UN chief hails 'turning-point in Africa's history'

Africa may be at a turning point in its history if its leaders and the Group of Eight (G8) powers can implement a new plan to lift millions out of poverty, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Thursday.

“By and large we know what needs doing—and have known at least since the Rio Conference 10 years ago,” Annan said. “But we have been much too slow to act on that knowledge.”

Annan was speaking after leaders of the Group of Eight nations—the most industrialised powers plus Russia—met with four African heads of state to develop a joint plan to drive the continent’s future development.

Africa is promising clean government and strong economic policies in return for rich nations’ renewed investment and state aid to battle HIV/Aids, fight poverty and provide basic education for all.

Annan said it was now critical that both sides lived up to their commitments—Africans to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), and the G8 heads to their G8 Africa Action Plan.

“If Africans really stick to the commitments they have made in Nepad to themselves, and to each other, and if the G8 really carry out the Action Plan they are announcing today, this summit might come to be seen as a turning-point in the history of Africa, and indeed of the world,” Annan said.

In two months, the World Summit for Sustainable Development in drought-stricken South Africa would give an indication of whether or not the challenge was being met, he added.

Meanwhile, “there is an urgent need to bring humanitarian relief to people in acute distress, and the United Nations and donor nations are doing their best to meet that need,” the UN chief said.

“But it is no less urgent for the world as a whole to learn the lessons of that drought, which gives us an ugly picture of the fate that lies in store for us, or for our children, if we do not find models of development that are genuinely sustainable—economically and socially as well as ecologically.

“Those issues are of extreme importance, not only to Africa but to the whole world,” he warned. - Sapa-AFP

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