Deputy Secretary-General Tells African Ambassadors ‘Africa’s Positive Engagement in Rio Will Make It a Success, and Success in Rio Will Be Success for Africa’

24 May 2012

Deputy Secretary-General Tells African Ambassadors ‘Africa’s Positive Engagement in Rio Will Make It a Success, and Success in Rio Will Be Success for Africa’

24 May 2012
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General Tells African Ambassadors ‘Africa’s Positive Engagement


in Rio Will Make It a Success, and Success in Rio Will Be Success for Africa’


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the African Ambassadors’ Group on “Building on Africa’s Recent Progress”, in Washington, D.C., 23 May:

I am honoured to address this distinguished group.  I feel very much at home.  Every year on Africa Day, we recognize the people and promise of Africa.

This observance marks the date of the founding of the Organisation for African Unity.  For the past decade, the mantle of continent-wide solidarity and common progress has been worn by its successor, the African Union.  And, each year, the partnership between the United Nations and the African Union grows stronger.  We see it paying dividends as Africa advances on all fronts — from peace and security to good governance and success across the Millennium Development Goals.

I am delighted to speak tonight on such a positive subject — building on Africa’s recent progress.  African economies have shown remarkable growth since the beginning of this millennium.  The era of stagnation is over.  Recent economic growth in Africa has outpaced performance in much of the rest of the world.  Even during the global financial crisis, Africa’s economies have still managed positive growth — 2 per cent in 2009, even as the world economy shrank by the same amount or more.  In 2010, African economies grew by more than 4 per cent.  The latest United Nations forecast puts the pace of African growth at a similar rate for this year, and it is expected to rise again in 2013.

Today, I will talk about what has changed compared with previous decades, when African countries seemed more prone to economic collapse than success.

But first, let me be clear: it is not all economic sunshine.  There are large job deficits and success is not uniform throughout the region.  Most recently, Northern African economies were set back, at least for the short term, by the political transitions of the “Arab Awakening”.  In East Africa, especially in the Horn of Africa, severe droughts provoked food emergencies.  But elsewhere, we are seeing robust growth — 7 per cent a year or more in countries such as Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique and Rwanda.  Performance in my own country, [the United Republic of] Tanzania, has also been strong.

So tonight I will address two questions: What has changed?  And how can we ensure that this robust economic growth persists and is felt by our people across Africa?

In answering the first question, I would like to make three points.  First, there is a more balanced interaction between traditional and new drivers of growth.  Increased commodity prices lifted by strong growth in Asia have benefited many countries in Africa.  Countries have been able to direct much more of the revenue to strengthening their own economies.  Other countries, such as Malawi, have boosted long-neglected agricultural sectors through targeted support.  In many countries, investment in education and infrastructure, and more stable political and economic environments have led to surging domestic activities, including banking, retail trade and telecommunications.

In several cases, this has triggered new economic dynamism.  For example, the pioneering use of mobile banking has given many Africans who previously lacked access to effective money management the ability to save and invest.  Such examples also show the powerful transformative effect of creating an environment conducive to private sector innovation.

The second, peace is gaining momentum.  Many countries have emerged from conflict into more stable political environment.  The third noticeably new characteristic of growth in Africa is the shift in trade relations.  Economic ties between Africa and other emerging and developing economies have strengthened.  China has become a major trading partner, as well as a source of investment finance, not least for infrastructure.  Cooperation with other key partners like Brazil, India and Turkey is also on the rise.  This is helping to reduce Africa’s dependence on developed countries for markets and development assistance — and points to the significant benefits to be derived from South-South cooperation.

We should welcome these developments, but significant challenges remain.  While Africa’s trading base has broadened, dependence on commodities remains high and trade among African nations is still low.  And while African countries have made considerable progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, progress has been uneven and needs to be accelerated.

Despite relatively robust economic growth, the target for poverty alleviation will not be met for quite some time.  High unemployment is a particular problem, especially in urban areas.  In Southern Africa, well over 20 per cent of workers are jobless.  In North Africa, high unemployment, especially among youth, was a major catalyst for the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia.  In West Africa, youth unemployment has been described as a time bomb that could reverse the gains made by countries recovering from conflict.  In short, the economic diversification taking place has yet to be dynamic enough to absorb the growing labour force.

Food insecurity is another threat.  The recent food crisis in the Horn of Africa has affected millions.  Another crisis is unfolding in the Sahel.  This is a reminder of the imperative of investing in sustainable food agriculture that is resilient to droughts and other natural hazards.

Another major challenge is inequality.  The many advances of recent years have failed to close the inequality gap.  Disparities in health, education and participation in society are preventing millions of Africans from realizing their potential, and holding back social and economic progress.

Finally, significant infrastructural bottlenecks remain, especially to support agricultural development and to overcome the geographical constraints of the many landlocked countries of the region.

This brings me to the second question: what more needs to be done to address these challenges, and further accelerate Africa’s progress?  I see four key factors.  First, countries must take a long-term perspective on growth and development.  While commodity prices will always be volatile, they should remain strong for the foreseeable future.  Therefore, it will be critical to properly manage revenues from land deals, exports and natural resources.  They should fund substantial long-term investments in education, health, infrastructure and the productive capacity of small farmers and businesses.

Second, it will be necessary to promote economic diversification and strengthened intra-African trade ties.   I am pleased to see you have chosen this theme for this observance.  There are still far too many obstacles to trade among Africa’s nations.  Current tariff and subsidy arrangements need to be reassessed.  While cross-border tariffs can be important sources of revenue, they can also suffocate trade.

Regional approaches to infrastructure are equally important in facilitating trade.  In this context, recent financing for the rehabilitation of the railway connection between Uganda and Kenya is a prime example.  The project is expected to bring significant improvements in transport time and cost, not only for Kenya and Uganda, but for South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi.

Third, we need to strengthen our institutional frameworks.  Policies can only be as good as the institutions charged with implementing them.  Accountability, transparency, democracy and good governance will enable more effective natural-resource management and the protection of property rights, including for traditional forms of land ownership.  They will encourage investment — whether from partner Governments or the private sector, which is playing an increasingly important role in development.

Fourth, and perhaps most critically, we must ensure that growth is environmentally sustainable.  Climate change is already affecting food security, rainfall and water management.  Tanzania’s power output fell almost 2 per cent in 2011 due to the drought.  This underlines the need to intensify adaptation efforts, including sustainable farming and water management, and harnessing the significant potential for renewable energy generation.

These issues — from renewable energy to oceans to jobs and social protection — will be on the table at next month’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio.  Rio+20 offers a major opportunity to support Africa’s sustainable economic growth and stability.  There is now less than a month to go until the conference begins.  The final negotiating sessions are just days away.  Much remains to be resolved.  What is needed now is flexibility, imagination, ambition and leadership. 

It is important to remember that Rio+20 is not an end, but a beginning.  The outcome document is not a binding treaty.  It is an agenda for shaping a new paradigm for equitable, inclusive sustainable growth.  As Africa’s representatives, I urge you to ensure your Governments make the most of this once-in-a-generation chance.  Africa’s positive engagement in Rio will make it a success.  And success in Rio will be success for Africa.  Africa is a dynamic continent.  I am optimistic about its future.  Thank you for your attention.

* *** *

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