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Help Africa, and Asia will help itself: Kofi Annan

Straits Times, Singapore
Asia will be helping itself as well if it does more to engage Africa and partner the continent in its development…

Former UN chief talks about the benefits of ties at public lecture

ASIA will be helping itself as well if it does more to engage Africa and partner the continent in its development, said former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan yesterday.
That is because a prosperous and successful Africa will provide trade opportunities and a louder voice of support for common goals shared by the world, said Mr Annan.
The world’s former top diplomat was giving a public lecture here on links between Asia and Africa, and how the two could learn from each other and strengthen their partnerships.
He also cited factors on why Asia should step up efforts to engage Africa.
Said Mr Annan: ‘Asia has been reaping benefits from its relationship with Africa, including greater market access, for years.
‘It now has a responsibility to help Africa along the path of development it has itself trodden so well.’
Mr Annan was giving a 30-minute lecture as the first Li Ka Shing Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. It was followed by a dialogue moderated by LKY School’s dean, Professor Kishore Mahbubani.
The event at the National University of Singapore’s University Cultural Centre drew an audience of 1,000, mostly academics, students and government officials. Senior Minister S. Jayakumar was also present.
The professorship was set up in the name of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing, who donated $100 million to the school’s endowment fund in 2007.
Mr Annan was the UN secretary-general from January 1997 to December 2006, when South Korea’s Ban Ki Moon took over. The Ghana native, who turns 72 on April 8, and the UN jointly received the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for working for human rights and to defuse global conflicts.
He met several Singapore political leaders including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, after arriving here on Wednesday for a week-long trip.
In his lecture, Mr Annan first noted the divergent paths taken by countries in Asia and Africa since their decolonisation from the late 1940s.
He cited how South Korea is among the world’s richest while Sudan is among the poorest, though both had similar per capita income 40 years ago.
One key difference, said Mr Annan, is that Asian countries understand the importance of political commitment to national development, and creating and spreading prosperity.
African government leaders, however, tend to believe they alone can be trusted to rule the countries, he said.
‘The result becomes government for the ruling elite rather than society as a whole,’ he said.
What African policymakers must learn from Asia is to make comprehensive plans to create jobs, develop skills, boost education, improve infrastructure and modernise agriculture, he added.
Mr Annan also listed three ways Asia, with its growing economic and political power, can help Africa.
These are: ensuring a mutually beneficial partnership, sharing valuable experience and building much-needed capacity, and supporting African priorities on the world stage.
Mutually beneficial ties are crucial in the light of the growing controversy over some Asian countries’ engagement in Africa because the trade and investment have not led to growth and poverty reduction on the continent, he said.
But he recognised that what works in Asia may not work in Africa owing to the diversity of political cultures, history and geography.
He also acknowledged that African nations face a tougher terrain today, compared with what Asian countries encountered in the post-colonial era.
He pointed out some of these challenges: stricter international trade rules, serious structural barriers like high transport costs, and deep-seated corruption and poor governance.
The lively, 45-minute dialogue saw Mr Annan fielding about 20 questions.
Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh asked Mr Annan for a list of non-corrupt, pro-business African countries that foreign investors can consider.
Mr Annan named South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Mali, Rwanda and Burkina Faso.
He said the infrastructure and energy sectors in Africa are areas that provide investment opportunities.
Asked if he has political aspirations to lead Ghana, Mr Annan said: ‘This issue had come up before and I said ‘no’.
‘I’ve had the chance of leading the UN and that was enough. It was easier than jumping into Ghanian politics.’