Each year, Africa Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate Africa’s achievements and to reflect on its challenges. The dominant story of the year has been the Ebola crisis that swept West Africa, claiming at least 11,000 lives and threatening hard-won social, economic and political achievements. With great courage and determination, and with the generous support of African nations and the international community, the affected countries have made remarkable progress toward ending the outbreak. Now, we have to intensify efforts to “get to zero and stay at zero” cases, repair the damage, and strengthen social and institutional resilience throughout the continent. To help mobilize support for this important task I will convene an International Ebola Recovery Conference at the United Nations in New York in July.
Africa continues to make steady economic, social and political progress. Overall, the continent’s economy grew by roughly 4 per cent in 2014, creating one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted positive economic expansion in Africa’s history. As a result, a growing number of Africans have joined the middle class each year. With investment in education, health and infrastructure increasing, the prospects for much of Africa are bright.
The challenge is to spread these benefits of Africa’s progress more broadly and deeply, particularly to the women and girls who represent Africa’s future. If we empower women, we help build better, more equal and more prosperous societies. I commend the commitment of the African Union to gender equality and the empowerment of women as part of its Agenda 2063, and I welcome the declaration of 2015 as the year of women’s empowerment in Africa.
While we work to break down the social, economic, environmental and cultural obstacles that women and girls face, let us also recognize the gains that have been made. Africa leads the world in female representation in Parliaments, and the continent has one of the highest rates of female entrepreneurship. Let us be inspired by these successes and intensify efforts to provide Africa’s women with better access to education, work and healthcare, and by doing so, accelerate Africa’s transformation. Let us also do more to end violence against women and girls while strengthening their role in all fields, including peacebuilding. Despite an overall decline in the number of conflicts, too many Africans still experience violent conflict. Women and girls bear the brunt, and are frequent targets of sexual violence and abuse.
We know that conflicts breed where people suffer from poor governance, human rights violations, exclusion and poverty. I therefore applaud Africa’s vision to build, by 2063, a peaceful and prosperous continent where democracy, human rights and the rule of law are entrenched and flourishing, starting with the aim to silence all guns by 2020. I reaffirm the commitment of the United Nations to work with the African Union, the Regional Economic Communities, and African countries and their citizens, to make this vision a reality.