As the General Assembly met Thursday to consider how best to help Africa in its efforts to promote peace and development, top United Nations officials highlighted the gains made so far and called for greater engagement to consolidate progress as well as advance even further.
"Thursday, a new Africa is rising. The quest to unite the continent, and transform it into a region of economic prosperity and social justice, has never been closer to fulfilment," Vuk Jeremic, the President of the General Assembly, said as he opened the thematic debate on the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Africa.
He told the 193-member Assembly that growth rates in many parts of Africa have been "resilient," even though a number of countries have been amongst the hardest-hit during the global economic crisis.
"Despite this troubling reality, trade and investment has expanded, and the continental-wide internal market has been built up over the past several years. By any measure, this progress is remarkable and unprecedented," he noted. "Yet much more needs to be done before the gap between the promise of Africa and the reality on the ground is fully bridged."
Among those participating in the meeting was President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea; the former President of Burundi and current High Representative of the African Union on Mali and Sahel, Pierre Buyoya; and several other ministers.
Jeremic said the debate aimed to provide an occasion for Member States to present concrete proposals for how the UN can help consolidate Africa's gains; to encourage the international community to deepen its support for the continent's efforts to promote durable peace and sustainable development; and to celebrate the African Union's 50th anniversary, which will be commemorated next month at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"I believe the world must engage much more resolutely to help bring to an end the conflicts that continue to tragically claim the lives of so many Africans," he stated, adding that the situations in Mali, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR) remain sources of great concern.
"Notwithstanding recent progress in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, the fragility of the entire Sahel-Sahara region needs to be addressed in a much more concerted fashion," he stated.
He added that the international community must devote more attention to the complex security issues faced by the continent, from terrorism, secessionist threats and transnational organized crime, to the proliferation of arms, effective peacebuilding and mass migration.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed that Africa is one of the top priorities for the UN. "From development to preventive diplomacy, from peacekeeping to capacity-building and much else, we work day in and day out alongside our African counterparts towards long-term peace, prosperity and human rights," he stated.
He went on to say that "the path from colonization to emancipation has been rocky," but that has not stopped the people of Africa from resolutely marching forward.
"Africa has made great strides," the Secretary-General stated. "This is not always an easy message to get across. But the facts speak for themselves. Africa Thursday is home to seven of the world's ten fastest growing economies. More Africans live under democratic systems than ever before..."
"Steady gains are also being made in consolidating peace and security," he continued. "Insecurity in the Central African Republic, Mali, the broader Sahel region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the unconstitutional transfer of power in Guinea-Bissau, cannot disguise the fact that the number of conflicts in Africa continues to decline."
The UN is committed to supporting the peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts in Africa, Ban said, highlighting several recent positive achievements, from the peaceful presidential polls in Kenya to Sudan and South Sudan moving ahead to resolve outstanding matters in a constructive manner.
"The resolution of conflicts in Africa, or anywhere else, cannot just be a matter for elites to decide," he added. "Communities must feel they have ownership of these initiatives and processes.
"The AU and the UN can and must work to find inclusive and durable solutions and strengthen the capacity of all actors to engage in the peaceful resolution of conflicts, especially women."