Addressing the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the start of what he called a “crucial year for global action to secure our global future,” the United Nations Secretary-General today said he looked forward to African countries realizing their massive cultural, human and economic potential.
“African countries have been the backbone and leading Member States of the United Nations since the day they achieved independence,” Mr. Ban said, noting their growth in numbers from four States in 1945 to 54 in 2015. “In this critical year, we need Africa to help guide the way to a world of sustainability and dignity for all the people, where nobody will be left behind.”
Throughout his speech, the Secretary-General stressed the centrality of Africa to the UN's work and promised that the UN would stand with Africa as a partner and the “strongest supporter” of the continent's efforts to achieve peace and security and all aspects of sustainable development.
The President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, also spotlighted the importance of the year ahead and specifically, his selection of the theme 'Delivering on and Implementing a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda' for his Presidency of the 69th Session.
Having launched the negotiating process for the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Mr. Kutesa said the post-2015 agenda' overarching objective would be poverty eradication. Adequate means of implementation – such as financing and technology development and transfer – and mobilisation of resources at the national level, through public and private channels, by attracting more foreign direct investment and by strengthening global partnerships, would be essential and he said he would convene a High-level Thematic Debate on “Means of Implementation for a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda” in New York on 9-10 February this year.
The Secretary-General pointed to gains already made thanks to the MDGs and looked forward to adoption of the post-2015 development agenda, including a set of sustainable development targets, and to a meaningful, universal climate change agreement in Paris in December.
“No continent has more at stake in these negotiations than Africa,” he stressed, underlining the importance of the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July. “Without resources, our commitments to sustainable development will amount to little more than fine words on paper.”
Fulfilling the aspirations and wishes of the continent's people required leaders to listen to their people.
“People around the world have expressed their concern about leaders who refuse to leave office when their terms end,” he said. “I share those concerns. Undemocratic constitutional changes and legal loopholes should never be used to cling to power.”
Alongside that call, the Secretary-General highlighted the AU's long history of supporting democratic transitions, saying that he hoped elections due to take place in African countries over the course of 2015 would be as peaceful and successful as those in Tunisia, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and others in 2014.
He noted other positive developments from the previous year, including affirmation by the AU's Human Rights Commission of the rights of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and the Cotonou Declaration on the abolition of the death penalty in Africa. He was also pleased to welcome the AU Commission of Inquiry report on South Sudan and the final report of the Commission of Inquiry for the Central African Republic.
The focus of the African Union's “Agenda 2063” on gender equality and the empowerment of women was another positive step and he hoped for its formal adoption during the Summit. However, he called for even quicker action, urging African States to make a deep and lasting difference to the lives of women and girls by 2020.
“We have much more work to do to unleash [their] tremendous potential,” emphasized the UN chief. “They need better access to secondary education, decent work and economic opportunities. They need more help to combat maternal mortality and poverty, and genital mutilation. They need more protection from the scourge of violence at the hands of men and boys.”
The General Assembly President also took up the AU Summit's “important and timely” focus on women's empowerment and Africa's development and said he would mark 20 years of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action by convening a High-level thematic debate on the subject on 5 March.
The event aims “to galvanize political commitment and action towards achieving greater gender quality and women's empowerment,” he said, citing equitable land distribution, property and inheritance rights, and access to credit and markets as critical steps for the empowerment of women.
“In this new era of Africa's progress, we must not shy away from taking bold decisions to empower women and girls,” he said.
The Secretary-General pointed to the need for Africa's development agenda to provide affordable, quality healthcare, a fact illustrated most clearly by the impact of the Ebola crisis. Having recently visited Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali, he praised the support, solidarity and generous contributions of African Governments and people to their efforts.
“We are seeing clear signs of progress,” he said. “I urge the international community to commit more resources at this critical time.”
Cooperation is also essential to the progress seen on the peace and security front, he said, pointing to several examples of combined operations, including the joint mission with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Burkina Faso, the partnership between the UN, the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) in Somalia, and continued collaboration between the UN and AU in Sudan and Libya.
Peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Great Lakes region required joint decisive action, and it was time to redouble joint efforts towards peace and stability in South Sudan. He also welcomed the specific focus of the AU's Peace and Security Council on the issue of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
“The humanitarian consequences are enormous, with up to one million people forced from their homes,” he said. “This group continues to kill Christians and Muslims, kidnap women and children, and destroy churches and mosques. We will never forget the girls and boys kidnapped from Chibok last April, and I will never stop calling for their immediate and unconditional release.”
As the UN reviewed its peace operations, including its peacekeeping missions and special political missions, he stressed that African troops remained vital to the UN's peacekeeping capacity. In that field, as in others, cooperation with African mechanisms would again be essential and he welcomed progress on the African Standby Force and the African capacity for crisis response.
Mr. Kutesa also called for strengthened cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organisations in Africa, pointing to the “tangible positive results” achieved so far. He said a thematic debate would be held in May on strengthening cooperation.
He also took up the issue of the threat of terrorism and extremism, stating the need to address it by promoting dialogue, tolerance and reconciliation.
“The recent terrorist attacks in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Pakistan, France and elsewhere around the world are a stark reminder of the threat posed by groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda,” he said. “We need collective action to defeat them.”
In addition, Mr. Kutesa said he was also prioritising reform of the Security Council to make it better reflect modern global realities.
“Today, the Security Council is one of the most undemocratic organs of the United Nations,” he said. “My effort is to work towards text-based negotiations, within the Inter- Governmental process. The need for unity and cohesion of the African Group on this issue cannot be overemphasised.”
The Secretary-General held a series of bilateral meetings with leaders attending the Summit, including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Chairperson of the African Union Commission. They discussed UN-AU cooperation and committed their two organizations to deepening their strategic partnership. The Secretary-General commended Dr. Dlamini-Zuma for her leadership of the AU Commission and her continuous efforts in seeking additional resources to support the work of the AU.
They exchanged views on the situations in a number of countries where the UN and AU are cooperating, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo/Great Lakes region, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and the Sahel. They also discussed the security threat posed by Boko Haram and the need to mobilize the international community even more on the regional response.
In his other talks, the UN chief met with Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of Somalia; Aminu Wali, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria; Michel Kafondo, Transitional President of Burkina Faso; Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia; Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea; Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya; Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi, President of Tunisia; and Edgar Lungu, President of Zambia.
Also on the margins of the Summit, the Secretary-General met with King Felipe VI of Spain.