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At Harvard, Annan urges support for Africa's new spirit of democratic empowerment

At Harvard, Annan urges support for Africa's new spirit of democratic empowerment

An emerging spirit of democratic empowerment in Africa deserves international support, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today in a speech to Harvard University in Boston, United States.

Delivering the Godkin Lecture at the Kennedy School of Government, the Secretary-General stressed that increasingly, African societies were being led by accountable and democratically elected leaders, while attempts to undermine democratic gains have been met with resistance. "What all this amounts to, in my view, is a new spirit of democratic empowerment throughout Africa - a spirit that can sustain belief in progress even in the most difficult times," he said.

"In Africa, as elsewhere, we have learned from painful experience that authoritarian and highly personalized forms of governance, ethnic discrimination, and violations of human rights have been at the root of conflict," Mr. Annan said. "Conversely, Africans, like others, have also learned that only democratic governance - by protecting minorities, encouraging political pluralism, and upholding the rule of law - can channel internal dissent peacefully, and thus help break the cycle of conflict and poverty."

The Secretary-General said it was encouraging that pressure for good governance in Africa "is no longer coming from one side or the other, but from peoples and leaders alike." He added that the spirit of democratic empowerment "is challenging all leaders to live up to the ideals of independence, and to deliver the freedoms, the rights and the opportunities that their peoples deserve."

Mr. Annan called for a "sober and realistic" assessment of challenges ahead, including tackling severe poverty, helping societies to end - and rebuild from - conflict, fighting the AIDS pandemic and ensuring adequate development assistance. "To defeat the conflicts, cure the diseases and alleviate the multiple hardships that have held the continent back, Africa will need to summon all the wisdom, political will and creativity it can muster," he said, calling on industrialized countries to help in this endeavour.

"Africans today are showing courage, determination and responsibility in their struggle to lift their countries out of war and poverty," he said. "Supporting these efforts has never been more vital to the interests of the developed world."