Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan has called for “nothing short of a green revolution” to save Africa from a food crisis already killing many thousands.
Speaking at King’s College London, the Nobel Peace Prize winner described feeding the continent as the “most pressing challenge we face” and urged on the international community to do more in the fight against climate change.
In a wide-ranging lecture on 'Africa in the World Today', Mr Annan also stated that African leaders needed to do more over Zimbabwe, calling the situation in the country “intolerable and unsustainable.”
Giving the university’s annual Commemoration Oration, the Ghanaian diplomat said Africa had made progress in terms of healthcare, education, governance and investment.
He said the continent was now at crucial point in its development.
Mr Annan said: “Africa is at a crossroads. It can continue to move forward or retreat in the face of old and new challenges.”
“The most pressing challenge we face is food supply. We need action to tackle the immediate food crisis in Africa and the long-term impact that climate change will have on food supplies and agriculture across the continent.”
“Without immediate action we are certain to see, indeed are seeing, many thousands of more deaths.”
He added: “We need nothing less than a green revolution transforming every aspect of farming on the continent.”
Farmers need better seeds, soils, access to water and fertilisers, support from governments and the international community, Mr Annan said.
'Africa will suffer most from climate change'
Climate change must be the world’s responsibility, he said.
The diplomat said the richest countries may be responsible for most of what has happened, but that it is Africa that will suffer worst.
“Above all we need the international community and the developing world in particular to face up to the responsibility to future generations and take action needed to cut greenhouse gases,” the former UN boss said.
In the lecture, Mr Annan called on all African leaders to govern in “the interest of all its people, respect human rights and not to treat their country as their own personal fiefdoms”.
Turning to Zimbabwe, Mr Annan said: “The crisis in Zimbabwe, the economic collapse of the country, is both intolerable and unsustainable causing terrible suffering to its people and tarnishing the reputation of Africa.”
Asked if African leaders needed to take a greater role in addressing the situation in Zimbabwe, he said: “The leaders realise the importance of urgent action. And they also realise that if the second round is to be credible the environment has to be secure.
“Regardless of who wins the election you need to work with the two parties to determine how they manage the country – regardless of who wins.”
Responding to criticism of South African president Thabo Mbeki’s response, Mr Annan said: “I know that sometimes people believe that the quiet diplomacy approach of Mbeki has yielded nothing - but you should remember that it is not black and white.”
He said that one of the greatest contribution of Mbeki’s approach was an agreement between Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change over electoral reform.
“But that is not enough. We need to move on and make sure that the issue is resolved for once and for all,” he said.
After delivering the lecture, Mr Annan was awarded an honorary doctorate from King’s College.