26 May 2021

Opening African Dialogue Series, Secretary-General Cites Cultural Diversity, Natural Heritage as Key Catalysts for Continent’s Growth

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the opening of the African Dialogue Series, today:

I am pleased to join you for this dialogue on Africa’s future.  I welcome your focus on cultural identity.  This builds on the African Union’s theme for this year, highlighting the importance of arts, culture and heritage in building the Africa we want.

Culture is the flower of the human being — the fruit of our minds, the product of our traditions, the expression of our yearnings.  Its diversity is wondrous, part of the rich tapestry of civilization.

Culture is also a powerhouse.  It is an employer of millions, an engine of economic progress and a force for social cohesion. 

Aspiration 5 of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 envisions a continent with a strong cultural identity, common heritage and shared values and ethics.  It is a call for using the continent’s rich and diverse cultural and natural heritage as a catalyst for Africa’s growth and transformation.

It is the right appeal at the right time.  With spreading hatred and intolerance around the world, we must not only defend diversity but invest in it.

Societies today are multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural.  This is a richness, not a threat.  But we need to ensure that every community feels that their identity — their culture — is being respected.

To confront today’s complex challenges, we need to find better ways to redress the ills of the past that have bred mistrust and division.  An emphasis on culture, heritage and shared values can help build unity and common purpose.  These are needed more than ever as the continent works to overcome the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and pursue peaceful, sustainable development.

We need to move towards sustainable economic growth that protects the environment, promotes human rights and strengthens the social contract.  And we need a stronger sense of solidarity and multilateral cooperation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and leave no one behind.

For that to be possible, we also need to express a very clear solidarity with the African continent in this dramatic moment, in which we are still under the terrible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As I have said time and time again, it is totally unacceptable that vaccines are not now fully available to the African continent, and that Africa is dramatically lagging behind in vaccination for this reason.

I believe that vaccines must be affordable and available everywhere.  That is why I have been insisting, with the [Group of 20] countries, on the creation of a global vaccination plan to reach everybody, everywhere.  I call for the creation of an emergency taskforce to make sure that all the countries that produce or can produce vaccines — and simultaneously international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), and international financial institutions — are allowed to have direct dialogue with the pharmaceutical industry.  This will ensure that we are able to double vaccine production and establish a network for distribution.

While vaccination is very important, it is not enough.

I am worried to see in the projections of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which show an expected growth of the international economy of 6 per cent for 2021, but only 3.2 per cent for the African continent.  It is absolutely essential that African countries receive the financial support they need at the present moment to protect their citizens and to be able to relaunch their economies.

This means that Special Drawing Rights should be put at the disposal of the African continent.  It also requires effective debt relief, not only for least developed countries but for all developing and middle-income countries that need it.

Development requires certain conditions to be successful, and two basic conditions needed today are support to Africa for effective vaccination, and support to Africa in relaunching its economies and promoting a sustainable and inclusive recovery.

Culture will be an extremely important tool in promoting that recovery.  I welcome this discussion and I look forward to its outcome.

For information media. Not an official record.