Rudd optimistic about Africa's future

13 May 2011

Kevin Rudd speaking at the University's Africa Forum
Kevin Rudd speaking at the University's Africa Forum

Australia's deepening engagement with Africa is driven by a feeling of confidence that the Continent can realise its full potential in the 21st century, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd told an International Forum at the University today.

Mr Rudd, who has made visits to Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa and Tunisia since the start of the year, was the keynote speaker at the University's Building Bridges forum, attended by a number of African government representatives and academics. The forum was organised by the International portfolio and AusAID as part of the Sydney World Program.

Mr Rudd said Africa had made great strides in the last decade after the upheavals and conflicts of the post-colonial era in the 20thcentury.

Ten years ago Africa was home to one in two of the world's poor, but a different picture was now emerging with sub-Saharan Africa supplying three of the ten fastest growing economies in the world.

"Africa is still the world's poorest continent, but the big picture is significantly brighter than ever before," he said.

The Australian government was committed to ramping up its engagement with Africa, he said, and diplomatic relations have been established with all 53 African countries.

Economic investment is also booming, with more than 220 Australian mining companies operating in Africa, and in education a substantial increase in the Australia Awards program is helping to build up human capital in Africa.

Following Mr Rudd, Ghanaian Minister of Education Betty Mould-Iddrisu welcomed Australia's assistance, but gave a sharp reminder of the problems still facing Africa.

Despite its wealth of natural resources, the Continent has just a 2 per cent share of world trade. And the downside of the mining boom, she said, was that 200 of the 220 Australian companies were involved in non-renewable mineral extraction.

"This is a critical area where Africa and Australia need to build bridges. We need to do more than just take resources out of the Continent," she said.

Betty Mould-Iddrisu
Betty Mould-Iddrisu

Ms Mould-Iddrisu, who described herself as "a proud daughter of Africa", challenged Australia to find areas of collaboration that would produce a more prosperous future and tackle problems such as illiteracy, disease, gender disparities and food security.

"It is a sad indictment of Africa and the world that one in three Africans will go to bed hungry tonight," she said.

Other speakers at the forum included Mr Amadou Cisse, the Minister of Mines from Mali; Mr Omar Metwally, Ambassador of Egypt and Deputy Dean of the Africa Group; and Mr Lawrence Kiiza, Director of Economic Affairs in the Ugandan Ministry of Finance. Mr Rudd was welcomed by the Chancellor, Professor Marie Bashir, and the acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Stephen Garton.

On the first day of the two-day forum, delegates from 12 leading Australian universities attended a roundtable to discuss ways of working together more effectively in Africa.

The event concluded with seminars on education, mining/governance, agriculture and health, bringing together experts from Australia, Ghana, Rwanda, Mali, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa.

Professor John Hearn, Deputy Vice Chancellor International of the University, who convened and chaired the Forum, pledged to follow up in consultation with the participating Australian universities and their African partners in an action plan with AusAID to build programs in research, education and training.

Contact: Richard North

Phone: 02 9351 3191

Email: 590e0c3b021b3060581a4b1c1b74030d130701311e361241580206