This month Gabon holds the presidency of the UN security council. It has given me cause to reflect on the state of peace and security in the world today. The more I have thought about it, the more prominent I view the position of Africa within the global community.
The continent has been synonymous with armed conflict for more years than I care to remember – seven of the 17 current UN global peace and security missions are in Africa. If we analyse the origins of these conflicts, we see that illegal exploitation of renewable and non-renewable natural resources lies at the heart of most of them.
Africa has always been rich in natural resources, but that richness takes on additional significance today as competition among industrialised and emerging nations intensifies for access to food, water, energy and mineral resources. Recent land acquisitions by foreign companies for the purpose of growing food in Africa have been well publicised; so too have the mining and gas licenses acquired by Chinese companies.
More than half of the world’s cobalt, manganese, coffee, cocoa, palm oil and gold are to be found in Africa, as well as vast quantities of platinum and uranium, and close to 20% of all the petroleum traded on the world market. Hardly a month goes by when new deposits of oil and gas are not uncovered somewhere in Africa. Uganda and Ghana are set to join the club of major oil producers in the next couple of years. The US plans to source almost 25% of its annual crude oil imports from Africa over the coming years.
Effective resource management is fundamental for realising the full value of this global interest in our continent and its riches. We must ensure we manage our resources well. We must establish the right regulatory systems to maximise our returns and ensure equitable development. Without development, there can be no guarantee of security. Where there is poverty, there will always be a greater risk of conflict. The need to build strong institutions of state and to develop and maintain professional and disciplined security forces is of paramount importance. We must avoid the illegal exploitation of Africa’s resources, which inevitably results in a spiral into conflict.
Africa will be the continent most affected by climate change, and we must do everything in our power to mitigate its impact while urging the rest of the world to work alongside us in recognition of the fact that their carbon emissions affect us the most. African countries host 16% of the world’s forests. 80% of my country, Gabon, is made up of tropical rainforest. We have designated 11% of this as national parks and a further 3% as other protected areas, and have more FSC certified sustainable managed logging concessions than Brazil. Avoiding deforestation in my country and the wider Congo Basin region, which is the largest carbon sink in the world after the Amazon, provides one of the most effective means available to minimise carbon emissions and combat climate change.
Furthermore, in 2009, the Africa Progress Panel predicted that dramatic climate change will result in armed conflict in 23 African countries in the next 10-20 years, and political instability in a further 13 nations. Global mechanisms must be put in place to reduce carbon emissions in all countries, including incentives rewarding nations for conserving their forests. That’s why it’s so important for us to agree a legally binding framework to govern emissions and address global climate change. Clear incentives will free up capital for investments in new clean energy technologies, conservation and afforestation. Alternatively, I can envisage a day when UN peace keepers – the “casques verts” of the future – are engaged not in maintaining the peace in Africa, but charged instead with protecting vital biodiversity and stopping deforestation.
The cohesion and common position achieved by African countries at the Copenhagen summit on climate change has awoken Africans and the world to the potential power of a collective African vote. If we as Africans can continue to find common positions on significant global issues, we can wield a lot more influence in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank, something which has hitherto eluded us.
Peace and security are at the heart of Africa’s future. The African Union has played a leading role in addressing them since its launch in 2002. The number of violent conflicts has been significantly reduced, and important advances, while still fragile, have been made. Our international partners have contributed in no small measure, and we owe them our thanks. The task before us now is to ensure that we do not bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation of Africans. Africa’s future is at stake, and so too is the prosperity and security of the entire world. It is our collective responsibility to make peace happen.
Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba, currently president of Gabon.