Address by the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, HE Jacob Zuma, at the Annual Meeting of the World Political Forum, Stresa, Italy, 23 October 2004

The President of the World Political Forum
The Honourable Former President Mikhail Gorbachev
Fellow panellists
Esteemed participants

I wish to thank President Gorbachev for the invitation for us to be part of this Annual Meeting of the World Political Forum, and for the warmth with which we have been received since our arrival.

I must from the onset state that while poverty is a global phenomenon, my presentation will be biased more towards Africa, given the fact that the continent remains the poorest and most marginalised, and requires special attention.

Ladies and gentlemen, this very important conference takes place at a time when the world has undergone some major changes, upheavals and transformation during the last century, and continues to face pressing developmental challenges, as we have heard through inputs since yesterday at this conference.

With the dawn of the new millennium in 2000, humanity was full of expectation, and we all believed that we were on the threshold of a new world order, which was to usher in absolute peace and the end of extreme poverty and underdevelopment.

Education, health, the empowerment of women and sustainable development were some of the main issues put on the agenda for all the nations of the world.

In tackling the question of how best to deal with the challenges of global poverty and underdevelopment, we need to remind ourselves of what 191 states pledged to achieve by 2015, in the UN Millennium Declaration.

They pledged, among other things:-

  • To reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, and those without drinking water. It also undertook to halve the proportion of world's people whose income is less than $1 a day.
  • To ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling, and to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education.
  • To reduce by two thirds child mortality rates, and halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

As we enter the fifth year of the UN Millennium Declaration, we have to pause and ask the questions;

  • Are we on the road to fulfilling the commitments we made to the poor and the wretched of the world?
  • Did we meet the hopes and aspirations of the people to usher in a period of peace and progress?

Our own country, which is in its 10th year of freedom and democracy, has over the years attempted to deliver on the goals of the UN Millennium Declaration of 2000, and the guidelines and targets set by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) which we hosted in 2002.

We believe we have made substantial progress in expanding access to basic services such as housing, electricity, education, health care, clean water and sanitation. But, there is still a lot to be achieved, to close the gap between the First and Second economies, the rich and poor.

We are also mindful of the fact that South Africa is an integral part of the African continent. Our development efforts are therefore taking place against the overall objective of achieving the renewal and rebuilding of the African continent socially, politically and economically.

To create the institutional framework for renewal, a number of structures have been established under the Constitutive Act of our new continental body, the African Union, including the Pan African Parliament, the African Peace and Security Council and the socio-economic blueprint, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

The following programmes have been prioritized through NEPAD;

  • The response and prevention of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis,
  • Information and communications technology,
  • Debt cancellation,
  • Market access for African goods and services.

Another crucial programme of the African Union is the African Peer Review Mechanism, which demonstrates the seriousness with which Africa takes the promotion of good economic and political governance.

These are the instruments through which Africa seeks to achieve sustainable development and prosperity, through partnerships with our development partners, in a spirit of equality and mutual benefit, and not charity, in this highly competitive era of globalisation.

I would like to emphasise that while Africa faces many challenges, there is also a lot of progress that has been made already. On governance, Africa has more democratic governments in power now than ever before in its history.

Significant strides have been made in conflict resolution in many countries. The desire for peace in order to stimulate development is stronger now than at any previous point in Africa's history. On the economic front, many African countries have now developed much more stable macroeconomic policies as well as more suitable trade regimes and the result has been relative improvement in Africa's economic performance since the early 1990s.

However, like other developing regions, Africa has also been affected adversely by globalisation, which was initially viewed as a process that would assist the achievement of the world's development goals. It has profoundly affected every aspect of human life, principally through developments in the areas of international trade, investment, capital flows and advancements in information and communications technologies.

The process should under normal circumstances be a powerful and dynamic force for strengthening co-operation and accelerating growth and development.

However, the globalization process has proven to be uneven and unpredictable, and has resulted in the increased marginalization of a large number of developing countries, especially the Least Developed Countries, and particularly in the areas of finance, trade and technology transfer. According to different studies conducted by international bodies that monitor globalisation, around 1, 2 billion people in the world today live on less than one US dollar a day. In Africa alone this figure translates to about 315 million people.

While foreign direct investment flows to developing countries have increased in absolute terms, Africa's share is declining. In 2003, the continent received less than 3% of the world's foreign investments.

As global trade expands, Africa's share continues to decline. In 2002, Africa produced only 2% of global exports as compared to 6% in 1980. African exporters face a number of barriers to selling their products in the Northern markets. Key amongst these is the agricultural subsidies granted to farmers in the developedcountries.

It is therefore not surprising that 34 of the UN's 50 least developed countries are from Africa.

We must also always be mindful of the historical background to this state of affairs in Africa. The continent has been plundered over many centuries, mainly from the period of colonialism to neocolonialism. The origins of some of the instability and some of the conflicts plaguing Africa to this day, as well as the underdevelopment and poverty, can be traced back to the period of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism during the Cold War.

After independence, during the Cold War period, former colonial masters deliberately sought to remove genuine national leaders who had fought for liberation, and to initiate and develop new elites who would be their allies in the Cold War.

They promoted and encouraged political systems based on patronage, or favoured one ethnic group over another, sowing seeds of long standing conflict. It was also during this period that the debt accumulated.

Africa has therefore never had an opportunity to develop itself, as it had been a playground of various political interests over centuries. The current active move towards an African Renaissance, seeks to undo this historical damage and injustice, and place the continent on the road to recovery, progress and prosperity.

Given the background of systematic economic and political underdevelopment, unleashing market forces alone on the economies of developing countries is no guarantee of sustainable development.

In this regard, the challenge before the international community is to ensure that globalisation should be harnessed in such a way as to take account of the need for sustainable development.

The key message is that Africa is on the way forward, programmes are in place, and we are ready for mutually beneficial partnerships with our development partners in the North.

We do not seek charity, and at the same time our position is that the days of loan-based development are over. We seek partnerships and development support along the lines of the Marshall Plan, which worked successfully in the reconstruction of

Europe after the Second World War.

There are a few critical areas which need attention, to transform the international strategy to fight poverty in the African continent. Firstly, it is difficult for the continent to achieve growth while countries face massive debt levels which absorb the major part of budget resources thereby curbing social spending. Debt cancellation is urgent and critical, otherwise African countries will continue to struggle beneath the debt trap, and will certainly fail to meet development challenges.

Secondly, there is a need to reform globalization, and democratise the system of global governance, particularly the UN, World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

We believe that it is important for countries to work together to ensure the pre-eminence of pro-poor multilateralism in international political and economic relations. We need to ensure that the WTO Doha Round indeed addresses the concerns of developing countries and places development at the core of its agenda.

Thirdly, there should be a renewed commitment to deliver on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A critical aspect of the MDGs is the principle that governments and international development organizations actually share collective responsibility for their achievement. Generally, analysts appear resigned to the fact that Africa, as a whole, will fall dismally short of achieving the MDGs.

Clearly, something must be done to address both the perceptions of this complacent Afro-pessimism as well as its underlying causes. Africa's failure would be the failure of the world, and would undermine the very purpose of adopting the Millennium Goals as targets for human development in the first place.

Fourthly, the official UN target for Overseas Development Aid, set in 1970, is 0.7% of Gross National Product, and the provision of more and better Aid is another primary responsibility of developed countries in terms of their Monterrey Financing for Development Conference commitments. Aid flows will therefore need to rise well above current levels. As we speak, the majority of countries that made commitments are yet to deliver on them.

The fifth issue is that of the need to balance international security goals with those of sustainable development and the fight against poverty. In the recent meetings of the G8, the UN and the IMF, great focus was placed on the fight against international terrorism as a top priority.

The fight against terrorism is serious and needs to be supported by all peace loving people. This point does not need to be argued any further because UN member states are agreed on it. However, for the masses of the African continent, equally important is how to eradicate poverty.

Therefore, our view is that the "war on terror" must not overshadow or detract from the global war on poverty. The two should run concurrently in terms of priority lists of the developed North.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are some of the points we felt we should raise regarding the international strategy of dealing with poverty.

We believe we must build meaningful and effective North-South, South-South and people-to-people partnerships and cultivate a new ethos of responsibility in the Global War on Poverty.

International dialogue in this regard is important welcome, and this conference is a welcome development indeed, as it reminds key global players that the eradication of poverty remains paramount.

I thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency
23 October 2004

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