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Africa Day, 28 May 2008
28 May 2008 / 11:49


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my capacity as the Chairman of the African Group for the month of May, I welcome you all for this 45th Anniversary celebration of the founding of our continental body, the African Union. The theme for this occasion is apt and appropriate: Africa: The future is ours! It reminds us that while our past, our history and our rich heritage are vitally important, this is essentially true if they better prepare us for the challenges which lie ahead; to be ready to assume our proper place at the table of nations and continents.

Let me begin by expressing our appreciation for the pertinent observations made by H.E. Dr. Srgjam Kerim, President of the General Assembly; H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General; and H.E. Ambassador Augustine Mahiga of Tanzania, representing his President, the current Chairman of the African Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If today's proceedings appear to be taking place in a smooth and organized fashion, credit must be given to the efforts and dedication of a team of women who combined their creativity and ingenuity to make this event a reality. Indeed, the dynamic and tireless leadership of Dr. Dawn Cooper Barnes, spouse of the Ambassador of Liberia, the U.N. African Ambassadors Spouses Group is growing in stature and credibility. We owe them a special "thank you". We, the Permanent Representatives of Africa pledge our full support to the success of our spouses in this common objective.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Common perceptions aside, there are a number of indications that Africa has turned a corner, and may be on the road to more rapid continental growth. Several economies are growing at impressive rates, primary school participation rates are increasing, and greater recognition has been given by African countries to the collective need to work together. In many respects, Africa is a wealthy continent, blessed with resources that are increasingly in demand in the global economy.

The African Union has become the entity through which Africa will collectively galvanize itself for development, trade and various forms of cooperation. Its ultimate objective is noteworthy, being the political and economic integration of the continent, leading to the creation of the United States of Africa.

We cannot, of course, ignore or overlook the critical challenges confronting the continent today, and they are many. Even a partial list would include poverty, health, environmental degradation, and conflict; and yes, we need to worry about transnational crime and terrorism. The need to improve drastically our performance toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals is also extremely important.

In addition, Africa must be extremely concerned with the indisputable evidence that human-induced climate change is underway. Its most disastrous impact will take place in developing regions, especially Africa. Unfortunately, the vulnerability of Africa's socio-economic and productive systems is very high, emanating from its low mitigation and response capacities. Changing weather patterns, severely reduced rainfall and water levels, and rising ocean levels will all play havoc with Africa's habitats and ability to feed itself. Resolution of this crisis will require a wide ranging, inclusive agreement to curb the negative effects of climate change between the developing and developed World.

Fortunately, the African Union has recognized that climate change poses a grave potential threat to Africa's population, ecosystems and socio-economic progress, and is undertaking several initiatives to address it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As nations and as a continent, Africa has forged strong bonds with the UN over the last five decades. We have benefited enormously from its advice, expertise, and inclusiveness. In a world where the spoils so often go to those with economic, political, and military strength, Africa's needs and concerns at this stage of her evolution and growth, could be overlooked. The UN offers developing countries a platform to present their views, to play a role in global issues, and benefit from the skills and knowledge accumulated by the UN and its agencies. We believe it is in Africa's interests, and the world, for the UN to be a stronger, relevant and vital institution. With the changes taking place around the world, the coming of age of "new" regions economically, politically and militarily, the benefit of this world platform cannot be underestimated.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to state that Africa Day must increasingly represent a day when we take stock, recalibrate our goals and targets, and strengthen our commitment, energy and spirit for all things African. We must take homage from it, learn from it and improve it. It deserves serious yearly planning, and must become a fixture in our cooperation and unity. Africa Day must serve to remind us that Africa's day is coming.

In conclusion, I want to leave you with the thoughts of Mr. Faten Aggad a South African researcher, at the South African Institute of International Affairs: "As an African I ask: we celebrate our culture, but do we think of ways to preserve it? We celebrate our people, but do we know how we will save them from wars and poverty? We celebrate our natural wealth, but do we think of ways to allow our people to benefit equally from it? We celebrate our youth, but do we think of ways to satisfy them so that they don't board boats and cross seas only to come back in coffins? We celebrate the beauty of our wilderness and nature but do we know how we will save it from climate change?"

Thank you.