Magazine article UN Chronicle

The United Nations System-Wide Special Initiative on Africa: Ten-Year, $25-Billion Drive for Development

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The United Nations System-Wide Special Initiative on Africa: Ten-Year, $25-Billion Drive for Development

Article excerpt

Africa is at a critical point in its history--full of renewed promise but beleaguered by economic and social emergencies that continue to drain precious resources. Recognizing this challenge of global development, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on 15 March launched a ten-year, $25-billion UN System-wide Special Initiative on Africa.

A multi-billion dollar programme of concrete actions designed to accelerate African development, the Special Initiative aims over the next decade to greatly expand basic education and health care, promote peace and better governance, and improve water and food security.

The UN system's most significant mobilization of support ever for the development of a continent's people and its largest coordinated action, the Special Initiative will also be backed by a year-long effort to mobilize worldwide political commitment and support for the development activities of African countries. Some of these activities are already under way.

Participating in the global launch were James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, and the executive heads of UN agencies in Geneva, Nairobi, New York, Paris and Rome.

A live link-up to Addis Ababa enabled Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and current Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim to provide an official response on behalf of Africa. Mr. Zenawi said the Initiative was "fully in line with Africa's priorities and interests", and was being launched at a time when there was a need for steps to ensure its development.

Paying for progress

In comparison to the $767 billion the world's nations spent in 1994 on military preparations, the financial resources needed to implement the Special Initiative seem modest. The UN has broken down the various components of the Initiative into two types: those requiring substantial resource mobilization and implementation, and those calling mainly for strengthening and rationalizing existing efforts. The lion's share of the $25 billion will come from a reordering of priorities in

African national budgets, and reallocations of existing levels of multilateral and bilateral official development assistance (ODA), as well as new resources. The exact mix will be determined through a series of consultations at the regional and national levels.

The Initiative will also try other ways of releasing funds for development, including deeper debt relief, enhancing South-South cooperation, expanding trade opportunities and moving private investment and new technology into Africa.

"The issue is how we spend the money", Mr. Wolfensohn said at a 15 March press briefing, in which heads of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) also participated. Spending existing amounts efficiently would make a major difference. Putting the sum into perspective, he noted that private investments were over three times the size of ODA--$170 billion compared to $50 billion. One of the outcomes of the Initiative should be an improvement in how resources were used, not just how much was actually generated, he stressed.

At the launching ceremony, Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali called on the international community "to demonstrate its commitment to the development of a continent which remained a source of constant concern". But the Initiative was also a message to men and women in Africa, he said. …

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