NATIONS - The 190-member U.N. General Assembly formally endorsed Monday a
new initiative to rebuild and rejuvenate one of the world's most crisis-stricken
and war-ravaged continents: Africa.
"I am delighted to join you for this important meeting dedicated to exploring ways in which the international community can support the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a special meeting of the General Assembly.
The one-day meeting, which specifically focused on Africa, was addressed by several African heads of state and heads of government who arrived in New York last week for the opening of the 57th session of the General Assembly.
South African President Thabo Mbeki said that through NEPAD, Africa could create a new path to prosperity.
"What had hindered Africa's development in the past was the absence of resources
to facilitate the realization of its development objectives," Mbeki said.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said that NEPAD reflected the continent's determination to launch a new development path whose objectives were designed by Africans.
"Africa was increasingly marginalized within the global economy because of its conflicts, the spread and aggravation of poverty, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis," he said.
"Therefore, it became necessary to move off the beaten track, and identify a new approach, with new premises, bases and objectives, and new steps of implementation."
NEPAD aims to achieve 7.0 percent annual growth, so Africa can meet one of the goals laid down by the 2000 U.N. Millennium Summit: halving poverty on the continent by 2015.
Up to half of Africa's population now lives on less than one dollar a day. And of the 49 least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the world's poor, 37 are African.
Africa's economic growth is estimated at 3.4 percent this year compared with 4.3 percent in 2001 and 3.5 percent in 2000, according to a U.N. report released last April.
But it is generally thought that 7.0 percent growth will only be achieved through the infusion of billions of dollars in development assistance, increased foreign investment, a rise in commodity prices, unfettered market access for African goods and reduction or elimination of external debts.
A resolution adopted by the Assembly on Monday welcomed NEPAD "as an African Union-led, -owned and -managed initiative" and "a serious commitment to addressing the aspirations of the continent."
The Assembly also urged "the U.N. system and the international community, in particular donor nations, to assist with NEPAD's implementation."
The initiative for NEPAD came from four African nations - South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Senegal - which have taken a leading role in shaping the plan of action.
The plan, which received its formal blessings at a summit meeting of the 53-member
African Union in Durban, South Africa last July, was endorsed by leaders of the
Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries in Canada in June.
African leaders say that about 64 billion dollars in aid and investments are needed annually to fight poverty and disease, and also rebuild the African continent.
But the G-8 countries - the United States, France, Britain, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy and Russia - have pledged only about eight billion dollars annually, starting in 2006, to help bolster Africa's economic development.
NEPAD has also been described as "seriously flawed" because it depends on that aid money, much of it with strings attached.
African nations have been asked to promise a wide range of political and economic reforms, including multi-party democracy, free and fair elections, respect for human rights, the elimination of corruption, transparency and accountability, market access and free market economies.
Several non-governmental organizations, including Action Aid and Oxfam, have
criticized Western donors for offering "peanuts" in return for those commitments.
"NEPAD has been instrumental in mobilizing discussion about Africa, but beyond
that we have serious concerns, including the fact that NEPAD has been developed
in a closed way and doesn't reflect the priorities of the African continent,"
said Amboka Wameyo of London-based Action Aid.
The strongest Western backing for NEPAD has come from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
Chretien told the Assembly on Monday that Canada expects NEPAD to be the centerpiece
of the U.N. agenda. The time for talk had passed, he said, adding that Canada
has already decided to commit six billion dollars to Africa's development.
Beginning January next year, Canada would also eliminate tariffs on products from developing nations, Chretien said.
But Blair has already expressed disappointment over the lack of African support for his campaign against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has been accused of forcibly taking white-owned land, mostly from settlers of British origin, and giving it to landless peasants.
Blair has also accused Mugabe of rigging presidential elections and suspending the rule of law - both of which go against the basic principles of NEPAD.
At the recently concluded U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in South Africa, Mugabe lashed out at Blair accusing Britain of continuing its old colonial policies.
"Blair, you keep your England, and I will keep my Zimbabwe," Mugabe said amidst cheers from some African delegates.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told the General Assembly on Monday that urgent action was required to redress inequitable development, including increased official development assistance (ODA).
"Africa was seeking to lift itself up by its own bootstraps through NEPAD, and hopes for greater support for it from the international community," he said.
"Massive assistance" was needed to combat the scourges of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases on the African continent, added Obasanjo.
Copyright 2002 IPS