Statement by the Secretary General at the 34th session of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 22 November 2013
Honourable Dr. Joyce Laboso,
President of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly,
Chairman of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors,
Members of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am glad to welcome you to Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, for the meetings of the 34th Session of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly and 26th Session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the host country for all the arrangements that they have put in place for our comfort and enjoyment. It is evident that no effort has been spared to facilitate your work.
Once again, it is a pleasure for me personally to interact with you and assist you in your responsibilities as your countries’ legislative representatives. The work that you do here in this Assembly and in concert with your counterparts in the European Parliament is the only regular, consistent and dynamic form of political dialogue between the peoples of the ACP Groups of States and the European Parliament. As far as I am aware, it is also the only North-South of inter-parliamentary political dialogue of its kind in the world.
As stated in Article 17 of the Cotonou Agreement, the JPA speaks to the need for a forum to promote mutual understanding between the peoples of Europe and Africa, The Caribbean and the Pacific, as well as raise awareness about development issues. This is a significant achievement, given the failure of multilateral dialogue and negotiations elsewhere, not least the World Trade Organisation itself.
It is auspicious as well that we are meeting in Ethiopia. For many of the African delegates, this is more or less your second home, because, being the seat of the African Union, many of you often find yourselves on official business in this historic city of Addis Ababa. But even for those coming outside the continent, you too are home, because Ethiopia is one of the oldest locations of human life known to scientists and is widely considered the region from which Homo sapiens first set out for the Middle East and beyond.
Tracing its roots to the 2nd millennium BC, Ethiopia was alongside Rome, Persia, China and India the Kingdom of Aksum was one of the great world powers of the 3rd century. During the late 19th century Scramble for Africa, Ethiopia was the only African country to defeat a European colonial power and retain its sovereignty as an independent country. It was the first independent African member of the 20th-century League of Nations and the UN. It was therefore no surprise that when other African nations gained their independence in the 1960s, several of them adopted the green, red and yellow colors of the Ethiopian national flag.
Allow me to take a few moments to speak to some of the items that you will be discussing during your meetings with your European Parliament counterparts in the course of the following 5 days. It is gratifying to note that you will be having an interactive session with the President of the African Union Commission on the quite significant subject of Africa-EU cooperation. I am also glad to see that, once again, some political issues will feature on your agenda. I also note that several important political topics will be featuring in your deliberations. As a former parliamentarian myself, I am always acutely aware of the importance of putting in place the right institutions and the right culture of governance.
Governance and leadership remain the greatest challenge of our era. President Obama, during his historic visit to my home country of Ghana in 2009, famously declared that Africa needs strong institutions, not strongmen. We need institutions that deliver and governments that are accountable and sensitive to the needs of the populace.
Through all the subjects that you will be discussing, there is a latent theme that is important to take into account. This challenge is to provide food, jobs and safe housing for a rapidly growing population, especially in this part of the world, with the additional challenge of mitigating for climate change. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is projected to more than double from 856 million today to about 2 billion in 2050.
All these issues are interlinked, since climate change has the potential for having severe implications on the food security in Africa, as well as for urbanisation related issues such as provision of safe drinking water and housing, as well as gainful employment. There are also implications for health and communicable diseases.
Currently, Africa ensures food supply by a mix of domestic food production and overseas food imports. Despite domestic production and imports there were 239 million undernourished people living on the African continent in 2012, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.
If young people are a gift to both their communities and the world, then Africa, as well as the Caribbean and the Pacific are rich in gifts. Nearly 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are aged between 10 and 24, and that number is expected to climb to about 561 million by the middle of this century. Africa has the highest concentration of young people anywhere on the planet.
In developed countries, it's young people who are coming up with super-innovative ideas that are driving the economy and setting the pace for the rest of the country. As events in North Africa – the Arab Spring – have shown, lack of employment opportunities can undermine social cohesion and political stability. However, as you will see on any walk down any of the streets in our States, our youth population exhibits high energy, creativity and talents, which are also the key to future prosperity.
The challenge is how this can be harnessed. As you discus the Joint African-EU Strategy, perhaps these are some of the issues that need to be considered.
The other dimension that concerns me, and I have seen this phenomenon in my travels on all ACP regions, is rapid urbanisation. Many countries are finding it difficult to find space for the growing urban population, which is adding to pressures of climate change and citizen demands for participation and equity. In this light, city-regions around the world are in need of innovations in infrastructure, urban governance, economic development strategies, and finance. At the same time, the obstacles to such innovations, from existing political arrangements, entrenched interests, segregation, and poorly adapted theories and models, are also very powerful.
We are already beginning to see urban manifestations of increased agitations for political participation, civil liberties and so on. Aside from the need for electoral systems allow open, transparent and fair contestation for political office, policy makers often forget the equally demanding task of expanding access to justice and all the while adhering to the rule of law and respect for human rights. The lack of adequate institutional and material provisions in this area could compromise democratic endeavors in our member States.
Given these issues, I am therefore pleased that the host country will give us an opportunity to see how they are going about such issues in the two workshops that they have organised on Sunday, 24 November 2013, which are on housing developing programmes and micro-enterprises as a means of job creation.
With regard to developments at ACP House, the only issue I would like to bring to your attention is that the 98th Session of the Council of Ministers will take place in Brussels from 9 to 11 December 2013. The Council will consider a number of important issues affecting the ACP Group and its external relations, including the Future Perspectives of the ACP Group, and the ACP Position Paper on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. This session of Council is also important because it will consider and approve the budget of the ACP Secretariat, which will of course have impact on the work of the Secretariat in servicing the organs of the ACP Group, including the JPA. I hope that at an opportune time next year, you will be informed of all the Decisions of the Ministers.
In conclusion, I wish you success in your deliberations today and the rest of your meetings in Addis-Ababa.
Thank you for your kind attention.