UNICEF Official Seeks New Focus on Africa's Concerns

A new focus on Africa's "islands of hope," rather than on its disaster-torn image, is the key to rekindling Western interest in the continent, UNICEF official Djibril Diallo said at the Harvard African Students Association's African Students Conference at the Kennedy School of Government Saturday.

To an audience of more than 100 at the Starr Auditorium, Diallo said Africans must demonstrate "the commitment of Africa to meet its own needs, because no one, especially the world community, wants to back a loser."

The UNICEF official said that by "focusing attention on recovery rather than disaster," Africa would be able to impart to the "global village" that the continent is committed to progress.

Diallo, who grew up in Africa, said his "post-colonial generation" must "go beyond words to fight the problems of disease, malnutrition, and illiteracy."

He noted with sadness that "if the hungry could eat words, Africa would have recovered a long time ago."

Diallo cited some "islands of hope" in Africa where action has actually followed rhetoric.

For example, in the capital of famine-stricken Ethiopia, Adis Abeba, children under one are being immunized at a higher rate than are infants in New York City or Washington D.C., he said.

African nations also were the first to pioneer "corridors of peace," areas which provide UN relief convoys with safe passage even when sections of Africa are at war, Diallo said.

Diallo, who is head of the UNICEF Public Participation Section of the Division of Public Affairs, said it is in everyone's best interest to support Africa's development efforts.

"Our generation is the first to live completely in the global village. And trouble in one part of the village affects the entire village," he said.

He called for the U.S. and the Western nations to commit to Africa in the same way they have committed to the development of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe by offering billions of dollars in aid.

More direct aid, the cancellation of past debts, and the creation of "development banks"--institutions which provide low-interest loans to developing nations--would greatly accelerate the development and stabilization of the continent, Diallo said.

The amount needed for these initiatives is $8.8 billion by the year 2000, Diallo said, adding that much of these funds could be found in the runoff from the thawing of the cold war.

Gilchrist Olympio, leader of the opposition party in the recent presidential election in Togo, also spoke at the conference Saturday. Olympio survived a recent assassination attempt by Togolese authorities while campaigning in the northern part of Togo, according to a brief biography of Olympio handed out at the conference.

Olympio spoke hopefully of the possibility for the emergence of democracy in many of the African countries currently ruled by force. Yet he warned against the use of force to oust a repressive regime, cautioning "it is extremely dangerous to use force with people who have guns."

Both speakers called for the participants of the conference to apply what they learned as soon as possible. "We must avoid becoming professional conference-goers and implement these ideas as soon as possible", Diallo said.

One excellent way to do this, they said, is to become involved with the "Day of the African Child," an event that will gauge the progress of efforts to aid African children, scheduled by the United Nations for June 16.

The weekend conference, which included speeches, workshops and cultural events, drew about 150 people from 13 different East Coast academic institutions, a conference organizer said.