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UN Official: Perception of Africa Must Change

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, accompanied by Secretary-General of the conference Cheikh Sidi Diarra, attends a news conference during the 4th UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Istanbul, Turkey. (File Photo - May 9, 20

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special adviser for Africa says the continent's first priority must be to change the world's perception of it as a place of war and famine. A U.N. conference dedicated to developing Africa's potential.

It is a big job, but U.N. Undersecretary-General Cheikh Sidi Diarra says Africa must undergo a perception makeover. Speaking to VOA at a U.N. conference on strengthening Africa's capacity, Diarra said changing perceptions is a two-way street, involving the international community and Africans themselves.

"We need to have of Africa the perception of a continent that has huge potential, human resources, natural resources, land resources," he said. "What we need to do is to develop this potential, to get not only aid but also partnerships in terms of foreign direct investment, and equitable trade to help Africa take advantage of its potential."

Diarra is attending the convention at Addis Ababa's United Nations Conference Center along with Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro.

In her opening address, the deputy secretary-general highlighted Africa's strong economic growth. The continent is home to six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies. She noted that sub-Saharan Africa is one of the few regions showing resilience against the global recession.

At the same time, Migiro says Africa is facing daunting, but not insurmountable, challenges in areas from water and sanitation, maternal health and job creation, to famine in the Horn of Africa and several armed conflicts.

Undersecretary-General Diarra urged the new generation of African leaders to rise to the twin challenges of providing good governance and raising living standards.

"They need to strengthen the macro-economic reforms they have delivered on so far, and to improve the political and economic governance, that is undertaken since the last 10 years," said Diarra. "We're seeing a new leadership of Africans coming at the helms of their countries, people who have been educated in the same schools as leaders in the West. They can perform good, deliver good result[s]."

Diarra is encouraging African leaders to look at emerging economies such as India and China, as well as newly-developed countries such as South Korea to see what has worked for them.

But for the landlocked and least developed African countries, Diarra said structural issues such as a narrow economic base will make growth more challenging.

Four hundred delegates are attending the two day conference, including the heads of U.N. funds, programs and specialized agencies working on Africa.