The President of South Africa today urged the United Nations to live up to the promises of an ‘African Century’ marked by renewal on a continent that has known great degrees of suffering.
Thabo Mbeki’s appeal to world leaders gathered for the General Assembly’s annual debate was echoed by a number of other African leaders calling for measures to help lift the continent’s people out of poverty.
“Those who populate the poorest part of the regions of the world – Africa – have boldly declared that it will be an African Century,” President Mbeki said. “If the wishes of the majority of the world could turn into reality, this would be a century free of wars, free of internecine conflicts, free of hunger, free of preventable disease, free of want, free of environmental degradation and free of greed and corruption.”
But he warned against empty promises. “Billions of poor people are increasingly becoming impatient because every year they hear us adopt declaration after declaration, and yet nothing practical is done to assuage the hunger pains that keeps them awake at night.”
He also decried the inequalities prevailing in the world and the indifferent response of rich countries. “Something is seriously wrong when people risk life and limb travelling in suffocating containers to Western Europe in search of a better life. Something is wrong when many Africans traverse, on foot, the harsh, hot and hostile Sahara Desert to reach the European shores. Something is wrong when walls are built to prevent poor neighbours from entering those countries where they seek better opportunities.”
The UN, he said, could make a significant difference. “Even as we face the cold reality of the indifference of the many among the rich and powerful, this Organization of the peoples of the world has continued to offer hope and the possibility of the fulfilment of the aspirations of the majority of the peoples of the world,” he said.
Denis Sassou-Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo, welcomed positive developments in Africa, including the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and peace consolidation in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Burundi. But he called for action to support the African Union (AU) troops in Darfur, Sudan, and appealed to the country’s Government to exert all possible efforts to address “this tragedy that we see unfolding before our eyes.”
He also voiced support for AU efforts to seek an enlargement of the Security Council, stressing that it must be made more representative, and its working methods must be reformed.
Ghana’s President John Kufour drew attention to the scourge of small arms and light weapons, which he said had an especially devastating impact on Africa. While noting that the world is still “far from achieving” international goals for tackling the scourge, he said Ghana “welcomes the current momentum within the international community to move closer to the ultimate goal of drastically removing the menace.”
President Kufour, on a more personal note, also paid tribute to his countryman, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who this year completes his second and final five-year term at the helm of the UN. “There is no doubt that he retires with an enviable legacy of contributing immensely to shaping the destiny of this Organization and the affairs of the world,” the President said. “Ghana is proud and looks forward to receiving him historically home.”