Marking the 42nd Africa Day, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and General Assembly President Jean Ping today reflected on the prospects for continent-wide democratic reforms, peace and reconciliation, poverty reduction and control of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and called 2005 a landmark year.
"The process of democratic consolidation continues to gain impetus, with many countries achieving successful transfers of power through open electoral processes," Mr. Annan said in his message. "Implementation of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) is gathering pace, with progress in several programmes, including the African Peer Review mechanism to which 25 countries have voluntarily subscribed.
"2005 could well be a crucial year for Africa," he said, pointing out that a UN summit in September will review the Millennium Declaration, with its goals (MDGs) to wipe out a massive amount of extremely negative socio-economic factors, especially in Africa, by 2015.
"'In Larger Freedom,' the report that I have put before the UN membership, contains wide-ranging recommendations for helping Africans in their quest for security, development and human rights," he said.
Other reports and meetings offering opportunities to generate more international support for Africa's development were the UN-commissioned Millennium Project and High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change report, the UK's Commission for Africa report, the General Assembly's financing for development meeting in June and the Group of Eight (G-8) most industrialized countries' summit in July, Mr. Annan said.
Reviewing a history of African solidarity in the struggle for independence from colonialism and apartheid, Mr. Ping said, "Not only is the number of conflicts on the continent diminishing but above all, economically Africa will soon represent a market of nearly 1 billion consumers, almost as big as China."
Through NEPAD, African leaders can look forward to better integration of African economies into the international system through economic and political good governance, he said, as he also enumerated the many opportunities available to the continent's leaders this year.
On the question of UN reform, he called on Africa "to play an active and dynamic role throughout this long and crucial year."
"Africa can and must play its role in ushering a world that is more united, more prosperous, freer and more confident," Mr. Ping added.
At the same time, they both drew attention to the challenges lying ahead.
Much of Africa, especially south of the Sahara, continued to suffer from the tragic effects of violent conflict, extreme poverty and disease, while in the Darfur region in western Sudan "attacks and displacements have continued and at least 2.6 million people are in urgent need of assistance," Mr. Annan said.
Too many countries were suffering from poverty and the high prevalence of disease, especially HIV/AIDS, while hard-won development gains were reversed and Africa lagged behind the rest of the developing world in achieving the MDGs, he said.
Mr. Ping noted that Africa enjoyed only 2 per cent of international trade and its per capita income has declined 11 per cent in the last 25 years, while average per capita income in the rest of the world had increased 2 per cent per year.