Africa’s People Need Respect, International Solidarity, Level Playing Field, Not ‘Pity or Charity’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells World Knowledge Forum

12 October 2011

Africa’s People Need Respect, International Solidarity, Level Playing Field, Not ‘Pity or Charity’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells World Knowledge Forum

12 October 2011
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Africa’s People Need Respect, International Solidarity, Level Playing Field,

Not ‘Pity or Charity’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells World Knowledge Forum


Following are the remarks by UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro at the World Knowledge Forum, in Seoul, Republic of Korea, today, 12 October:

It is a pleasure to join you for this discussion on a crucial aspect of Africa's future.

The perception of Africa as a place where poverty, hunger, disease and civil wars are the norm is fast changing.  Many now see the wide-ranging opportunities that exist across the continent.  The robust growth of more than 5 per cent, on average, over the past 10 years shows that the continent has emerged from the volatile years of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Although still high, poverty has substantially declined from its highest level of 59 per cent of the population in 1996 to about 50 per cent today.  And although still daunting, the fight against diseases such as malaria and HIV and AIDS, through interventions like mosquito nets and antiretroviral drugs, has dramatically cut the number of deaths resulting from these pandemics.

Furthermore, Africa now has the lowest incidence of civil war in 50 years, as most of the conflicts that raged in the 1980s and 1990s have ended.

There are several reasons to believe that Africa is on the eve of an economic renewal.  The high level of growth is expected to continue.  For example, the continent is projected to post an economic growth rate of about 6 per cent in 2012, a remarkable performance compared to the rates expected in the world's major economies, owing to their deepening macroeconomic imbalances.

African economies, in contrast, proved their resilience to the major shocks that have affected the world economy by posting a growth rate of 3.1 per cent at the height of the crisis in 2009; this at a time when many major economies were experiencing no growth at all.

We should also note that some of the engines of Africa's current growth, namely the increasing trade and investment with emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and Turkey, will continue to have a positive effect on Africa's growth over the coming years.

In terms of human development, economic growth in Africa has not been fully inclusive.  Using the Human Development Index developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to reflect a people-centred understanding of development, we note that Africa had — by 2010 — the lowest HDI of any region.  That being said, there has been progress.  All but one African country improved its human development between 2000 and 2010.

The international community has an important role to play in helping Africa to sustain high rates of economic growth and human development.

Even though Africa's emerging partners have increased their cooperation with Africa in recent years, traditional partners still account for a very large share of trade, investment and aid, and this situation is not expected to change any time soon.

There also seems to be a clear distinction between the assistance those partners provide.

Traditional partners have focused on human capital, through projects in the health and education sectors; whereas the emerging partners have focused on physical infrastructure.  Fortunately, these activities are complementary.

Even though aid is still important for most African countries, the post-independence period has clearly shown that aid alone is not enough.  Africa also needs fairer access to markets to be able to export its products without unnecessary barriers, better access to Western technologies at a reasonable cost to build competitive industries, more investment in productive sectors and infrastructure, and more policy space to craft and perfect their own development path.

However, ladies and gentlemen, what Africa needs most, is to be recognized as a new investment frontier — where the returns are among the highest in the world.  The continent has some of the largest known reserves of mineral resources including diamonds and gold; most of its actual mineral wealth remains unexplored.

Africa is also becoming an important player in the global oil market, as countries such as Ghana and Uganda join the list of exporters.  Africa has the largest amount of unexploited arable land, a strategic asset in a world where food crises are becoming recurrent.

But Africa's growth is not only coming from the commodity sector.  Growth is increasingly broad-based.  Investors are seeing growth potential in an array of sectors, including retail, financial services, telecommunication and real estate.  More investments are on the way.  And these are all positive signs.  I urge investors to transform these and other opportunities into goods and services that will improve the lives of the millions of Africans now stuck in poverty.

But if Africa's partners are to do their part, Africans themselves will have to do theirs.  That means continuing reforms in order to make their economies even more attractive while ensuring that their populations benefit from foreign investment.  It means ensuring that the growth process be inclusive.  Job creation, particularly in sectors where the poor are most active, should be an overarching priority of growth policies.  And it means action against corruption, strengthening institutions and all the other hallmarks of good governance.  Only by such policies will Africa be able to escape the “resource curse” and realize the full potential of its riches.

Africa's cooperation with China and India is especially important.  Let me make three points about that.

First, the continent would benefit from developing a home-grown vision of what its cooperation with China and India should be.  The United Nations has been working to improve the preparedness of African countries in pushing this cooperation forward.

Second, Africa's engagement with China and India could be deepened by diversifying African economies into agriculture, services and manufacturing, hence widening the continent's export base.

While Africa will continue to be an important source of commodities for emerging economies, China could have an important effect on the growth of Africa's manufacturing sector if it increased its manufactured imports from the continent.  This is an area where more progress is needed.

Third, deepening regional integration could change the plight of Africa's small economies, particularly landlocked countries.  Given China and India's comparative advantage in infrastructure development, these two countries are well positioned to help the continent create a regional market by putting in place regional infrastructure such as roads, railways, airports and telecommunications.

As we speak of major partners of Africa, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Republic of Korea.

The Republic of Korea has indeed been playing a rising and important role in African development issues, especially in the last decade.  In a single period of only three years, its ODA [official development assistance] to Africa increased from $39 million in 2005, to $104 million in 2008.  The Government of the Republic of Korea has also provided strong support to the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development Agency — otherwise known as NEPAD.

This has especially been the case in promoting infrastructure projects, such as in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and my own country, Tanzania.

I can attest that the Republic of Korea has been a great friend and partner of Africa.  Indeed, the Government of the Republic of Korea should be credited for having used its presidency of the G-20 to put development issues high on the agenda of its leaders.

And to cement this strong and strategic partnership, and effectively achieve its own goals within the Republic of Korea's Initiative for Africa's Development — otherwise known as KIAD — the current partnership should support African countries' access to the global market, as well as promote the continent's interests in global issues.

The upcoming fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, to be hosted in Busan next month, provides another opportune moment for the Government of the Republic of Korea to support Africa's common position on aid effectiveness.  We need to move beyond aid effectiveness and to focus on development effectiveness, with the ultimate goal of reducing aid dependency, promoting self-reliance and long-term development.

In closing, let me stress one key message:  Africa's people need neither pity nor charity.  Respect, international solidarity and a level playing field will go a long way toward bringing a new dawn to the continent.  The United Nations looks forward to continuing working with all our partners, and all of you, to make that day come soon.

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to a lively discussion.

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