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Statement by Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra, at 2011 Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference

March 4, 2011

 Statement by Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General

Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States

at UN Association Event on the theme:

Africa’s transformation in the 21st century: Capturing its economic dynamism

New York Friday, 11 February 2011

Madame President, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you on the theme: Africa’s transformation in the 21st Century: Capturing its economic dynamism, a subject which is very timely because the continent of Africa is indeed undergoing a remarkable change.

But before I speak about the sweeping changes taking place in Africa’s economy since the turn of the century, we must recall the amazing transformation that Africa went through in the last century, namely the 20th century, from a continent largely controlled by outside powers to a region of 53 sovereign independent nation states; from a region whose abundant natural resources were exploited mainly for the benefit of others, to one where increasingly, Africans were taking control of their destiny, and developing their resources for the benefit of their own peoples.

 Today, 53 African countries are members of the UN General Assembly, the OAU has been transformed into the AU, with a renewed commitment to the upholding of fundamental human rights, the rule of law, democracy, the empowerment of women, and the promotion of regional integration. The doctrine of non-interference has been replaced with one of non-indifference; the era of military strongmen and coups d’étât has been replaced by a firm commitment to reject unconstitutional changes of power. Africa is slowly and steadily consolidating its own institutional architecture in peace and security, including the AU Peace and Security Council; the Panel of the Wise; the Pan-African Parliament; the Early Warning System and the African Standby Force. These are some of the important milestones in the transformation of Africa in the 21st century.

In the economic area, Africa’s own blueprint for the region’s renewal, NEPAD, has provided a wide-ranging strategy for African governments to fully engage with their own people in a partnership for meaningful institutional and policy reform. NEPAD has also provided a new basis for partnership with the international community. In infrastructure, agriculture, health care, education and several other strategic sectors, Africans are making major strides in laying the foundations for a vibrant new Africa, better able to play an effective role in the international community.

From a level of a few million subscribers in 1998, Africa today has more than 400 million cell phone users, making Africa the fastest growing region in terms of expansion of use of the mobile telephone. Major new highway corridors are being built to connect North Africa and the Maghreb with West, Central and East Africa. A West African Gas Pipeline Project is underway so that the vast natural gas resources of Nigeria can be effectively utilized by other countries in the region. Similar major multinational infrastructure projects are underway in several parts of the continent with the help of private investors and the donor community. This is yet another important aspect of the transformation of Africa in the 21st century. This is how Africa is seeking to capture its economic dynamism.

But the transformation of Africa is not simply a matter of roads and bridges, harbours and dams, factories and farms. There is also a far-reaching transformation of Africa at the human level. Many more Africans are in school; in some countries girls enrolment has almost caught up with that of boys; in several African countries there are more women enrolled in universities than men; for the first time, Africa has an elected woman Head of State; and in Rwanda, South Africa and several other African countries, women constitute either a majority, or a significant proportion, of the legislature.

 Africa today is a young continent, with more than half of the one billion population comprising the youth – full of idealism, energy, creativity and optimism. Some members of this vast assembly of young Africans have become global superstars in soccer such as Samuel Et’o, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien. African fashions, music and food are making a growing impact on the global stage – often promoted by dynamic young Africans in the diaspora. Youssou N’Dour is a world renowned musician. All these constitute other dimensions of the rapid transformation of Africa in the 21st century which we are witnessing today.  Hundreds of thousands of African professionals as well as ordinary men and women working in many parts of the world, sending home ever-growing amounts of money in the form of remittances, and establishing small businesses in their countries of origin, are also participants in the growing transformation of Africa at present.

But in discussing Africa’s transformation, and capturing its economic dynamism, we must also mention the tremendous impact of Africa’s steadily expanding economic relations with such new strategic partners as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), India, Brazil, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Turkey. These new partners of Africa are providing tens of billions of dollars to support African efforts to build the necessary infrastructure which will enable the continent to make a big push towards the attainment of the MDGs and the fulfillment of the goals of NEPAD.

Today, the international community recognizes that Official Development Assistance (ODA) has had many drawbacks and failed to fulfill its goals in a number of areas. A new consensus has emerged, enshrined in the Paris Declaration of Aid Effectiveness, and the Accra Agenda for Action. At long last, the recipient country has been placed at the center in the discussion of aid, and there is much greater focus on making full use of the increasingly abundant human resource potential of African countries themselves.

Finally, in discussing the transformation of Africa in the 21st century, we cannot fail to mention the extraordinary impact of the efforts of such charitable institutions as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a host of others, whose combined efforts are saving lives, building capacity and empowering women all over Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A new Africa is steadily emerging, full of promise, dynamism and creativity. Through the hard work and commitments of its own people, Africa is indeed capturing its economic dynamism. What remains to be done is to change the perception of the rest of the world on Africa, as they did about China three decades ago. From an ever-assisted and conflict and pandemic stricken continent, we should see Africa as a land of potential and new opportunities.

I thank you.

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