Africa: At UN, African Leaders Voice Range of Concerns, From Development Issues to Council Reform

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The UN General Assembly.

Malawi's President Joyce Banda today called on the United Nations General Assembly to ensure that an ambitious programme adopted last year to spur development and economic growth in the world's Least Developed Countries (LDCs) be fully and speedily implemented.

"In particular, duty-free quota-free market access and supply side capacity must be ensured to the least developed countries," President Banda told the Assembly on the second day of its annual General Debate, adding that implementation must be "in its entirety and in an effective and timely manner."

The Istanbul Programme of Action, adopted at a UN summit in the Turkish city in May 2011, outlines a 10-year plan to support the most vulnerable countries in efforts to overcome poverty, calling on the private sector to play a greater role in the fight, urging wealthy nations to step up aid commitments and demanding the elimination of many trade barriers.

The summit focused on ways to harness the potential of the 48 countries - many of them in sub-Saharan Africa - classified as LDCs so that they can lift themselves out of poverty and develop economically. Under the programme, affluent countries have committed to realize the target of spending 0.15 per cent to 0.20 per cent of their national incomes on official development assistance.

The plan also calls for the abolition or reduction of arbitrary or unjustified trade barriers, and the opening up of markets in wealthier countries to products from poorer nations.

President Banda also welcomed the outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Brazil in June, when countries renewed their political commitment to sustainable development, including the development of a strategy for sustainable development financing.

"Most least developed countries are facing the adverse effects of climate change, which is causing flooding, land degradation as well as drought," she said. "Implementation of these agreements is very crucial for our future."

The Malawian leader joined other African countries in demanding an expansion of the 15-member Security Council to include at least two permanent and five non-permanent seats for the continent.

"Africa makes the single largest region within the United Nations and a very significant proportion of issues discussed in the Security Council concern the African continent," she noted.

In his remarks to the General Debate, King Mswati III of Swaziland said full representation of all regions in the Council will ensure that "we all own the decisions of this important security organ."

"We wish to reiterate the African position on the Security Council, that of having two seats in the permanent category and five seats in the non-permanent category," he added. "We should all be given equal treatment. No region or country should impose its influence over others. We wish to see finality to this urgent matter since it has dragged on for a very long time now."

Making a similar argument in his remarks to the gathering, Mali's Prime Minister Mohamed Abdoulaye Dit Modibo Diarra noted the current "imbalance" affecting Africa on the issue.

He also said that only the deployment of forces from the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), under UN authorization, would succeed in recovering northern Mali from Islamic militants who seized control there earlier this year, imposing strict Sharia law, including amputation of limbs as punishment, and leading to the flight of 350,000 people, both internally and as refugees to neighbouring countries.

In his statement to the Assembly, Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh, calling for Africa's full representation on the Council, criticized the current structure as a stumbling block to urgent action in crisis flashpoints such as northern Mali, Syria and Guinea-Bissau.

"The paralysis displayed by our common security mechanisms is astounding," he said. "Geopolitical interests have trampled the goodwill and humanitarian concerns that should compel us all to address these raging infernos, be it in the Middle East, Asia or Africa."

"Our collective security will continue to be undermined by geo-political considerations unless and until we find the courage to reform the Security Council," President Jammeh continued. "Ongoing conflicts in Mali, Guinea-Bissau and Syria are recent cases in point. The Security Council should not be the stumbling block in the settlement of disputes by peaceful or other means."

The Gambian leader also called for full implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action, warning that it "must not be written in the language of broken promises, unfulfilled commitments and weak resource mobilization."

Addressing the General Debate, Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum of Niger joined Mali in calling for a Security Council resolution authorizing ECOWAS military action in northern Mali. Action "must be immediate without any delay because it is well known that battle is deferred to one's own detriment," he said.

"Consequently the international community, in particular the Security Council must with out delay take charge of the Mali crisis in order to restore a united, democratic and secular Mali," he said.

Côte d'Ivoire's Foreign Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, in his remarks to the General Debate, echoed the concerns of his colleagues, calling on the Council to endorse an ECOWAS force in northern Mali. "The presence of movements linked to terrorist groups in northern Mali constitutes a veritable threat that can entail, if nothing is done, the implosion of the whole West African and Sahel region."

In his statement to the Assembly, the Central African Republic's Foreign Minister, Antoine Gambi, stressed that an expansion of the Security Council and a revitalization of the General Assembly would fulfil the legitimate aspirations of developing countries and of Africa in particular.

Such changes would increase the UN's "authority and its effectiveness, reinforce its capacity to confront new threats and new challenges and allow it to better assume the mission entrusted to it by its Charter."

The African leaders and officials are among scores of heads of State and government and other high-level officials presenting their views and comments on issues of individual national and international relevance at the Assembly's General Debate, which ends on 1 October.

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