The top United Nations envoy to Africa is reporting solid progress toward resolving the continent's many armed conflicts. But the official says African countries still lag far behind in economic growth.
U.N. Undersecretary General Ibrahim Gambari says headlines about conflicts in Darfur, Liberia and Ivory Coast obscure the bigger story of positive developments in Africa.
Briefing reporters on Monday, Mr. Gambari, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's top adviser on Africa, noted that a 1998 U.N. report listed 14 armed conflicts on the continent. Six years later, that number has been cut sharply.
"Only a few states can be said to be involved in armed conflict, among which are Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Liberia. And even in these cases there are positive movements in the direction of peace process. A few countries like Somalia and the Central African Republic experience political turmoil," he said.
The Undersecretary-General says the Security Council's authorization of five new African peacekeeping operations in the past year is recognition that, however fragile, there is a peace to be kept on the continent.
Mr. Gambari credits African countries themselves with whatever progress has been made in conflict resolution. He says the African Union is ready to send a substantial force to Sudan's western Darfur region, where Arab militias are accused of genocide against black African civilians.
He says the chief obstacle to rapid deployment of the A.U. force is money. He estimates the cost at well over a million dollars a day.
"To send 3,500 or 4,500 troops to Darfur is going to cost a bundle. The issue is, who is going to pay? If the Security Council is going to bless the African peacekeepers to go, that's fine, and welcome, but to what extent is that going to be backed by financial and logistics support," he said.
Mr. Gambari pointed to northern Uganda as another area in need of urgent international attention.
Earlier this month, U.N. humanitarian aid officials warned that a religious sect known as the Lord's Resistance Army, was terrorizing northern Uganda, forcing families from their homes, kidnapping children to neighboring Sudan and forcing them to become soldiers or sex slaves.
Undersecretary-General Gambari said that while the overall conflict picture is improving, Africa's economic outlook remains grim. He noted recent statistics that show Africa's share of world trade has fallen from four percent to two percent in the past decade.
Mr. Gambari said that among the world's 50 least developed countries, 34 are African.