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At African Union Summit, Annan hails progress but urges further action

1 July 2006 – While hailing significant progress achieved by Africa in fostering development, human rights and security, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told leaders of the continent's countries gathered in the Gambia today that much remains to be done to solidify and build on these advances.

"There are still huge obstacles to be overcome if Africa as a whole is to reach all the Millennium Development Goals," he told the African Union Summit in Banjul, The Gambia, referring to a set of antipoverty targets set at a 2000 UN Summit.

"But our progress on some of the individual Goals is deeply encouraging," he added, citing examples of increased enrolment ratio in schools, lower AIDS prevalence, greater availability of safe drinking water and overall economic growth, with 27 African countries protected to see their gross domestic product expand by more than 5 per cent next year.

"Today, one thing is clear to all of us here: Africa's development disproves the distorted and widespread image of our continent as a sea of undifferentiated poverty," he said.

The Secretary-General also lauded progress in security. "Compared to a decade ago, the number of violent conflicts has dropped dramatically. Africans are increasingly taking ownership of the peace and security agenda," he observed.

On human rights, he recalled that nine years ago, he had chided some African leaders for viewing that issue as "a rich country's luxury for which Africa was not ready" or for treating it "as an imposition, if not a plot, by the industrialized West."

He said since then, "Africans have demonstrated that human rights are African rights."

But at the same time, he cautioned against undue optimism. "Let us not deceive ourselves. Overall, the number of Africans living in extreme poverty continues to increase. The spread of HIV/AIDS continues to outpace our efforts to halt it. Food security continues to elude us, and the environment continues to degrade. Youth unemployment continues to rise.

"The conflicts in Darfur, Côte d'Ivoire, Somalia and northern Uganda continue to outrun efforts for a solution. Despite elections, many Governments continue to suppress opposition parties and a free press. Many continue to exclude certain groups from participation in public life. Many continue to practise or tolerate large scale corruption. Too often, the exploitation of natural resources continues to benefit only a few."

To build on progress to date, he called for "a comprehensive strategy for the future, one which gives equal weight and attention to the three pillars of development, security and human rights."

Mr. Annan, whose second and final five-year term ends on 31 December, personally pledged to support the effort into the future. "I will no longer be Secretary-General of the United Nations, but, as long as I have strength, I will keep working with you to reach that destination."

Speaking to reporters following a meeting held today with the presidents of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria as well as the Chairman of the African Union Commission, the Secretary-General said they had discussed the situation in Côte d'Ivoire with its President, Laurent Gbagbo.

"This is part of a series of consultations that we have been carrying out in our determination to ensure that we stick to the time table that we established for elections in Côte d'Ivoire," he told the press, adding that consultations will continue on 5 July.

Elections are scheduled for the end of October in Côte d'Ivoire, where the UN and French peacekeeping forces are stationed in a neutral zone separating the Government-ruled southern region and the rebel-held north.

© MBM

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