relations Internationales” from the University of Yaounde II, in Yaounde, Cameroon on 2 May:

I am deeply honoured by the title you have bestowed on me, and even more so by the decision of the Institute of International Relations of Cameroon to name its library after me. I shall do my best to be worthy of this great honour, but it will not be easy.

It is in universities and research institutes like yours that the answers to many of humanity’s problems are being worked out, through the expansion of knowledge and the free exchange of ideas between scholars. But these precious resources, the key to tomorrow’s world, are far from equally distributed in the world of today.

Perhaps, the biggest gap between industrialized and developing countries today is the knowledge gap. The developing world, and Africa especially, needs desperately to build up its universities as real centres of excellence, in which African answers to African problems can be worked out. Of course, that does not mean ignoring the advances made on other continents. It means studying them thoroughly and finding ways to improve them in an African context. It means making an African contribution to the world, which other continents in their turn cannot afford to ignore.

It is indeed vital that Africa should play its full part in the world community, and especially in the new global economy -- from which, at present, it is in many ways excluded. Private capital flows into Africa are a tiny fraction of global flows, and for some countries, outward flows amount to several times their gross domestic product. Many African countries have to spend more than 25 per cent of their export earnings on servicing their debts.

The result is that, out of 1.2 billion people in the world living on less than $1 per day, 300 million are in Africa -– a higher proportion of the people than in any other continent. And while in other regions average incomes are rising, people in sub-Saharan Africa are almost as poor today as they were 20 years ago.

The countries that have achieved higher growth are those which have successfully integrated into the global economy, and attracted foreign investment. Over the last 25 years, Asia has grown at an annual rate of

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7 per cent and Latin America, at 5 per cent, while much of Africa has stagnated or even gone backwards.

How can we change this?

One of the keys, I am sure, is more and better use of information technology. We must bridge the gap between the fortunate few who are hooked up to the new world economy, and the half of the world’s population that has yet to make or receive a telephone call, let alone use a computer. At present, less than half of one per cent of all Africans has used the Internet. If we can change that, we can change everything else.

And it should not be hard to change, since new information technology does not require vast reserves of financial capital. The main input is brain-power -– the one commodity that is equally distributed throughout the human race. A relatively small investment could release that power, enabling the poorest societies to forge ahead, leapfrogging some of the long and painful stages of development that other countries had to go through.

Already the city of Bangalore, in India, has become a centre of the world software industry, boasting more than 300 high-tech companies. Already last year, Costa Rica achieved the highest growth rate in Latin America –- 8.3 per cent -– through its exports of microchips. Already Mauritius –- an African country -– is using the Internet to position its textile industry globally. Already women in tiny villages in Bangladesh are using cellular phones, bought with small loans from the Grameen Bank and then rented out to other villagers, to sell their home-produced textiles on the world market.

I am sure Cameroonian villagers can achieve as much, and more, once they too have access to modern communications. I hope they will benefit from UNITES, the consortium of high-tech volunteer corps which we are now setting up to train people in developing countries in the uses and opportunities of information technology.

But the investment that is needed above all, to release and mobilize the brainpower of the developing world, is an investment in education. That is the true key to the new global economy, because it is central to development, social progress and human freedom. And yet nearly a billion adults in the world are illiterate and, according to even the most cautious estimates, 113 million children of primary school age are not at school.

Good primary education for all has to be our first priority, because every person who is deprived of it loses their chance to develop their potential and play a full part in their society. Most of those illiterate adults are women, and two thirds of the children not at school are girls. Clearly, there are still many families, and indeed whole societies, who think it less important to educate their daughters than their sons.

This is not only an unacceptable form of discrimination, which denies girls and women their legal rights. It is also bad economics and bad social policy. Experience has shown, over and over again, that investment in girls’ education translates directly and quickly into better nutrition for the whole family, better health care, lower birth rates, less poverty, and better overall economic performance. That is why, at the World Education Forum in Dakar last week, I launched a new United Nations initiative -- Educate Girls Now. Our goal is to ensure that, by 2015, all children everywhere -- boys and girls alike -– will complete their primary schooling, and that girls and boys have equal access to all levels of education.

Thirdly, we have to free Africa’s people from the crippling burden of disease, which not only requires families to stretch their meagre resources even further, but locks them into a vicious circle of high mortality, high fertility, and unending poverty.

This burden takes many forms, but HIV/AIDS is now the ugliest. Out of 36 million people around the world currently living with it, 23 million are here in sub-Saharan Africa. In ten years’ time, the region will have 40 million orphans –- children who are far less likely than their peers to stay in school, or to be immunized, and who are much more likely to suffer serious malnutrition. And yet many of these orphans will have, even before they are 15 years old, to act as guardians and providers for their younger brothers and sisters.

AIDS is already decimating the ranks of skilled and educated Africans during their prime years. It is taking away not only Africa’s present, but its future. That is why we have formed a strategic partnership against AIDS in Africa, bringing together African governments, donor countries, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and all parts of the United Nations system. And it is why, in my Millennium Report published last month, I recommended specific targets aimed at breaking the conspiracy of silence about this disease, at ensuring that young people are fully informed about it, and ultimately at halting and reversing its spread.

A few African countries -– notably Senegal and Uganda -– have already shown that this can be done. But Africa needs help from the industrialized countries. It is up to them, working with their pharmaceutical industries and other partners, to speed up the search for an effective and affordable vaccine. Every year without it condemns millions more young people to long illness and untimely death.

Fourthly, we have to overcome the prevalence of conflict in too many parts of Africa. Nothing is more inimical to growth, and nothing is more likely to spread poverty, than armed conflict. I hardly need tell you this, since here in Cameroon, you have had to welcome refugees from conflict in three of your immediate neighbours -– Chad, the Central African Republic, and the Republic of Congo. You know too well the effects of conflict, even on those not directly involved. You share in the blight which Africa’s reputation for instability so unfairly casts on investment almost throughout the continent.

You, therefore, understand the strong interest that all Africans share in helping each other to resolve their differences peacefully. Indeed, you have set an excellent example, with your Nigerian brothers, by submitting the dispute over the Bakassi peninsula to the International Court of Justice.

If conflict perpetuates poverty, poverty also makes conflict harder to avoid and to resolve. That is the vicious circle we Africans have to break. The United Nations tries to tackle this problem at both ends. On one hand, it strives to help Africans resolve their conflicts, and so release their energies for development. On the other it seeks, through economic and social development, to remove the long-term causes of conflict.

In your neighbour, the Central African Republic, a United Nations peacekeeping operation helped restore stability and security. Now it has withdrawn, having completed its mission, but has been replaced by a post- conflict peace-building office. That is because we have learnt from experience that enabling a war-torn country to achieve lasting peace is a long-term affair, in which every achievement has to be sustained by constant effort. The world’s media may turn away from a country once the killing stops. The United Nations cannot and will not do so.

In the last resort, however, peace within a state depends on its own citizens. And it is only the government and citizens of a country who can protect it from being torn apart in the first place. Experience and research have shown that, while poor countries are in greater danger than rich ones, poverty alone does not cause conflict. Even relatively rich countries can be dragged into the abyss by self-serving leaders, who play on the fears and grievances of divided populations. And many poor countries live in peace despite their poverty, thanks to enlightened leadership. Over time, of course, these countries also have a better chance of overcoming their poverty.

So my final prescription, for breaking the barriers between Africa and global prosperity, is to improve the quality of governance. More and more, we realize that this is the decisive factor in any country’s success.

In a country where those who hold power are not accountable, but can use their power to monopolize wealth, exploit their fellow citizens and repress peaceful dissent, conflict is all too predictable and investment will be scarce. But in a country where human rights and property rights are protected, where government is accountable, and where those affected by decisions play a part in the decision-making process, there is real hope that poverty can be reduced, conflict avoided, and capital mobilized both at home and from abroad.

Once a country -– or, even better, a whole region -– adopts that approach to its own problems, others can more easily be persuaded to help it –- whether through development assistance, through cancellation of external debts, or through opening their markets to its products.

Over the last three years, I have tried constantly to persuade the more fortunate countries to help Africa, and the whole developing world, in all of those three ways. I have made the case most recently in my Millennium Report. In that Report, I ask all governments, of developed and developing countries, to make the fight against poverty their top priority, and to start by resolving to halve the proportion of the world’s people living in extreme poverty during the next fifteen years.

The other goals which I have set before you today are also contained in that Report. I believe they are essential, both in themselves and as ways of approaching the overall objective of reducing poverty. For all of them, governments need to work together. But they also need to tap the resources of the private sector, and the talents and energies of ordinary people. That is why the United Nations is reaching out to form new partnerships, both with global corporations and with voluntary, non-governmental bodies.

But the impetus must come from our Member States. Their leaders have a great opportunity, when they meet in New York in September, to show the world they are serious about dealing with the real problems that affect the lives of their peoples. I believe they will rise to that challenge, if they get a clear message from their peoples -- from people like you in this room -- that that is what the world expects.

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For information media. Not an official record.