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Kings College London Commemoration Oration

London, England

The international community and Africa’s leaders must live up to their commitments in terms of aid, trade and good governance to enable the continent to realise its potential, Kofi Annan says.

Thank you for that kind introduction – and for inviting me to give this Commemoration Oration.

When I look at some of the names which have come before me – GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, Julian Huxley, Field Marshall Montgomery, Desmond Tutu for example – I am aware of the honour you have given me.

It is a who’s who of achievement which I am humbled to join.

This prestigious list of names reflects both the influence this world-famous university has had on almost every aspect of human endeavour – and its international reach.

King’s is not only one of the best universities in the world but it is a institution – which you would expect from its place in the centre of London – which has looked out across the globe throughout its 180 year history.

You attract students and staff from almost every country, not just because of the quality of education you provide but also because of your ethos of service and preparing students to contribute to the well-being of their societies.

Many, thanks to their time at King’s, have gone on to to be a major force for good in their own countries.

None more so, of course, than my friend Desmond Tutu who studied here, taught here and gave this very same lecture four years ago – and who, from your website, I can see has a nightclub named after him in the students’ union.

Not something which many Archbishops or indeed Nobel Laureates can boast about…….. but one, I suspect, which secretly delights him.

When he gave his address, Africa, of course – and his own country of South Africa – figured large in what he said.

So, too, when Tony Blair spoke here two years ago when he reported on progress on Africa and climate change – two interlinked subjects – since the Gleneagles G8 summit.

So it is with a little reluctance I return tonight to the subject of Africa and the challenges still to be overcome.

I can, however, promise that my speech will be a little shorter than is normal.

This is partly because after my time as Secretary–General of the United Nations, I have heard quite enough of my own voice.

But largely because I very much prefer the rather more lively discussion and engagement generated by the Questions and Answers to follow.

It is certainly no reflection of the importance of Africa to me – as an African – or the world.

How the international community and Africa itself responds to the enormous challenges it faces, how we help its people make the most of their incredible potential and qualities will have a massive impact on all our futures.

And as it is today’s generation of young people and the leadership we need them to provide which will decide the direction of Africa, this university is a very appropriate venue for such a discussion.

We need that leadership – now and in the future.

Africa is at a cross-roads. It can continue to move forward or retreat, in the face of old and new challenges, letting the advances of recent years slip away.

And there have been advances. Improvements to the lives of hundreds of millions of people which often don’t get the attention they deserve.

In my life-time, I have seen Africa change enormously – and largely for the better.

We saw first decolonisation led by my own country of Ghana, the first attempt at nation-building and the long struggle against apartheid.

This was followed by a disappointing second phase – too often marked by civil wars, by dictatorships, economic stagnation and rampant corruption.

In recent years, we have entered a more hopeful new phase as Africa moves towards a new and better future for its people.

We have seen unprecedented economic progress with growth routinely exceeding 5%, outstripping both Latin America and the Middle East.

There is increased economic stability, record low inflation in many countries, and huge investment from outside – particularly from China and India.

Africa has traditionally struggled to attract investment, but now it is emerging as the next big thing.

Look at the record number of funds focused on sub-Saharan Africa launched in recent years.

Last year alone such funds raised over $5bn – a sure sign that investors have faith in the continent.

Since the turn of the century we have seen a 6% fall in poverty rates and rising prosperity across the continent.

Technology is opening up new opportunities within Africa, which is home to the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world.

We have also seen improvements in the standards of Government and leadership.

A new generation of African leaders are governing for the long-term interests of all their people and upholding the rule of law.

In Nelson Mandela, Africa can claim one of the most remarkable leaders in recent history.

And last year, I announced Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique as the first winner of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

Established by Mo Ibrahim – himself an extraordinary African success story – the Prize celebrates, as its name suggests, exceptional leadership on the continent.

In President Chissano’s case, that meant uniting a divided nation and re-building an economy devastated by a 16-year civil war – and then ensuring a democratic hand-over to his successor.

Mozambique is an example of how democracy is taking hold in Africa.

In fact, sub-Saharan Africa has a higher percentage of countries with Governments elected through multi-party elections than was the average for other developing regions.

Africa has its first elected women leader in Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson – a remarkable step for Liberia but also for women throughout the continent.

There has been progress on peace and security with the number of civil wars and inter-state conflicts continuing to decline.

The African Union is playing an increasing role in bringing peace and stability.

As a sign of growing maturity and determination to find answers to their own problems, African leadership pulled Kenya back from the brink of terrible conflict earlier this year.

The engagement of Africa with the outside world can be seen from the fact that 40 African heads of state and government are today in Japan to discuss the challenges the continent faces.

Across the continent, non-government organisations, trade unions and citizen groups are increasingly playing a bigger role in their societies and helping hold their Governments to account.

Last month trade-union action in South Africa prevented arms destined for Zimbabwe reaching their destination. It was a powerful symbol of the power of civil society in Africa.

We have seen real progress in fighting AIDS, which has done so much to hinder Africa’s development in the last two decades.

With better treatment, victims are living longer and more productive lives.

Through better prevention, the number of new cases is dropping in several countries.

We have seen how simple, low-cost, interventions—like fighting malaria with bed nets — can dramatically cut deaths from sickness.

Increased development aid and the debt write off for many of the poorest African countries has delivered often remarkable advances in the provision in health care and education.

The number of children in primary school has increased by a third since the turn of the century – with many more girls enjoying the benefits of education.

And, of course, South Africa will bring the World Cup to a football-mad continent in two years time.

We all hope that England will be there – although I have noticed that nothing can be taken for granted with your national team.

There are plenty of successes in Africa away from the headlines.

But this progress has not been as consistent, as fast or as extensive as we hoped.

And there are still too many parts of Africa where peace, prosperity and democracy remain a distant dream for their citizens.

More than 200 million people south of the Sahara live on less than $1 a day, ravaged by disease, betrayed by their leaders, starved not only for food, but for opportunity and hope.

Violent conflicts continue to rage in many spots on the continent, including Northern Uganda and Darfur.

About half the world’s armed conflicts, and some three quarters of the UN’s peacekeepers, are in Africa.

Millions of Africans remain at the mercy of brutal regimes, gangs and rebels with no respect for human rights, or even human life.

Every day, in Darfur, more men, women and children are being driven from their homes.

Villages are burned. Murder and rape are commonplace.

Beyond Sudan, less visible but no less devastating conflicts cry for action by Africans and others.

The crisis in Zimbabwe, the economic collapse of the country, is both intolerable and unsustainable, causing terrible suffering to its people and tarnishing the reputation of Africa.

So on the one hand we have progress – and on the other disappointments and even disasters.

And which way we go is in the balance.

We can see progress continue, become more secure, its benefits spread wider, the pace of change increase.

Or we can let Africa slip back, see the advances disappear as the continent and its people buckle under the old failures such as poor leadership and broken promises – and new challenges such as food shortages and climate change.

It is our choice.

The most imminent and pressing challenge we face is the cost and supply of food.

We need action to tackle the immediate food crisis in Africa and the long-term impact that climate change will have on food supplies and agriculture across the continent.

There is, as always, no single reason for the soaring costs of staple foods.

There is the increased demand from growing economies, the high cost of oil which affects transport costs, the large-scale switch to bio-fuel production and the bulk buying of foods for profit.

But what we do know already is that it is the poorest who will suffer the most.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation has warned that over half of the countries worst affected by the current crisis are in Africa.

Without immediate action, we are certain to see – indeed are seeing – many thousands more deaths directly or indirectly through malnutrition.

The international community must respond generously and urgently.

But we also need action to tackle the fundamental structural problems which are undermining agricultural production across Africa.

For shortage of food in Africa is nothing new. Africa is the only continent that cannot feed itself.

Away from the high-profile famines, there has been a silent hunger in many parts of rural Africa now for 30 years.

The reason is easy to understand. Africa’s population keeps increasing but agricultural yields have stagnated for the last forty years.

With the lowest use of fertiliser in the world and poor crop varieties, grain yields in Africa are a quarter of the global average.

Less than five per cent of Africa’s cultivated land benefits from irrigation.

The rate of de-forestation is 200% higher than the global average.

Africa has the poorest soil in the world – something made worse by soil nutrient mining.

We need nothing less than a green revolution in Africa, transforming every aspect of farming on the continent.

Our farmers need better seeds, soils, and prices for what they sell.

They need access to water, to fertilisers, to markets and credit.

They need support from their Governments and the wider international community to accelerate rural economic growth.

For more than a decade, Jacques Diouf and his colleagues at FAO were voices in the wilderness, clamouring for effective political action and investment in agriculture. Regrettably, the governments ignored them. Thank heavens we all realize today the urgency of the crisis.

This transformation is the aim of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa – AGRA – which I chair.

With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation and in partnership with many others, we have launched a programme to improve crop varieties, seed production and distribution systems for African farmers.

It is a big job as the crops grown widely in Africa are far more varied than the rice and wheat which were the focus of the successful green revolution in Asia.

And we are addressing our plan to tackle the soil fertility, water and market challenges that African farmers face daily.

We need to channel as much effort into overcoming these challenges as we do into tackling the short-term food shortages we now face.

The path to prosperity, to tackling poverty, must begin in the fields of Africa’s farmers.

And, of course, this also takes place against a background of climate change.

Africa’s great lakes—Victoria, Tanganyika, and others—are shrinking.

Water is becoming more scarce. Deserts are advancing.

Climate change may be the world’s responsibility, it may be the richest countries which are most to blame for what is happening in our atmosphere.

But again it is the people of Africa who will pay the most severe price and, of course, have the least resources to cope.

Experts have warned that because of climate change already underway, agricultural productivity in parts of Africa could fall by as 50%.

Other richer continents can survive such a fate. Africa and its people can not.

There has to be sufficient support, as we are seeing through the United Nations-led Adaptation Fund, to help Africa cope with the inevitable impact of climate change.

We need support as well to harness the tremendous resources for renewable energy across the continent.

Lack of energy and infrastructure deficits are serious brakes on African development and growth.

The ability of Africans to create jobs and income depends in large part on a reliable supply of energy and safe roads. There is enormous scope for improvement, particularly investment in regional projects.

Above all we need the international community – and the developed world in particular- to face up to their responsibility to future generations and our planet and take the action needed to cut greenhouse gases.

We need, again as a matter of urgency, to break the deadlock over trade negotiations which have now been stalled for three years.

The unfair restrictions and practices we have in place are holding back Africa’s development and keeping millions of people in poverty.

We need courage and vision to remove the obstacles – including the fears generated by the current financial crisis – which are preventing an agreement which will help everyone.

There is a danger, too, that this crisis will be seized on as another reason not to meet commitments made to increase aid to Africa and the developing world.

The world needs to show courage and vision here as well.

It was, I believe, at this event two years ago that Tony Blair announced the setting up of the Africa Progress Panel.

The aim was to measure and encourage progress against the commitments made both by the international community and Africa Governments themselves.

The Panel, which I chair, will be reporting in a few weeks. But it would be no surprise to many of you here tonight to learn that progress has been mixed.

In some areas such as debt relief, the picture is good. The writing off of the huge debts has allowed countries to invest the money in real improvement for the citizens.

Millions more children are in school and there has been improved access to health care directly because of the commitments made and met by the G8 countries.

But without unprecedented efforts, the commitments made to double aid by 2010 will not be met.

It was the efforts of millions of people which persuaded the G8 leaders to make these promises.

We need a similar campaign in the coming months to keep Government to their word.

Governments need reminding that the only promises that count are those that are met.

It is often forgotten, of course, that there were also commitments made by African Governments to get their own house in order.

Here, too, the Panel can report progress but also real disappointment.

We need African leaders – and that means all its leaders – to realise that they must govern in the interests of all their people, respect human rights and not treat their countries as their own personal fiefdoms.

When I became Secretary-General of the United Nations, I warned that some African leaders still viewed human rights as a rich country’s luxury.

Others treated them as an imposition, if not a plot, by developed nations to undermine their hold on power.

A decade on, there are still countries where these beliefs are used by their leaders to deny their citizens the most basic human rights as they cling onto power.

It is time we exposed this self-destructive form of racism and made clear that tyranny has to be opposed whether the despots are white or black.

So there are huge challenges to overcome – and as I said the direction that Africa takes remains in the balance.

But I am an optimist.

I believe that the international community increasingly sees that a stable and prosperous Africa is in everyone’s interest – a matter of self-interest as well as a moral cause.

I also have confidence in the enormous talents and potential within Africa itself – and that given a chance, we will see problems overcome and progress accelerated.

The future we want for Africa is one where the death sentences of extreme poverty and infectious disease are finally lifted.

Where all its people are free from fear, where violence and war belong to history.

Where all live in dignity, governed by their own consent, under law, in a society where all individuals can speak, worship and associate freely.

In sum, there can be no long-term security without development, and there can be no long-term development without security, and no society can long remain stable and prosperous without respect for human rights and the rule of law.

It is a huge challenge. But we should not despair.

If we make the right choices, show the necessary courage and commitment, we can create the climate where it is achievable.

Africans are keen and ready to press ahead and I am confident we shall succeed.

Thank you. I look forward to our discussion.