UN Secretary General on African Development, 07/24/95

UN Secretary General on African Development, 07/24/95

United Nations Priorities for Development of Africa

Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali Address to the Economic and Social Council Geneva, July 4, 1995


I welcomed with great interest the final communique of the recent "Group of Seven" Summit held in Halifax and the proposals put forward therein to enable the United Nations system to promote sustainable development more effectively and to ensure a better distribution of the fruits of growth. ... I believe, as they do, that the "persistence of extreme poverty and marginalization of the poorest countries is simply not compatible with universal aspirations for prosperity and security". [see below, further excerpt from Halifax Summit]

Indeed, the end of ideological confrontation has not given the world the peace or development it has a right to expect. The progress made in the global economy seems to have bypassed the most disadvantaged countries. In some of them, the structure of the State itself has collapsed, and societies have been plunged into complete disarray. Poverty, hunger and illiteracy plague more than a fifth of the global population, and the social situation is deteriorating dangerously in many parts of the world.


For the present, you have decided to devote the high-level segment of this session to the development of Africa. And I support you wholeheartedly, for the African continent represents our most urgent priority in terms of its need for the solidarity of the international community.

Here again, I was very pleased to note the serious concern expressed by the industrialized countries at the Halifax Summit with regard to sub-Saharan Africa. I welcome their commitment to cooperate "with other countries to encourage relevant multilateral institutions" to reduce the extreme poverty engulfing Africa. The final communique of the Halifax Summit contains extremely interesting proposals concerning the United Nations system which should greatly inspire us. Today, this continent often baffles the world by continually giving the international community reasons for alternating between hope and discouragement.

Some short-term indicators may appear satisfactory. For example, in 1995, the growth of total output on the continent reached its highest level in six years. Moreover, some countries, owing primarily to economic policy reforms, have seen their gross domestic product increase in the past few years.

But the structural weaknesses are there, and in many cases, they are becoming more critical. The current improvement in growth rates is still much too slight to compensate for the lag accumulated over 15 years of economic decline.

Economic performance is disappointing, even in countries that have made substantial reforms. In 1994, for instance, two African countries, Angola and Eritrea, were added by the General Assembly to the list of least developed countries. At the same time, only Botswana moved out of that category.

Among the factors hindering Africa's development one can mention inadequate infrastructures, weak institutions, poorly utilized human resources, a great vulnerability to natural and climatic disasters and the impact of unfavourable terms of trade.

To this must be added the debt burden, runaway population growth and environmental deterioration. Twenty-five per cent of the arid lands in Africa, for instance, are today experiencing soil degradation. That is the highest percentage in the world.

We know also, though, that development in Africa is seriously hampered by the unstable political situation there.

Admittedly, South Africa continues to advance along the road to democracy. Peace has returned to Mozambique. And in Angola, the situation allows us to glimpse, at last, some real hope of national reconciliation.

Yet the African continent is still too often the scene of ethnic confrontations and civil wars that compound the existing poverty and underdevelopment. Some countries continue to offer us the distressing spectacle of peoples tearing each other to pieces. And in various parts of the continent, tensions are liable, at any moment if we do not take care, to degenerate into bloody combats.

At the end of 1994, Africa had nearly 7 million refugees and about 2 million displaced persons, which is the highest figure in the world.

We all know that institutional and political instability, persistent tensions and incessant confrontations are major obstacles to development.

Indeed, while there can be no peace without development, it is also not possible to have sustainable development without peace. Conflicts help to spawn poverty, and povrty is itself an undeniable factor in conflict. This vicious cycle absolutely has to be broken.

For years now, the United Nations system has been trying to overcome these difficulties and promote Africa's development. Within the whole spectrum of United Nations agencies and programmes, action is being stepped up with that goal in mind. The World Food Programme, the Economic Commission for Africa, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Childrens' Fund (UNICEF), and most of the specialized agencies are sparing no effort to bring help to the continent by way of technical, financial and humanitarian assistance.

But we must go still further. For it is essential to meet the increasingly pressing needs of African women and men. This is why the Organization has made the development of Africa one of its priorities for the 1990s.

As you know, this falls under the New Agenda for the Development of Africa, adopted by the General Assembly in 1991 and reviewed in 1994.

Last autumn, to round out the activities already undertaken under the Agenda, we made a point of launching a special initiative on behalf of Africa in the Administrative Committee on Coordination.

I asked that a steering committee be given the task of formulating specific projects in the short and the medium term to promote the development of Africa in areas like food security, institutional strengthening, private-sector expansion, desertification and social development. I am hoping your deliberations over the next two days will help give new impetus to this initiative.

As I see it, today, in order to sustain the development of the countries of Africa, the Organization must move in several directions that I believe should now have priority.

To begin with, the United Nations must help Africa to strengthen its regional structures. With this in mind, the bonds of cooperation that exist between the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity must be strengthened.

In this respect, I am heartened by the fact that the Treaty of Abuja, which I had the honour to sign and which established the African Economic Community, is now fully in force. And I can only applaud initiatives like that taken by the Tunisian Government when it organized, this May, a pan-African conference of energy ministers.

Furthermore, the United Nations absolutely must help African countries to diversify their economies. Africa's products have to be allowed access to foreign markets. It must be fully recognized that Africa is the only region in the world that may be hurt by the Uruguay Round agreements.

Indeed, the challenge to trade preferences and the anticipated rise in prices for food products, which the African continent imports more heavily than it exports, will probably not be offset, at least in the short term, by the trade stimulus which for other countries will be the chief result of the Uruguay Round.

Help is therefore needed to counterbalance this temporarily negative impact. Assistance should allow new export capabilities to be created and production to be diversified, with a shift especially towards non-traditional sectors. This was the thinking behind the creation of a diversification fund to facilitate the establishment of investment credits.

It is also necessary for the international community to decide at long last to take on the nagging problem of African debt. A large number of the countries in Africa are today crushed by an unbearable external debt burden, and many of them are accumulating unmanageable arrears.

The outstanding principle of Africa's long-term debt today amounts to $37 billion, accounting for half the outstanding debt of the entire third world. Obviously, the issue of finding the financial resources needed for African recovery and development will not be satisfactorily dealt with until the debt problem is solved.

I should like to draw your special attention here to the debt overhang of certain African countries with multilateral financial institutions. According to the World Bank, only six out of the 21 most indebted African countries are in a position to repay their debt, even under the softest borrowing terms.

Beyond the debt problem, I trust that the international community will not only maintain but also raise its level of assistance to the African continent. Africa is the only region in the world that did not benefit from the recent increase in private capital flows to the developing countries.

Except for a few countries, official financing remains the main source of capital for the African continent. The drop in official development assistance that occurred since 1993 is particularly alarming. One source of serious concern, in particular, is that the United States share in total official development assistance to African countries fell from 17 per cent 10 years ago to 12 per cent today. Only an increase in the European Union's share, which now accounts for 40 per cent of the total amount, has made it possible to make up for this reduction. The United Nations should also help African countries to establish effective social institutions. Let us never forget that social development depends, above all, on the political will of States.

The State cannot be reduced to a closed circle of political leaders. The State is, first of all, an administration -- one that is sound, honest, devoted, well-informed, concerned with public service and the general interest, and attentive to the social needs of its citizens, both men and women. We are all aware that social administration has yet to be created, for the most part, in many African countries.

Lastly, it is essential for the United Nations to support the efforts of African countries to improve public education and vocational training. Africa's population, far from being a handicap, is an inestimable resource and guarantor of its future, but only if enough food and medical attention are first of all assured. These are the basic conditions of social development. In addition, we must openly share our knowledge, constantly encouraging the transfer of technology and promoting communications and development in rural areas.

In this regard, I draw your attention to a proposal to finance research to promote a "green revolution" in Africa, which was formulated in the World Economic and Social Survey 1995.

Nothing will be possible for the international community, however, unless African men and women take their fate into their own hands.

I should also like to say that, in these efforts to further the development of Africa, I attach great importance to any initiatives that may be taken within the Organization of African Unity. This institution is one that, in my view, must play a larger role in promoting the continent's economic and social development. And, in this perspective, I hope that new ties will be established between the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations.

The United Nations must ask Africans themselves, all Africans, to become the driving force behind development efforts.

Governments, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and the African people all have a decisive role to play. I have no doubt that they will be able to take up the development challenge. I believe deeply in the capacity of African men and women for work, action, initiative and imagination. I am also aware of their strong sense of solidarity, without which real economic and social development cannot be conceived. I wanted to take these few minutes to reaffirm the importance I attach personally to the development of Africa. For me, this issue is one of the most essential and urgent of all those that face us. I eagerly await your comments and suggestions, so that we can work together towards the development of Africa.


From the G-7 Summit Declaration in Halifax, Canada, 18 June 1995, by the leaders of the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and the European Union

Reducing Poverty

28. An overriding priority is to improve the plight of the world's poor. Persistence of extreme poverty and marginalization of the poorest countries is simply not compatible with universal aspirations for prosperity and security. Sub-Saharan Africa faces especially severe challenges. We will work with others to encourage relevant multilateral institutions to: focus concessional resources on the poorest countries, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa, which have a demonstrated capacity and commitment to use them effectively, and take trends in military and other unproductive spending into account in extending assistance; direct a substantially increased proportion of their resources to basic social programmes and other measures which attack the roots of poverty.

29. We welcome the Paris Club response to our encouragement last year to improve the treatment of the debt of the poorest countries and urge the full and constructive implementation of the Naples terms. We recognize that some of the poorest countries have substantial multilateral debt burdens. We will encourage: the Bretton Woods institutions to develop a comprehensive approach to assist countries with multilateral debt problems, through the flexible implementation of existing instruments and new mechanisms where necessary; better use of all existing World Bank and IMF resources and adoption of appropriate measures in the multilateral development banks to advance this objective and to continue concessional ESAF lending operations.

30. Open markets throughout the world are also crucial to accelerated economic growth in the developing countries. Multilateral institutions should work to assist the integration of the poorest countries into the world trading system. We encourage the WTO to monitor and review the Uruguay Round's impact on the least developed countries.

In the two-day ECOSOC discussion on African development following the Secretary-General's statement, of the G-7 countries, only Germany, Canada and Italy made statements. The German statement was the most extensive. According to the UN press release:

HELMUT SCHAEFER, Minister of State, Federal Foreign Office of Germany, said the basic prerequisite for a successful development process in Africa was the greater integration of African States into the world economy. Participation in world markets implied that domestic macroeconomic policies had to be adapted to global economic process. That meant that governments should encourage a social culture in which the private sector could create more and better jobs. They should contribute to international trade, investment, internal savings and non-inflationary growth. Sustainable development, social and environmental issues should also become part of their political agenda.

A favourable legal and administrative framework and well-functioning markets would enhance the development of entrepreneurship and of small-and medium-sized businesses. All such conditions would help to increase confidence in domestic economic policies, create and mobilize savings and encourage productive investment and would facilitate the necessary permanent process of structural adjustment in African countries. Germany would continue to support Africa in all its efforts.

From: "APIC"
Date: Mon, 24 Jul 1995 13:51:03 +0000
Subject: UN Secretary General on African Development