Australia Hails African Unity

Published on 31st May 2010

It is my great pleasure to celebrate Africa Day 2010. The Australian Government’s commitment to broaden and deepen Australia’s engagement with Africa has not and will not waver. It is Australia’s national economic, social and strategic interests to pursue such engagement. Over the past two and a half years we have made much progress in this endeavour.

While we reflect on that progress, we commemorate the founding, 47 years ago, of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union. We celebrate African unity and honour an organisation that has dedicated itself to securing Africa's rightful place on the world stage, and to achieving a better life for all the peoples of Africa.

For Australia, it makes strategic sense to engage with Africa bilaterally, through individual countries, through the African Union and through regional organisations like SADC. In recognition of the African Union’s vital role and growing global influence, Australia will open a new embassy in Addis Ababa.

This new embassy will work to advance Australia’s growing diplomatic, security and developmental relationship with the African Union. It will also advance Australia’s relations with the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The Embassy will be a potent symbol of Australia’s renewed commitment to Africa. This commitment is based neither on sentiment nor short term expediency but on Australia’s long-term and enduring economic, social and strategic interests.

To prosper into the future, Australia, as a great trading nation, cannot ignore Africa, a continent of more than 50 countries and nearly a billion people. There are more than 150 Australian companies with projects spread across 40 African countries. There is an estimated US$20 billion in current and prospective Australian investment in the African resources sector. Africa has more overseas mining projects held by Australian companies than any other region in the world—about 40 per cent.

African nations have an important and growing influence in multilateral fora. They comprise more than a quarter of the membership of the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and the Commonwealth. As a committed multilateralist, Australia wants to work closely with African nations to tackle the challenges of this century, none of which can be progressed by an individual nation acting alone.

It is difficult to imagine progress on the millennium development goals, trade liberalisation, disarmament, climate change, food security, trans-national crime, international terrorism and United Nations reform without working closely with the continent of Africa, the countries of Africa and the African Union.

Australia wants to draw on our experience and expertise in ways that will make a unique and positive contribution to Africa. We want to work with Africa to make a contribution to African development, security and global engagement. We want to work with Africa to tackle global challenges from climate change to free trade. Australia wants to work with Africa to be a part of the brighter future it is forging. This is clearly in Australia’s long-term economic, social and strategic interests.

The theme for this year’s Africa Day is ‘Peace and Security in Africa’. The African Union’s mandate includes the promotion of peace, security and stability on the continent. This aspiration is one we all share. Australia is committed to helping Africa tackle its ongoing security and development challenges. Australia is working through the United Nations Peace Building Commission on its priority countries Burundi, Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone.

Australia is contributing $ 6 million over the next two years to peace building efforts in the United Nations system, including $ 2 million to support peace building initiatives focusing on Burundi and Sierra Leone. In March this year Australia supported an African Union high-level symposium in Addis Ababa on the protection of civilians in peacekeeping missions.

Australia’s new Defence Attache for Africa, who will be based at the new Addis Ababa Embassy, will build our security and defence cooperation with the African Union and African countries. Australia understands the importance of post-conflict rebuilding and reconstruction to the long-term maintenance of peace and security. 

In many African countries, landmines and unexploded mines have a devastating impact on civilian communities both during and after conflict, crippling recovery efforts and delaying economic development. This is why Australia will contribute a further $3 million to support mine awareness and clearance activities in Chad, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Security and development are, of course, inextricably linked. Poverty remains one of the greatest challenges to global peace and security. Unfortunately, Africa continues to lag behind other regions in making progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. It remains the continent with the highest percentage of people living in absolute poverty. It has 33 out of the world's 49 least developed countries.

Australia is committed to supporting progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. You cannot pretend to be serious about tackling global poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals if you ignore Africa. It is for this reason that Australia will continue to provide increased development assistance to Africa in areas where we can make a difference. We will continue to focus on priority areas, such as water and sanitation, food security, child and maternal health, and helping to build Africa's human resource capacity.

Australian bilateral assistance currently reaches more than 30 African countries, while nearly 40 countries benefit through multilateral and regional support. As the Budget papers show, Australia will provide over $200 million in development assistance to Africa in 2010-11.

Over the past two and a half years, the Australian Government has strengthened Australia’s relations with the African Union and its constituent nations. We have set about enhancing our political and diplomatic engagement, promoting trade and investment, addressing peace and security challenges in Africa, and delivering targeted development and humanitarian assistance.

Australia now has diplomatic relations with 51 of Africa’s 53 countries, excluding Guinea Bissau and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This compares with 41 in 2007. There has been a steady stream of visitors in both directions, including both the Foreign Minister and the President of the nation.

As we celebrate Africa Day, I look forward to continued partnership between Australia and the continent and countries of Africa and between Australia and the African Union.

By Stephen Smith,

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister.

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