Towards Eliminating Racism and Discrimination Against People of African Descent
It is good to be in the presence of the men and women who continue to dedicate their lives to promote the interests of the governments and peoples of Africa and the African Diaspora within this Organisation, which was instituted some seventy-eight (78) years ago to foster international peace, development and global co-operation amongst Member States.
When I received the invitation by the President of this Association to speak to this group, I accepted without hesitation. The attempts by other competing demands of State did not deter me from being present, and neither has the enduring cold weather of New York City been successful in holding me off.
Ladies and gentlemen, when some of the nations of the world gathered in San Francisco 73 years ago, and signed the landmark document that created this organisation, it was a very different world from what we have today. Virtually all of Africa was in colonial bondage, and was, thus, not present at San Francisco.
In spite of this, Africans have made sterling contributions to the United Nations. In respect of the most representative organ of this Organisation, the General Assembly, by 1960 we had Mongi Slim of Tunisia presiding over the 16th Session, succeed by Alex Quaison-Sackey of Ghana who was the President of the General Assembly for the 19th Session, in 1964. Not to be outdone, Angie E. Brooks of Liberia became the first African woman President of the General Assembly during the 24th Session in 1969. Since then, we have had many more distinguished African’s leading the General Assembly, with the latest being Prof. Mohammed Tijani of Nigeria.
In the Secretariat of the United Nations, that powerful but underemphasised organ, we have also had some illustrious Africans and others of African descent blaze a trail of excellence. The list is long and extensive, but I would mention a few. Ralph Bunche, who made New York city his home and visited Ghana at her independence, alongside Martin Luther King and other African Americans, made an influential imprint on this Organisation; Kenneth Dadzie, who became Secretary-General of UNCTAD, but could have also become Africa’s first Secretary-General much earlier, if fate had been on his side, made a phenomenal contribution to the UN’s work on trade and development; Dr. Boutrous Boutrous Ghali, the powerful Egyptian statesman, who bequeathed to us the Agenda for Peace; and, of course,
my own compatriot, Kofi Annan, of whom I cannot say enough. In peacekeeping also, we have had some wonderful Africans who have done an excellent job.
I have mentioned these names not because they are the exception, but because they reflect the better-known names of the high-quality human resource that Africa has contributed consistently to this Organisation, including at the highest level.
Ladies and gentlemen, in focusing on the theme of tonight’s address, I have often said and strongly hold that Africa is not a poor continent. It is a continent rich in culture, in values and in diversity, but also a continent that is rich in strategic resources, strong intellectual capacity, and in possession of an ambitious aspiration.
It is estimated that Africa is blessed with over thirty percent (30%) of the world’s remaining natural resources; it has a vibrant and dynamic youthful population; it presently serves as a growing market for the world; and, by 2050, one in four persons on the planet will be an African. Within our continent and in the African Diaspora, we have enough financial and human resources to turn around the fortunes of Africa and meet the aspirations of our people for inclusive prosperity.
It is for this reason that our people continue to call for the transformation of our continent. Following the extensive consultations that took place on the continent and in the Diaspora, there is consensus on “The Africa We Want” and on our ambitions to achieve “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa by 2063.
Let me share a few key points which, I believe, we must focus on in changing the story of Africa. The first is that we must focus on Africa’s integration as a driver for enhancing Africa’s competitiveness. The continent has a continuing need to integrate its national economies, markets and societies, open up untapped regional opportunities and unleash its synergies to resolve nagging national challenges. This has been the driving force behind the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, whose Secretariat is located in Ghana’s capital of Accra, which became operational in January 2021 and is aimed at:
(a) creating single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of persons and investments;
(b) resolving the challenges of multiple and overlapping membership of Regional Economic Communities; and
(c) enhancing competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level. Presently, intra-Africa trade stands at about sixteen percent (16%), compared to fifty-four percent (54%) in North America and seventy percent (70%) in the European Union. Estimates from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) indicate that the implementation of the AFCFTA should increase intra-Africa trade by some fifty-three percent (53%) through the elimination of import duties and non-tariff barriers, and create an African market of over 1.2 billion people, with a GDP in excess of 3.5 trillion US dollars.
As we can see, Africa’s economic strength and potential are not reflected by the shared benefits of its participation in the global economy. The state of African economies shows a deficiency in global financial and trading arrangements that have been structurally defined to work against Africa and its people. Thirty-three (33) of the forty-six (46) Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are on the continent of Africa.
We must, thus, work to ensure a fairer international financial architecture that treats Africa without a racialised bias in accessing credit required for our development, but also in the manner by which our products are granted access to global markets. In this regard, I support the assessment of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has said that the international financial system is morally bankrupt, as it favours rich countries against the less rich. We must put our political weight and intellectual support behind the SecretaryGeneral’s call for the reform of these institutions that no longer deliver on the promise they held for the expectations of the many, as more countries slide into economic difficulties with further instability ahead. A rearrangement of the structure of the financial architecture should go beyond the International Financial Institutions. The regulations of the major financial markets would need to be improved to ensure that the interests of big market actors are not served at the expense of weaker players, including during global systemic crises. Credit rating agencies, who do the bidding of their masters, have done a great disservice to African economies in this regard.
As African countries, we have decided to move forward with the development of a pan-African credit rating agency to ensure greater transparency and fairness, as well as the development of sovereign risk pools in order to spread financial risks evenly, just as we have also established a Pan-African Payment Systems to remove the currencyrelated cost of trading amongst ourselves under the AfCFTA. My remarks should not be misunderstood to mean that Africa is bracing herself against the rest of the world. Rather, throughout history, Africa has taken care of the world, and we believe that it is time that we take care of ourselves, if the world is not prepared or willing to solidarise with us.
Africa would, therefore, forge ahead to ensure that its foreign investment receipts conform to the high ethical standards expected elsewhere, and that Africa is not ripped off finances that she does not have and financing she cannot afford to lose through illicit financial flows. As we scale up domestic resource mobilisation efforts, Africa cannot afford the estimated eighty-eight billion United States dollars (US$88 billion) that haemorrhages annually from the continent in illicit financial outflows. From what I have indicated so far, it should be clear that, as Africans, we have much more to do, but then we are willing to do what is required? For those of you in the United Nations, I believe it also calls for a renewed understanding of the continent’s engagement with this Organisation. Since our early years of independence, Africa countries have sought a deepened engagement in our quest to rebalance global development that assures the broad human aspiration for growth and development, sustainable livelihoods, prosperity, peace and security. Already, the crisis unleashed by COVID-19 has derailed our progress, and we are running behind the targets envisaged in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Financial commitments by more developed economies have failed, and the capacity of nations to respond has been severely weakened.
The fact that, since the launch of the first Development Decade some sixty (60) years ago, Africa continues to be where she is, is a reflection that, on the development pillar, we have received more rhetoric than tangible support. It is, therefore, important that in the programmes and initiatives that you pursue in relation to the countries of Africa they should be tailored towards the continent’s own ambition, and aimed at reinforcing its actions.
All of us, therefore, have a duty to contribute our quota in changing Africa’s narrative, and asserting an African personality that is dignified, respected and treated with equality globally.
Ladies and gentlemen, you may recall that, on 20th September 2018, at the Washington Press Club, in Washington D.C., capital of the United States of America, in front of the Congressional Black Caucus of the United States Congress, I proclaimed 2019 as the “Year of Return”, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the time when the first twenty (20) captured West African slaves were brought to the Commonwealth of Virginia, which subsequently became part of the United States of America, thereby initiating one of the most unfortunate and barbaric episodes of human history – the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. With seventy-five percent (75%) of the slave dungeons built on the West coast of Africa, through which the slaves were transported, located in Ghana, we believe we have a responsibility to extend a hand of welcome back home to Africans in the diaspora. It was our hope that the ‘Year of Return’ would be a joyful and learning experience all round for all of us on the continent and our kith and kin from the diaspora, especially in affirming our determination that never again should the African peoples permit themselves to be subjected to such dehumanising conditions, sold into slavery, and have their freedoms curtailed. It proved to be just that. That is why we have decided to look beyond the return, and build on the dividends chalked. The time has come to engage Africans in the diaspora and all persons of African descent more positively in areas such as trade and investment co-operation, and skills and knowledge development and transfer.
Together, we must help place the development of Africa at the centre of the pre-occupations of the African diaspora, for we need always to remember the iconic words of the great Jamaican reggae musician, Peter Tosh, who said, “don’t care where you come from, as long as you are a black man, you are an African.”
Our prospects are bright despite enduring challenges, and, with a common determination, we would succeed as the continent of hope and opportunities.
May God bless Mother Africa and us all.
I thank you all for your attention.