Kofi Annan Fights for Africa's Global Influence

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Leaders from around the world are working hard to make Africa a viable player in the global economy. The Africa Progress Panel, which embodies the group, releases its first report today. Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan chairs the panel and explains the report and weighs in on the continent's political conflicts.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley in for Michel Martin. This is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, we'll tell you about a photography exhibit focusing on the before and after effects of a certain drug treatment for AIDS patients around the world and the grandeur of the U.S. capital, made with the sweat and blood of slaves.

But first, in recent years leaders from around the world have promised to help Africa become a viable player in the global economy. Billions of dollars in aid have been earmarked and many countries have signed onto ambitious projects with the goal of giving Africa the boost it needs to speed up development. But turning promises into action isn't always easy.

The African Progress Panel, chaired by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, is stepping up efforts to get world leaders to deliver on their promises. Today the panel released its first report. Secretary Annan joins me now to talk about what the group is demanding. Welcome to the show.

Mr. KOFI ANNAN (Chair, Africa Progress Panel; Former UN Secretary General): Thank you very much. I'm happy to join you.

CORLEY: Well, tell us more about the panel. Why is this independent group important?

Mr. ANNAN: Well, after the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Prime Minister Tony Blair set up an African commission to look at what Africa needs and what can be done. An outcome of that commission led to the creation of the Africa Progress Panel, which as you rightly point out, I chair, and our duty is to monitor the promises made by the G8 and encourage them to meet those commitments, as well as encourage African governments to meet their commitments on the issue of good governance and the fight against corruption. And while there has been considerable progress in Africa, there is much that needs to be done.

CORLEY: Well, Mr. Secretary, you issued this report calling on the international community to deal specifically with the urgent threat of high world food prices. What needs to happen to stem the crisis?

Mr. ANNAN: For the immediate, we need resources to support the work of the World Food Program to feed the hungry, but over and above the support we give to those who are hungry today and those who need urgent food, we need to make real investments in agriculture around the world to increase food supplies. And in the case of Africa, work with them on a real green revolution that will help them assure their food security for today and the future.

CORLEY: Well, you're calling on the world's most economically prosperous countries to keep their promise to double aid to Africa by 2010. Are there any indications that this won't happen?

Mr. ANNAN: Well, at the rate we are going and the figures we have looked at, at the current rate, it will not happen unless they do something dramatic.

CORLEY: As I understand it, the report cites a potential 40-billion dollar shortfall?

Mr. ANNAN: That's correct. There is a 40-billion dollar shortfall in aid that needs to be filled if the G8 is to meet the target set at Gleneagles.

CORLEY: All right. So the demands are pointed at the G8 or the top industrial nations. The G8, of course, convenes its annual summit in Japan next month. I was wondering if you intentionally released this report in time to pressure those nations attending the summit.

Mr. ANNAN: That is part of the approach. We usually try to get our report out before the G8 summit so that they can factor it into their discussions, and we try to stay in touch with the government's concern, particularly those in leadership positions.

CORLEY: And so this is really critical, then, if the G8 doesn't seem to be meeting its promises?

Mr. ANNAN: Yes, because they set the tone.

CORLEY: Let's talk trade, Mr. Secretary. The report suggests rethinking trade policy with the goal of boosting food production around the world. Can you tell us how Africa fits into this equation? Is it an exporter or an importer?

Mr. ANNAN: In the sixties, Africa was an exporter, and I hope Africa can become an exporter again. Today we are - African countries import and they also receive food aid. That is not sustainable and so what we are trying to do is to work with the African farmers to increase their own production, and we are doing this through many ways. There are many partners coming together to make sure that happens, but that would require that the trading system is fair and this would entail removal of subsidies by governments in Europe and the U.S.A.

CORLEY: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm Cheryl Corley and I'm speaking with former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan about a new report from the African Progress Panel.

Mr. Secretary, there have been several tensions in Africa stemming from political conflicts in Zimbabwe and Kenya and Darfur, just to name a few. How much of an impediment are those sorts of conflicts in getting aid to Africa?

Mr. ANNAN: They are real impediments. They are impediments not only in terms of getting aid to Africa, but they also hamper economic and social development. They discourage investments and this is why for many years I've always maintained that we Africans have to focus on resolving these political conflicts and tensions to be able to turn our attention to the real important work of economic and social development.

There has been tremendous progress on the continent. We have resolved many conflicts, from Angola to Burundi, Sierra Leon and Liberia and many others, and we now really should do whatever we can to resolve the conflicts in Zimbabwe, in Darfur and in Sudan. Of course, we have the problem of Somalia, which also the UN is seized with.

CORLEY: Well, you mentioned the conflict in Zimbabwe. Tensions do seem to be growing there between President Mugabe and the opposition leader there. How should that conflict be resolved, especially ahead of the country's runoff election later this month?

Mr. ANNAN: Yeah. I think it is extremely important that the countries in the region work with the government to ensure that there's no violence or the violence ceases. There are reports of intimidation and violence and that has to be curbed. We need to work with the governments in the region to get in as many electoral observers as possible and through their presence, not only to dissuade violence, but also be able to let the world know that there has been a fair and clean election. And honestly, I must say, anyone who comes to power through fraudulent elections will be held accountable by the Africans and will lack legitimacy on the international scene.

CORLEY: Well, a similar political conflict, of course, erupted in Kenya last December between the president there and the opposition leader, and the tensions there led to months of riots and protests that left hundreds dead and raised questions about the stability of that East African nation. But you were instrumental in forging a power-sharing agreement between the two leaders, and it seems to be sustaining. Are you still concerned about the situation there?

Mr. ANNAN: No. I think the agreement in Kenya will hold. The two leaders are committed to it and in fact, on the eleventh they had five by-elections to fill empty seats in parliament, which went very smoothly. The government won two and the opposition won five, and I'm quite confident that the agreement will hold. I mean, there will be some hiccups and bumps along the road, but I think the Kenyans are aware as to how close they came to the brink.

CORLEY: Do you think a power-sharing agreement like that in Kenya would be possible in Zimbabwe?

Mr. ANNAN: I think that is something the Zimbabwean's will have to agree to themselves. But what is clear is that they have problems in that country and that society that cannot be resolved with a mere second-round election. Regardless of who wins the election, they need to come together as one, as Zimbabwean's, to reconcile, to heal the nation and rebuilt their society.

CORLEY: During your tenure as the leader of the UN from 1997 through 2006, you really made a consistent effort to deal with the conflict in Darfur. And part of your plan was to introduce a UN-sponsored peacekeeping mission. Twenty-six thousand troops were recommended, but there are only 9,000 in the region, many of which are from the African Union. Why hasn't this worked?

Mr. ANNAN: For several reasons. I think they entered into long discussions with the government of Sudan on implementation. And secondly, you don't have that many troops, well-trained peacekeepers available on the continent. The understanding I had with the Sudanese when we signed the agreement was that should be if possible the troops could come from Africa. But if we could not find them, they could come from other regions in the world. And I think that would have been most effective way to do it.

CORLEY: Then just one last question for you, sir. We know what industrial nations can give Africa and what you're asking, but few give without something in return. So tell us more about the continent's potential to thrive and perhaps what it could give in return, its commodities and other resources.

Mr. ANNAN: No, I think - let me say that prosperity or development in Africa is not only in the interest of Africa, but is also in everyone's - in our own self-interest. Today we live an interdependent world, and given the scarcity of resources and competition that we've seen around the world, a prosperous Africa and a peaceful Africa is in everyone's interest.

And I think what the African's have also done in recent years is not only to improve governance - some of the figures I gave about progress on the economic front, on statistics for health and school, is partially due to good governance, not just development assistance coming in. And I think working with the African's to create a stable environment that will allow investments, economic development and for Africa to join the international trading system will be in everyone's interest.

And so, we should look at this not only as a moral obligation, but also from a point of view of enlightened self-interest.

CORLEY: Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. He's the chairman of the African Progress Panel, which released its first report today. He joined me on the phone from New York. Thank you so very much for speaking with us.

Mr. Annan: Thank you very much, and nice to be on the show.

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