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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.