HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR: You recently said that Africa, far too often, was a “cocktail of disasters.” Why? Why are all these things happening on the continent now?
KOFI ANNAN: There are many reasons, and as secretary-general of the UN-and as an African-I have been particularly concerned about the situation. There’s good news coming out of Africa, as well: the democratic transfer of power in Senegal, in Nigeria and in South Africa; there is positive economic news from Botswana, as there was from Mozambique until the floods. But we do have crises, and people see Africa as a continent in crisis. That in turn affects investment-nobody wants to invest in a bad neighbourhood. I’ve been trying to work with African leaders to calm these troubled waters. It’s a question of management, it’s a question of leadership, it’s a question of greed and it’s a question of ethnic conflict.
Recently, the UN University did a study. We discovered that one of the main reasons why we have these conflicts is that one ethnic or religious group feels discriminated against by the government. The discrimination itself does not provoke conflict, but discrimination is often exploited-by leaders, by the elite-for political advantage, and this can lead to an explosions. So it is important for governments to treat their citizens fairly, and get the message across to each group, and each citizen, that the government belongs to them, too; that they can expect to share in the economic welfare of the country; that the law works for them. This makes conflict less likely.
We’ve been trying to work with governments to strengthen basic institutions, to come up with regulatory systems to avoid conflict. But there is also greed. In most countries where you have natural resources-diamonds or oil, say-it’s a blessing, but in some African countries it has also become a curse. You get war profiteers who are not interested in peace-the first security council report on sanction-busting in Angola was quite revealing in this respect. We are going to set up another group to look into the exploitation of resources in Congo, which we consider part of the reason for the prolonged war there. We have the same situation in Sierra Leone, too: it’s diamonds again, at the bottom of that.
HLG: Some people have suggested that Africa’s arbitrary national borders are partly to blame. The borders haven’t much changed since the…