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
The report by a panel of international experts has been widely applauded by world leaders at the summit, who say the U.N. failures that led to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the 1995 massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica must never be repeated.
“The darkest pages were written in Rwanda where, under the indifferent eye of all of us, a genocide was committed,” said Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose country lost 10 U.N. soldiers in the opening days of the massacres in central Africa.
He called for a new concept of operations for peacekeeping that would include rapid-reaction regional peacekeeping capabilities.
Blair called for a similar radical change.
Beyond peacekeeping, several African speakers called for the United Nations and its members to address the root economic causes.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the chairman of the Organization of African Unity, decried how the world’s wealthy countries continued to get richer while Africa’s poor suffered under crushing debt.
“Can we one day free ourselves of this crushing yoke and at last devote our resources to our development and the well-being of our populations?” he asked.
Moi Criticizes Fellow Africans
Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano complained that Africans weren’t reaping the benefits of globalization and were in fact suffering even greater economic inequalities while also trying to deal with the AIDS epidemic.
“This in turn constitutes a source of frustration and conflicts that pose serious threat to international security, stability, democracy and peace,” he said.
While echoing those views, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi turned the criticism toward his fellow Africans for having allowed wars to fester for generations on a continent that can little afford to fight them or care for their refugees.
“These conflicts also make a mockery of all attempts to reduce poverty — the greatest challenge faced by our continent,” he said.
But he cautioned against the “dangerous pessimism” that Africa was a lost cause, saying its people wanted peace and prosperity.
“I declare our confidence and faith in the future of Africa,” Moi said. “I hope you share this confidence too.”