Listen to article

24 May - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today unveiled plans to visit Africa three times over the next month as he highlights the challenges facing the continent as it tries to achieve the global anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

Addressing his monthly press conference at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Mr. Ban announced a programme of upcoming official travel that will begin on Thursday with a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Third Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations.

“Support for the Alliance keeps growing,” he said, referring to the group that was established by Spain and Turkey in 2005 and operates under the auspices of the UN. “The number of countries now exceeds 100. The United States just became the latest to join. Such bridge-building work – across cultures, religions and traditions – is critical to so many of our global challenges.”

The Secretary-General then travels to Malawi to address the country's Parliament and meet President Bingu wa Mutarika, who also serves as the current President of the African Union (AU).

Mr. Ban is also scheduled to visit a so-called Millennium Village, where UN agencies work with governments, aid organizations and civil society groups to try to lift residents out of extreme poverty and attain the MDGs.

In 2000 world leaders agreed at a summit in New York to work towards the Goals – which include halving the number of people living in extreme poverty, slashing rates of maternal mortality and ensuring all children can complete their primary-level schooling – by a target date of 2015.

World leaders are slated to meet again at UN Headquarters this September to chart the progress made so far and to determine where efforts need to be focused over the next five years. UN officials have warned that sub-Saharan Africa is the region struggling the most to reach the MDGs.

Mr. Ban said today that after he visits Malawi he will then head to Kampala, Uganda, to convene the first review conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC), set up as a permanent tribunal to try people accused of the worst war crimes.

“We have come a long way. A decade ago, few would have believed that the International Criminal Court would now be fully operational, investigating and trying perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity across a growing geography of countries.

“The Kampala review conference is an important opportunity – not only to take stock of our progress, but to strengthen our collective determination that international crimes cannot go unpunished.”

The final leg of the first trip will be in Nice for the Africa-France summit, where Mr. Ban said he would meet with many African leaders and participate in discussions on climate change and economic development.

The Secretary-General is scheduled to return to Africa early next month, starting with South Africa, where his visit will coincide with the opening of the World Cup soccer championships – what he called “a fabulous tribute to Africa's prowess and potential.”

Later he will travel to Burundi, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin and Sierra Leone for talks with national leaders, UN staff and civil society groups, much of it focused on the MDGs.

Mr. Ban said today that he will make a third visit to the continent late next month when he travels to Gabon and then the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where a UN peacekeeping mission – known as MONUC – has been in operation for 11 years.

“MONUC is at a crucial stage of its work, and I want to personally engage with the country's leaders on the important matters at stake.”

The Congolese leadership has said recently that it wants the mission to withdraw by August 2011, but UN officials including Mr. Ban have warned that the security situation in the vast and troubled country may not have stabilized sufficiently by then to warrant a departure.

Accra / Ghana/ Africa/ Modernghana.com