18 September 2008


18 September 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Meeting Africa’s development needs would require “resolution and leadership to turn existing African and international commitments into results”, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa Cheick Sidi Diarra said at a Headquarters press conference today, as he briefed reporters on an upcoming high-level meeting on Africa’s development needs.

“This is undeniably one of the most important challenges facing African countries and institutions, as well as the international community,” he added.

The high-level event, to be held on Monday, 22 September, in New York, would be attended by 106 delegations and serve as a decisive forum for world leaders to review all commitments made by Africans and their development partners.  That would likely help upgrade priorities and streamline actions, with the ultimate goal of setting the right priorities for attaining the Millennium Development Goals.

Mr. Diarra said discussions would be shaped by the Secretary-General’s report entitled “ Africa’s development needs:  state of implementation of various commitments, challenges and the way forward” (document A/63/130), in which the Secretary-General, for the first time, reviewed all international commitments and identified actions to address African needs.

Generally, he said, it was clear that progress towards attaining the Development Goals in Africa was off-track, and the continent’s potential had not been fully harnessed:  two fifths of the population lived on less than $1 per day; the region accounted for 1 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), with 12 per cent of the world’s population; and its volume of external trade represented only 2 per cent of global trade.

Such needs had prompted important promises, he explained, and the Secretary-General’s report provided practical recommendations, which, if implemented, would help reach the Goals by strengthening Africa’s productive capacity and promoting both a peaceful environment and development plan of action in priority sectors such as health, infrastructure and education.

“The development of the continent is a complex phenomenon,” he said.  Its major obstacles included violent conflict, internal public mismanagement and, in some cases, inadequate international support.

On commitments made through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) framework for achieving the Goals, he said the report concluded that, despite progress in good governance and health (two of six strategic priorities), international effort had varied in terms of quality, quantity and effectiveness.

For its part, the United Nations contribution had ranged from policy research and analysis to provisions of aid, technical assistance and humanitarian relief.  Through the years, it had focused on support to NEPAD and the Development Goals.

In that regard, the report of the MDG Africa Steering Group, established in 2007, was of pivotal importance, he said.  The primary responsibility for achieving the Goals lay with African Governments, which were putting in place comprehensive programmes.  Development partners had made commitments in areas of aid, debt cancellation, trade, and peace and security.  While significant progress had been made in debt relief, the Aid for Trade initiative and support for peace and security, more effort was needed to follow through on pledges of sectoral-level support.

Peace and security commitments made by the General Assembly and Group ofEight (G-8) summits had led to tangible results, he continued.  United Nations commitments were delivered through regional consultation mechanisms, and concrete progress had been made in the area of training and mediation.  The G-8 was also on track to fulfilling its commitment.

Discussing the Secretary-General’s recent MDG Africa Steering Group report, he said the global community had agreed to increase external financing for African agriculture from $1.2 billion to $8 billion by 2010.  On education, $8.3 billion was needed annually to achieve the Development Goal in that area.  On health, external financing needs would reach an estimated $25 billion to $30 billion by 2010, while some $52.2 billion per year would be needed in public and private investment to resolve infrastructure bottlenecks.

In sum, $72 billion in external finances would be needed per year to support achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa.  “ Africa’s development problems are everyone’s problems,” he declared.

Turning to questions, he said it was true that the United Nations was identifying innovative ways to mobilize resources for the Goals.  Sovereign wealth funds had existed since 1953, and the United Nations had identified them as a source of new investment.  The MDG Africa Steering Group report had referred to new, emerging economies, which appealed for adherence to the Paris Principles on Aid Effectiveness, as another way to mainstream the use of the funds.  The World Bank had estimated that a 1 per cent investment of the funds’ $3 trillion in Africa would help bridge the financing gap by $30 billion, almost 45 per cent of the $72 billion needed.

To a query on whether any African States were graduating from the least developed country list, he said Cape Verde had graduated on 17 December 2007, bringing the total number of African least developed countries to 33.

Replying to another question, he said 37 Heads of State and 11 Heads of Government had confirmed their attendance at the plenary session of the high-level event.  Of those, 23 were Heads of State, 2 were Heads of Government and 1 was a Vice President from Africa. Countries included Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Uganda.  As to whether Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir would attend, Mr. Diarra said he was on the list.

As for Chinese investment in Africa and whether Chinese delegates would participate in the event, Mr. Diarra said China’s sovereign wealth fund had invested $5.5 billion in African infrastructure, equal to the total contribution from the global community in that sector.

Taking a question on the recent financial market turmoil, Mr. Diarra said that, while he was concerned by the world economy’s trend, commitments should be fulfilled, particularly for official development assistance (ODA).  Further, the return on investment in Africa was an estimated 20 to 30 per cent, among the world’s highest.  Expanding two multilateral initiatives -- one for debt relief, and another for highly indebted countries -- would also enhance progress. The crisis could be an opportunity for developed countries to reduce agricultural subsidies and further the process of opening markets to African nations.

Responding to another question, he said the high-level meeting’s declaration contained no new commitments; it recalled existing ones taken by African nations, notably in the areas of economic and political governance and transparency, through the African Peer Review Mechanism.  It also called on development partners to fulfil their pledges, such as those made in the Millennium Declaration, the Monterrey Consensus and the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development.

To a question on the reality of halving poverty levels in the face of the global food crisis, Mr. Diarra said that there were short-term concerns, and the Comprehensive Framework for Action adopted by the Secretary-General’s Task Force on the Food Crisis proposed meeting people’s immediate food needs, especially those of schoolchildren.  In the long term, there was some cause for optimism:  the cost of food could be a chance to help small farmers increase their productivity through provision of fertilizers and high-yield seeds. Emergency support from the World Food Programme was helping the world’s most vulnerable people.

Concerning African and international commitments, Mr. Diarra said international support could only complement Africa’s own efforts to attend to its fate.   Africa was making progress in economic and political governance, notably through an African Union declaration on the principles of democracy and governance, and the African Peer Review Mechanism.  Also, NEPAD had identified priority sectors for intervention -- including infrastructure, agriculture and education -– and had asked Governments to allocate percentages of their budgets to sectoral development.

Partner contributions gave meaning to the notion of “global partnership” outlined in the United Nations Charter, he continued.  While there had been progress in debt relief and in bilateral trade initiatives, Africa should augment its productive capacity to create wealth on the continent. “It’s not worth it to export only raw materials,” he said.  For its part, the United Nations would continue to support the community of nations and promote international cooperation and global partnership in support of development.

To another question, Mr. Diarra said the Peer Review Mechanism did not have an enforcement tool; its role was to share best experience and advice and set up a plan of action for countries to meet their political, economic and human rights shortcomings.  The fact that peers could speak about internal problems of their counterparts in Africa was already “good progress”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.