BY BAN KI MOON
On Africa Day, we recognise the people and promise of Africa. The continent has just experienced a decade of rapid economic growth – a stark contrast to the stagnation and reversals of previous years.
Many of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa, and attractive investment opportunities are proliferating. Africa has also made gains in consolidating democracy. The United Nations will continue to support the African people’s efforts to realize their right to choose their own leaders and ensure that elections are a route to peace, not violence.
I am marking Africa Day this year with a visit to the continent aimed at mobilising global support for reducing child and maternal mortality rates. Progress in this area has been slower than it is on all the other Millennium Development Goals, despite proven policies, practices and technologies.
Our new Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health aims to save millions of lives by bringing together all relevant partners and scaling up what works, including many home-grown African strategies for success.
The theme of this year’s observance – “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development” – highlights one of Africa’s greatest untapped resources: its young people. Africa is the world’s youngest continent; 70 per cent of the population is under the age of 30. Despite advances in education and economic growth, progress remains fragile, inequalities are widespread and young Africans face major difficulties in finding decent jobs and participating in decision-making.
In North Africa earlier this year, the lack of such freedoms was among the factors that led young people to take to the streets demanding change and fulfillment of their legitimate aspirations for better lives. Empowering youth is essential for sustainable economic growth and sustainable management of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; the clear challenge for many countries now is to pay just as much attention to sustainable political progress.
As Africans strive to overcome threats to peace and development, the continent will continue to need strong and dedicated support from all its partners. On Africa Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to work in partnership with Africans of all ages to realize their potential by building an environment conducive to prosperity, democracy and peace.
(Ban Ki Moon is the UN Secretary General)