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Statement by Monsignor George PANIKULAM
Charge’ d’Affaires a.i. of the Holy See to the United Nations
before the Plenary of the LIV Session of the General Assembly on Item 46

Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace
and Sustainable Development in Africa

(New York, 8 December 1999)

Mr. Chairman,

The 1998 report of the Secretary-General on the causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa has received considerable resonance in the international community and has found concerted follow-up as is evidenced by this year’s report containing the implementation of the Secretary-General’s recommendations on Development of Africa. In addressing the annual Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU in Algiers on 12 July 1999, the Secretary-General made a new Analysis of the African situation. He criticized the persistence of deadly conflicts and the dangerous flow of arms, he praised the progress made by some countries and urged for good governance and concerted action: «I have no doubt that we can find the path of durable peace and lasting prosperity in Africa. But we have our work cut out for us. So let us keep moving ahead, united in our love for Africa and our abiding faith in its people».

In 1995 Pope John Paul II, who sees himself as a «friend of Africa», stated «Africa bears the scars of its long history of humiliations. This continent has too frequently been considered only for selfish interests. Today Africa is asking to be loved and respected for what it is. It does not ask for compassion, it asks for solidarity» (Angelus, 24 September 1995). But in his address of 11 January 1998 to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See the Pope noted: «If violent attainment of power becomes the norm, if insistence on ethnic considerations continues to override all other concerns, if democratic representation is systematically put aside, if corruption and arms trade continue to rage, then Africa will never experience peace or development, and future generations will mercilessly judge these pages of African history».

On 24 April 1998, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, addressing the Security Council, put forward five priorities of the Holy See with regard to Africa: Respect for life and ethnic diversity, poverty eradication, stop in arms flow, resolution to conflicts and action towards development motivated by solidarity. Those priorities remain the same today, perhaps with renewed urgency.

The Holy See Delegation would like at present to focus on two main points in particular: the deadly conflicts and the inadequate development in Africa.

  1. «Since 1970, more than 30 wars have been fought in Africa..., 14 out of the 53 countries of Africa were afflicted by armed conflicts» (Secretary-General’s 1998 report n.4). Each conflict has caused over a million deaths and created the same amount of refugees and almost the same amount of displaced persons. Over 20 million children have either fallen victims of conflicts or have become homeless, disabled or orphans. Tens of thousands are constrained to take up arms and fight as soldiers. There are conflicts which have lasted for over a quarter of a century and, in Africa, the world has witnessed for years unthinkable atrocities like genocide and maiming. Violence begets hatred and hatred results in continued atrocities. This has become an ongoing process for years and decades, threatening the security of the entire continent and causing an increasing disinterest in the international community towards Africa, so much so that the conflicts in Africa have become the «forgotten wars». True, substantive discussions on specific African conflicts or high level debates on Africa in general have become more frequent in recent years. Such initiatives indeed create a new awareness about the complexity of conflicts. Still, and despite the good will of many who want to assist, regrettably there is no action leading to lasting solutions. Often the initiatives undertaken by the international community are albeit rejected by the parties to the conflict and thus making its concerted efforts ineffective. Or else, powers, far and near, play connivance and constrain such international actions to fail. «From Angola to the Great Lakes, from Congo-Brazzaville to Sierra Leone, from Guinea-Bissau to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from the Horn of Africa to Sudan, is a long and bitter succession of conflicts in and among States which strike above-all, innocent populations...» (Pope John Paul II, Angelus, 21 April 1999).
  2. That is only one side of the picture. The other side is the vexing poverty that has become a chronic factor in some parts of the continent. According to the recent FAO report, nearly 10 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa need emergency food assistance. And in the perception of the Secretary-General, 44 per cent of Africans as a whole and 51 per cent of those in sub-Saharan Africa live in absolute poverty. Even the official development assistance to Africa is falling.

Mr. Chairman, Africa, which suffers from deteriorating poverty, abounds in weapons, whether they are «gray» (commercial) or «black» (illegal). West Africa alone is estimated to possess over 8 million small arms. Leaders of areas rich in diamonds sell them to acquire more sophisticated weapons. Poorer countries, on the other hand, even mortgage crops to acquire small arms. Despite the recommendations of the Secretary-General that African States should reduce their purchases of weapons and ammunition to 1.5 per cent of gross national product, and should impose zero growth on their defence budgets for ten years, «things are still moving the opposite way» in too many States.

This is a strange paradox. Impoverished countries acquire large quantities of weapons to kill, and richer countries, from within Africa and from abroad, profit from the thirst for power of a few, dooming millions to utter starvation. Until the constant flow of arms to Africa is curbed effectively, the conflict situations are going to continue causing even a more dangerous turn of events. Those who accumulate weapons to the cost of hunger-ridden millions and those who provide them with such weapons for extra profits, are equally guilty in this process. That crime on both sides should not continue.

A culture of war and consequent misery should be replaced by a culture of peace and development, and the international community, with enough political will, can and should help that happen.

Resolving conflicts remains the first step towards security and development in Africa. But concerted action and political will both from the African leadership and from the international community are urgently called for to accelerate a sustainable development. The lands in Africa «are rich and fertile enough to provide a solid foundation for prosperity» (SG’s report n.104). While in the words of the Secretary-General, «Africa must demonstrate the will to rely upon political rather than military responses to problems» and « summon the will to take good governance seriously», the «international community must now summon the political will to intervene where it can have an impact, and invest where sources are needed».

Mr. Chairman, «Development is the new name for peace »(Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, N.10). That is all the more true of Africa today, vexed by conflicts and ravaged by poverty. Instead of cursing the past and repeating the question, «what can the world do for Africa?» it is time for Africans to look to the present and future and say, «what could Africans themselves do for Africa» (cf. Pope John Paul II, Message to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 10 January 1998).

The international community, for its part, must ensure that Africa envisages its own economic development. Cancellation of foreign debts, opening of markets without setting burdensome conditions, preferential economic assistance and adequate transfer of technology and human resources are the urgently needed steps. But all such international initiatives will have to respect the situation special to Africa and the requirements of its different regions and populations.

Mr. Chairman, «peace is the fruit of solidarity» (Pope John Paul II, Sollecitudo...39.9) and this is the time to reaffirm solidarity for Africa. Isolation and marginalization of which Africa has been a victim in the past, should end. And the international community should then lend it a strong helping hand to take the next and most deliberate step forward into peace and prosperity.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.