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African Leaders Address UN General Assembly  - 2004-09-22

A parade of African leaders dominated day two of the U.N. General Assembly debate. Seven African heads of State addressed the assembly. The Security Council also took up African issues in a debate on conflict management and peace building.

A day after President Bush and Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the 59th General Assembly debate, African leaders such as South Africa's Thabo Mbeki and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe stepped to the podium.

In a biting critique, Mr. Mbeki spoke of the helplessness many Africans feel as they watch the United Nations address the concerns of rich and powerful countries, such as terrorism and war, while their lives are consumed with a different set of issues, such as poverty and underdevelopment.

"All of this produces as stark and simple reality that reflects the distribution of power and wealth in contemporary human society," he said. "The wealthy and powerful feel more threatened by the fanatical rage of the terrorists, correctly, and they have the power to respond to this present and immediate danger with all of the might which they dispose, and because they are mighty, the possibility to determine for all humanity that what they decide is the principal threat they confront is the principal threat that all humanity faces. The poor and the powerless feel threatened by a permanent hurricane of poverty that is devastating their communities."

Mr. Mbeki pointed to the Millennium Goals set four years ago for improving the quality of life in developing countries. Then, asking whether those goals had been achieved, he concluded, in his words, "I have found it impossible not to answer that we have failed."

A short time later, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe strode to the podium in the assembly hall, to launch a strident attack on President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He charged the U.S. and British leaders of turning Iraq into what he called "a vast inferno created by completely illegal and defiant acts of aggression."

"We are now being coerced to accept and believe that a new political-cum-religious doctrine has arisen, namely that there is but one political god, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair is his prophet," he said.

As Mr. Mugabe spoke, several hundred anti-Mugabe protesters demonstrated outside the U.N. headquarters, shouting that his land reform had taken property from white farmers and given it to his family and wealthy friends with no farming skills. The result, they said, has been a 70 percent decrease in Zimbabwe's food production.

Just down the hall from where Mr. Mugabe spoke, the Security Council held a separate meeting to discuss another issue high on the African agenda, conflict management and peace building. Eight of the 16 U.N. peacekeeping operations are in Africa.

Addressing a gathering that included several foreign ministers in the council chamber, Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed for greater international support of peace building efforts.

"We need more resources and we need to get those resources more quickly than we do," said Mr. Annan. "I am pleased that there have been improvements in the delivery of resources to post-conflict reconstruction. But the needs remain very great. U.N. peace operations are an excellent investment. In the entire history of the U.N., just over $30 billion has been spent on our peacekeeping operations. That's just one-30th, and I repeat, one-30th of the amount that was spent last year alone on global military expenditures."

African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Djinnit Said told the Security Council the AU is hoping to establish an African Standby Force to help with peacekeeping operations on the continent. He said the 100-strong AU monitoring force in Sudan's western Darfur region is an "immense challenge" in trying to prevent what has been described as genocide against black African villagers.

In a separate news conference, Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade announced that African leaders will launch a global fund to help people in poor countries get access to mobile telephones and the internet. President Wade said the "digital divide" between rich and poor is holding back Africa's development.

President Wade is among seven African heads of state scheduled to address the General Assembly Thursday.