President Mahama's keynote address: “The Common African Position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda: The Intersection of Sustainability and Human Interest” 15th INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC FORUM ON AFRICA Berlin, Germany 9th SEPTEMBER 2015 11:00am

Your Excellences
Prime Minister Jean Ravelonarivo of Madagascar
Professor Horst Köhler, Former President of the Federal Republic of Germany
Dr. Gerd Müller, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development;
The High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda
Mr. Stefan Kapferer from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD);
Ministers
Ladies and Gentleman.

I thank you for the gracious invitation, and the very warm welcome. It is always a pleasure to be in Berlin. It is also a distinct honour for me to be here with you today to discuss the Common African Position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

In fact, I can think of no better place and no better time for this discussion to happen than right here, and right now.

A decade ago, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl launched a book of his memoirs in which he recalled the years that led up to the reunification of Germany, as well as the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and the formation of the European Union. 

Chancellor Kohl referred to them as “fateful years,” and he revealed that the achievement of those historic events was due to the trust and cooperation of his fellow world leaders. 

“We were united,” Chancellor Kohl said, “not only by political respect for each other, but also by mutual sympathy as people.”

As I was preparing my notes for this address, dutifully detailing the six pillars that comprise the Common African Position, those words spoken by Chancellor Kohl kept surfacing in my thoughts. 

I kept returning to that concept of humanity, to that core sympathy that leaders must have, not merely for one another, but also for their constituents, and for all the citizens of this world, as people.

I kept returning to that image, that terrible image of a little boy in a red shirt and blue pants, his body washed up on a shore in Turkey. 

A three-year-old boy by the name of Aylan Kurdi, dead as the result of a dangerous journey that he and his family made in search of safety and the possibility of a better future. 

What does this have to do with Africa?, you’re probably wondering.  Everything, I assure you. It has everything to do with Africa because that boy, that body washed ashore could so easily have been any of the huge numbers of African children whose lives have been claimed by those same waters this year alone as their families attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea onto European soil.

On a different shore, at a different time, it could have been the body of 27-year-old Ibrahima Ba from Senegal who died with the 700 other refugees when their boat from Libya capsized in mid-April. 

Or, it could have been his neighbor, who left the village several weeks before Ibrahima, and is believed to have died as he tried to make his way across the Sahara desert to North Africa to find and pay a trafficker to ferry him to someplace, any place, inside the European Union.

Since the beginning of this year over 3,000 refugees have died trying to make that journey across the Mediterranean, a large number of them Africans. In 2014 280,000 refugees arrived at the borders of the European Union. By the end of this past August, the number of refugees for this year, 2015, had already reached 350,000.  

Of that number, 7000 have recently been granted refuge here in Germany.

And I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to applaud Germany for taking this admirable, humane and, ultimately, controversial action in response to what is being described as the most significant refugee crisis since the Second World War. I know the political and social costs are very high.

You see, the reason Chancellor Kohl’s statements about the prelude to those historical events that took place in Europe during the 1980s and 1990s came to mind, and stayed in mind, is that I believe these are fateful days, weeks, and months. 

I believe that the trust, cooperation and basic humanity of our world leaders now will chart a new and defining course. So it is important, as we discuss how to implement a post-2015 agenda, to also investigate why we find ourselves here in the midst of this crisis now, in 2015. 

Because what is worth sustaining more than life itself? And for what are we developing our nations, if not the stability, prosperity and dignity and our citizens’ lives, and the fulfillment of our children’s hopes, dreams and ambitions?

It is difficult to predict what would happen in the world tomorrow. Events are moving at a frightening pace.  Just a while ago it was the Arab Spring, then the Syrian conflict, then a missing Malaysian passenger jet, then it was the conflict in Ukraine, then ISIS, then Charlie Hebdo, and now the migrant or refugee crisis.

We took down a wall right here in Berlin. The Berlin Wall! Will the world put up new walls? Maybe! I don’t know.

It is a testament to our faith in our common humanity that we are meeting this year in New York to discuss a post 2015 agenda when it is difficult to even guess what will happen in the next 3 months before this year draws to a close.

The Common African Position- or CAP for short- was created by the African heads of state under the auspices of the African Union in order to “speak with one voice and to act in unity to ensure that Africa’s voice is heard and is fully integrated into the global development agenda.” 

The CAP is made up of 6 pillars. They are:

Structural Economic Transformation and Inclusive Growth
Science, Technology and Innovation
People-Centred Development
Environmental Sustainability, Natural Resources Management and Disaster Risk Management
Peace and Security
Finance and Partnership

Although each of these pillars contains its own set of sub-goals that are specific to that particular area of focus, non-performance or an intrusion to the rate of performance in any one of those pillars can greatly impact the efficacy of the work being done in other areas. 

This is especially true when countries already in tenuous positions, as many African nations are, find themselves faced with unforeseen disasters. We witnessed this last year with the sudden outbreak of the Ebola virus, which quickly spread across borders and claimed the lives of thousands in West Africa. 

But the epidemic claimed more than the lives of those infected with the virus; it also claimed the livelihoods of those who were not infected. The epidemic took a tremendous toll on the labour force. 

Fear of exposure, voluntary as well as mandatory quarantines brought everything to a standstill, affecting even the harvest and, thus, the food supply. The revenue expected from tourism also experienced a steep decline as flights stopped operating to those countries and prospective visitors and business people altered their travel plans.

Another thing to bear in mind when discussing the CAP is the potential effect of climate change on African nations.

Take for example the fact that specialists have predicted that this year’s El Niño, the annual climate phenomenon that occurs along the equatorial Pacific and impacts weather patterns across the globe, will be the strongest on record. 

There is a very likely possibility of flooding on the eastern coast of the African continent. If that happens, it would be impossible to gauge the effect it would have on countries like Kenya and Tanzania, which just experienced mass flooding in May that left hundreds homeless, killed large numbers of livestock and destroyed staple crops, such as maize and cotton.

Droughts have also long plagued various regions of the African continent and with the effects of climate change, many nations are losing large percentages of their crop capacity. This will only increase food shortages in areas that are already grappling with critical levels of hunger and extreme poverty in their population.

In and of themselves, such situations are difficult and destabilizing enough as residents contend with the overburdening of infrastructure, the shortage of resources, loss of income, and shifts in population due to displacement or relocation.

Unfortunately, such situations and their aftermaths also then function as unhinging stressors that lower morale and tear at the very fabric of society, the sense of community and belonging that encourages a diverse group of people to coexist and to devote their individual efforts to the larger, common good. 

And those rifts in the social fabric become the perfect entry points for people and groups whose intent it is to divide and wreak havoc—political dissidents and terrorist organizations, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and the Central African Republic and Al Qaeda in in the Islamic Magrehb.   

And as we all know, terrorism is a threat to the entire world, not just the region in which it first takes root.

I wish to also speak to the issue of governance because Africa has long been stereotyped as a continent of corrupt, repressive and, sometimes, violent dictators. 

Despite the consistent spread of democracy as the result of free and fair elections, and the institution of the rule of law in many nations, that perception of Africa persists. 

While it’s true that there is conflict and political instability in several countries, especially in North Africa as the result of the uprisings and ensuing civil turmoil, the continent is, by and large, politically stable. 

Still, many of the democracies are relatively new and, as such, vulnerable to the threats posed by terrorism and other forms of rebellion or unrest.

It is not my intention to paint a picture of gloom. But in understanding why we find ourselves here today in the midst of this massive refugee crisis; in formulating strategies for sustainable development beyond this moment and this crisis, we must examine all the factors. 

We must take into consideration everything that might compel individuals wishing to escape their circumstances to risk their lives and the lives of their families to run the gauntlet. We must take into account that these are the same factors with which we must contend if we are to truly meet the goals outlined in the CAP.

All of these issues notwithstanding, there have been much progress on the African continent, progress that is worthy of celebration. There is much promise to be fulfilled. The African continent is in the midst of a tremendous transformation. Then again, so is the rest of the world, which is why dialogues such as this are so crucial. 

I would like to close with the words of one of my personal and political heroes, the late Nelson Mandela, who said: 

“Our human compassion binds us, the one to the other—not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

It is imperative in these urgent times, that we lead with compassion, with humanity, and with the courage to fight to create and sustain the world we want.

In the current fateful days, as leaders and people, are we united by our political respect for each and our mutual sympathy for each other?

I thank you for your kind attention.

And May God Bless us all.