Burdened by debt, war, poverty and AIDS, Africa is getting special attention at the U.N. Millennium Summit, with world leaders calling for a new commitment to bring the continent out of its misery and give its people hope.
“One more day of delayed action is a day too late for our people,” pleaded Botswana’s President Festus Mogae, whose country is among those hardest hit by AIDS. “Our people are crying out for help. Let us respond while there is time.”
Mogae today appealed for “tangible and adequate resources” to educate his people about the virus, test and counsel them, and provide them with the expensive drugs now being used to combat the disease. A third of Botswana’s adults are infected with HIV.
Mali’s President Alpha Oumar Konare called for world leaders to “assume the duty of our generation” and combat ignorance about AIDS, the leading killer in sub-Saharan Africa.
Education of Africa’s young and women, he said, “must enlighten the new millennium.”
Call for Partnership to Help Africa
About 150 world leaders — the greatest assembly of presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and other rulers in history — listened as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Clinton, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and a long line of others addressed the unprecedented session Wednesday.
Qatar’s Emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, opened the summit’s second day by urging the United Nations to get more involved in Mideast peace efforts — a call that came as leaders, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, planned meetings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to try to persuade him to make decisions needed to conclude a peace agreement.
But Africa remained a major concern. Blair, in an address focused entirely on Africa and U.N. peacekeeping, had called for world governments to enter into a new partnership with the continent to help it settle its conflicts and encourage its economies to develop.
“There is a dismal record of failure in Africa on the part of the developed world that shocks and shames our civilization,” Blair said. “We should use this unique summit for a concrete purpose: to start the process of agreeing a way forward for Africa.”
Security Council Schedules Meeting
The heads of state of the 15 Security Council members today scheduled a special open council meeting on peace and security in the next century. The wars in Sierra Leone, Congo, and Eritrea-Ethiopia are among the biggest challenges currently facing the United Nations.
The U.N. peacekeeping department has taken on enormous duties in recent months in Africa, but has found itself at a loss to carry them out effectively because of poorly trained and equipped troops spread over large areas — Congo itself is one-fourth the size of the United States.
In Sierra Leone, 500 U.N. peacekeepers were taken hostage last May by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front — an embarrassing debacle that led to calls for U.N. member states to provide peacekeeping troops who are trained, equipped and willing to counter such challenges with force.
A recent U.N. report, commissioned by the secretary-general for the summit, recommended a complete overhaul of the peacekeeping department. It called for the equivalent of a ministry of defense to modernize and professionalize the peacekeepers, so troops can deploy rapidly and take action in clear cases of aggression.
Radical Changes in Peacekeeping