INAUGURATION OF ECONOMIC
COMMISSION FOR AFRICA
Inauguration of the 1st Session of The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
... Concerted action, co-operation, co-ordinated policies – these, honourable delegates, are not just words, but great and noble conceptions. In them, and in what they stand for, can be found the key to fulfilment of the longings and the hopes of millions of Africans.
It is with great pleasure that We, on behalf of Ourselves and Our beloved people, today extend Our warmest greetings to the delegations of the Economic Commission for Africa who have gathered here from all over this great continent, and, in particular, to The Honourable Dag Hammerskjold, Secretary General of the United Nations, who is Our honoured guest on this occasion. We welcome you all to Our capital.
The opening session of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa is truly a most historic and significant event for the great African continent. But a short half-century ago, only the most far-sighted individuals dared predict that within fifty years Africa would have so far progressed along the path of political and economic progress that a conference such as this, where representatives of nine independent African nations, as well as representatives of several other African countries have gathered together in solemn conclave to consider the common problems of Africa and the African peoples, would be possible. And yet this has come to pass, and today we are assembled here for this very purpose. Our heart overflows in the attainment of this moment.
Only a few years ago, meetings to consider African problems were held outside of Africa, and the fate of its peoples was decided by non-Africans. Today, the tradition of Berlin and Algeciras has been repudiated, and it is thanks to the Conferences of Accra and now of Addis Ababa that the peoples of Africa can, at long last, deliberate on their own problems and future.
The political growth of the peoples of Africa, a development which has come to fruition within the lifetime of every one of us here present, is one of the most striking and extraordinary evolutions in the recorded history of man. The political coming of age of the African peoples is ample testimony that we are witnessing the inauguration of a new and splendid period in this continent’s history. The number of African states which now enjoy their independence is only nine, but this number will grow in the future. In 1960, additional states will emerge into the brilliant sun of freedom, clear evidence that the political growth, which in a few short years has transformed the status of so great a number of the African peoples, has not yet finished, and that it will not come to its end until the goal toward which this movement has steadily and inexorably progressed has been totally realized.
Political independence, however, is but one part of the complex of problems which face the African peoples in their struggles to achieve their rightful place in the world. It is potentially the richest of continents, large numbers of her people still lead an existence that can only be regarded as sub-standard. A major cause of this lag in Africa’s economic development has been the lack of education of her peoples. Let us not be too proud to face these facts and to recognize Africa’s deficiencies and defects. Let us face honestly and frankly the fact that by the standards of the modern world, the African peoples today are poor. Our poverty need not cover us with shame. Africa, despite the predominantly agricultural basis of her economy, produces only a small percent of the world’s foodstuffs. Indeed, Africa produces scarcely enough food to support her own peoples. The average wage of the African worker compares unfavourably with that of other areas of the world. The average African may, if fate has smiled upon him, receive the minimum amount of nourishment necessary for physical survival, but rarely more.
Freedom Was Absent
Among the reasons for the poverty and hard life of the African peoples must be numbered the fact that heretofore most Africans have not enjoyed the freedom which they are now attaining. In addition, the lack of the capital essential to the development of their economies and the shortage of technically qualified personnel have severely limited Africa’s capacity for economic growth.
But, just as we must not be too proud to recognize the facts of Africa’s economic situation as it exists today, so we must not be cast down or discouraged by the magnitude of the problems which face us. For Africa is potentially rich. She has enormous deposits of raw materials, and the total extent of her wealth is by no means yet known. Africa produces large quantities of several of the world’s basic minerals and metals. She produces large quantities of various agricultural products such as palm oil and cocoa. The fertility of much of her land is potentially high in the extreme. A tremendous potential for the production of hydro-electric power and the irrigation of her land is found in the lakes and rivers of this great continent.
The vista that opens before the Economic Commission for Africa in fulfilling the weighty responsibilities laid upon it by the United Nations General Assembly is vast. The tasks are immense. Much labour and toil will be demanded, not only from those who will constitute the permanent organization, but also from the governments of all countries and territories in fulfilling the commitments and discharging the responsibilities resting upon its members and associate members. The economies of the African states have too long existed as separate, self-contained, isolated entities. African countries have for too long been forced to nurse their own economies and puzzle out their complicated problems by themselves, or else have them handled haphazardly for them by others. We are all only too well acquainted with the difficulties and barriers that the African peoples have had to overcome in coming together to deliberate on matters of common interest. But it is impossible to believe that individual countries, working alone and isolated from their neighbours, can ever achieve their objectives, and the African peoples must therefore work and co-operate together if the economic development of this continent is to be furthered.
The Ethiopian people in particular, long isolated socially and geographically, have had to plough a lonely furrow in many fields of economic endeavour, lacking the right and the facility to draw upon the experience and knowledge of others who were attempting to solve almost identical problems. Now, however, as almost every paragraph in the Charter of this Commission emphasizes, the goal on which Our eyes have always been fixed as a primary goal for Our people – the raising of their standard of living – has become the declared objective of the Governments of the member-states whose representatives are gathered here today, to be sought, in every way, by concerted action. Concerted action, co-operation, co-ordinated policies – these, honourable delegates, are not just words, but great and noble conceptions. In them, and in what they stand for, can be found the key to fulfilment of the longings and the hopes of millions of Africans.
Our task, the task of all gathered here and of those other African countries who are not numbered among the representatives at this first session of the Economic Commission for Africa, is to improve the economic lot of all African peoples, to raise them to a standard of living comparable to that enjoyed in the most highly-developed regions of the world today. This is a task and a challenge which must be met. And because this touches all of us, all must labour and work for success in this endeavour.
When the Commission comes to consider specific problems in the course of its deliberations, We ardently hope that it will give serious consideration to finding ways and means of extending immediate economic assistance not only to all African nations which are in need of such aid, but, as well, to those territories which are on the threshold of independence. It must constantly be borne in mind that the economic problems of some of the younger African states and of those areas which are on the verge of statehood are most pressing and serious. The United Nations Organization and the older States are, consequently, under a grave moral obligation to alleviate the economic difficulties of these young States and territories, and to help them found their economic structure upon a firm basis that will maintain and assure their political independence. Political and economic progress should go hand in hand.
There are other grave and important matters to which We trust the Commission will not fail to direct its attention. Among these are the implications of the involvement of African nations in regional preferential trade agreements with nations of other continents. The Commission could well take concrete steps to explore the possibilities of establishing statistical bureaux where none now exist, and of co-ordinating and unifying the statistical methodology to be employed in common by all member states. A programme of close co-operation between the Commission and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to study the possibilities of increasing food production in areas where people are under-nourished, and of wiping out cattle disease, problems of great importance to African countries whose economies are predominantly agricultural, would fulfil a long-felt need.
In view of the great influence of public health problems upon the economic development of African countries, the exploration and recommendation of solutions to such problems by the Commission, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, would aid immeasurably in accelerating the tempo of the economic development of the African continent. All African countries depend on their export trade and a manifest need exists for the promotion, stabilization and diversification of exports of the ECA member countries. The Commission should give serious consideration to the prevalent transportation and communication problems which have a considerable influence upon the development of all African countries, and seek resolutely to find solutions to the difficulties which perplex us all in these fields. Solving these problems would contribute much toward the economic development of Africa. In undertaking such a study, due consideration should be given to the desirability of establishing closer connections between the various national transportation systems, thus encouraging closer economic and commercial relations among member states.
It is appropriate that this gathering today is held under the sponsorship of the United Nations. The United Nations is a living and tangible testimony to the value of co-operative efforts among all men to improve their way of life and preserve peace. We believe that the African peoples, too, can co-operate effectively for the common good, for their own good and for that of all men. But this requires single-mindedness and an unswerving devolution to the cause of Africa and the African peoples. In your work, you must take into your hearts and be guided by the principle expressed in the Holy Scripture “Love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Draw Upon Lessons
Africa is not the first geographical area to be embraced by a regional Economic Commission. This We do not consider a disadvantage, since the experience gained and the lessons learnt by its predecessors in Europe, Latin America and Asia and the Far East can be drawn upon. But many of the economic and social problems are new, and the paths untrodden. In your task of finding the answers and the way, honourable delegates, not only the eyes of all Africa but of all the world will be upon you. We, for Our part, pledge the highest endeavours of Our Government and people in aiding and speeding your work, not only for this meeting of the Commission, but for the efforts and objectives of this organization in the years that are to come. May Almighty God prosper that work, and grant that it may be pursued in peace, in peace of mind and of circumstance unhindered by the fact or threat of war.
This land, of which you are the honoured guests, has known and suffered from the horrors and brutalities of war. The threats of armed conflict, the obsession with war and armed might, are evils yet to be eradicated from the minds of men. So long as they survive, progress towards the high and noble objectives to which this organization is dedicated will be handicapped and enveloped in darkness. In the mobilization of economic resources, in the search for ways to improve the lot of man, whether African or not, the threat to peace stands as a grim obstacle. The essential prerequisite for economic and social contentment is world peace, and without such contentment, the weeds of discontent luxuriate, and threats to peace develop.
We pray that peace may be vouchsafed to all men, that the labours of this Commission may ever be conducted in an atmosphere of harmony and co-operation.
Dec. 29, 1958.
Speeches delivered by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie Ist Emperor of Ethiopia on various occasions - page 99 -
Selected Speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie - page 192 –
Dag Hammarskjöld greeting His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie
I. At centre back is Mr. Mekki Abbas, Executive Secretary of ECA.|
29 December 1958 - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia