President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria celebrates Africa Day at UNESCOPresident Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who is also serving as the Chairman of the African Union (AU), outlined Africa’s achievements, development plans and expectations during a visit to UNESCO on the occasion of Africa Day celebrations. During the visit, President Obsanjo and the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, signed a Joint Communiqué paving the way for reinforced cooperation.
“Today, my intent is actually to celebrate Africa,” President Obasanjo declared, “to show that Africa is moving away from being a region of hunger, pain, misery, backwardness and perpetual bad news, to a continent of opportunity, possibilities and progress.”
Reviewing recent international efforts to support Africa’s “fight to break the debilitating cycle of poverty and conflict”, the President spoke of a “new wave of reforms […] based on dialogue, consultation, monitoring and periodic reviews […].” He warned that debt was “a direct obstacle to growth and development and, by implication, an obstacle to democratic consolidation.” Reforms already undertaken to promote good governance and create an enabling environment for the private sector justified international debt relief, he argued. “Africa will not develop or make progress when its meagre resources are frittered away on debt servicing […]. We simply cannot run when our legs are bound and our hands tied behind our backs.”
The President spoke of Africa’s “commitment to peace and conflict resolution,” and said that “in West Africa, the AU, working very closely with ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States], is moving tirelessly to bring lasting peace to the sub-region. Thus, in Côte d’Ivoire,” he said, “the agreement brokered under the auspices of the AU has been closely watched and monitored to avoid pitfalls that may derail the disarmament programme and election due in October […]. In Togo, we have been able to avoid a disguised military coup and reduce the magnitude of violence normally to be expected after 38 years of one-man rule or misrule. We have had an election that will provide a basis for a government of national unity and reconciliation. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN are jointly managing the situation in Guinea Bissau,” President Obasanjo added.
Efforts for peace and stability in West Africa are coupled with efforts to implement fully free trade agreements for the region and to create a single monetary zone unified in a common customs territory and single market, the President declared, saying that this should open up the whole region to investors.
President Obasanjo was equally upbeat about progress in improving peace and stability for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Chad, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Cameroon and said that, regarding the Sahara issue, “we depend on the UN for a lasting solution.”
Progress “does not mean that the over 800 million people and 54 nations will not have problems and challenges,” the President said. “It only means that we have a new sense of history, a new appreciation of global balances, a better view of constraints and challenges posed by globalization, and a deeper sense of internal unity dedicated to promoting growth, development and democracy.”
Speaking of the need to “reverse the brain and brawn drain”, the President said that “whatever changes we are to undertake or promote in the next decades must and should have substantial local content for it to reflect our culture, world views, industry and spirituality.” In this context, he thanked the Director-General of UNESCO for his support for UNESCO programmes in Africa and in Nigeria.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, for his part, declared that “Africa Day is an occasion for Africa to take pride in its achievements and to face the future with hope and confidence.”
He outlined UNESCO’s growing cooperation with the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and announced that the basis of a new Cooperation Agreement was prepared during a visit last week of a delegation of the African Union Commission, headed by its Chairperson, President Alpha Oumar Konaré. The Cooperation Agreement, emphasising education and human resources development, is to be signed at a later stage, he said.
The Director-General furthermore stressed cooperation in science and technology: “We recognize that scientific research is an area of priority need. While there is enormous talent in Africa in this area, the lack of scientific networks both on the continent and with other continents is a major handicap.”
Mr Matsuura announced that he had decided to establish the Mori Fellowships scheme* to help overcome this problem. “These new Fellowships, drawing upon a fund established by the Japanese Government, will enable 20 PhD candidates from sub-Saharan Africa to finalize their scientific research at the doctoral level by spending two six-month visits, over a period of two years, at the [UNESCO] Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy,” he said.
Expressing the wish for increased cooperation in culture, particularly in the field of tangible and intangible heritage, Mr Matsuura concluded: “I hope also that, given its rich and varied cultural traditions, Nigeria will be among the first countries to ratify the convention on the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage.”
* “The Fellowships are named after former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who hosted the G8 Summit in Okinawa in 2000 and made it an occasion for developing dialogue between the G8 leaders and leaders of developing countries, including three prominent Heads of State from Africa - President Mbeki, President Bouteflika and, of course, President Obasanjo.
Photo © UNESCO/Michel Ravassard