High-Level Forum on Advancing Equity for People of African Descent

29 April 2022

Speech by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem at the High-Level Forum on Advancing Equity for People of African Descent in Accra, Ghana, 22 April 2022.

Your Excellency the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana, Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia,
Your Excellency the Vice President of the Republic of Costa Rica, Epsy Campbell,
Members of Parliament and the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished Guests,
Partners and Friends,

It is a privilege to address you today as leader of UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, and as a champion of people of African descent.

The theme of this high-level forum has a special resonance for me as a member of Africa’s sixth region – the diverse and dynamic African diaspora.

From the Americas to the Pacific, from Asia to Europe and beyond, we form a living testament to human resilience and to the force of will to freedom.

As the wise Akan elders have said: kuntum hwiyan, ekͻ n’akyi.

When you escape the trap, home beckons you.

Gathering here in Accra, as Africans and Afro descendants, we are reminded of our unbreakable bond. We share the same roots, the same present and a common future to which each and every one of us must contribute for all of us to flourish.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen cooperation for our collective progress and to promote equity, healing and social justice for our communities across the globe.

I am hopeful, because the wind is in our sails.

Last August, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a unanimous resolution to establish a Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, and on August 31, 2021, we celebrated the first International Day for People of African Descent.

We have seen wide-ranging efforts to accelerate the recognition, justice and development of our people, as the International Decade for People of African Descent calls on us to do.

Today, we are signaling our undivided commitment toward building a stronger future for Africa and the diaspora, one based on our common ancestry, values, and goals. We are here to share lessons learned, forge new partnerships and co-create pathways for transformative change.

I am grateful to the Government of Costa Rica and to the Vice President in particular, for bringing attention to issues affecting people of African descent and for calling for stronger collaboration with African governments to realize the aspirations of the diaspora community.

In that connection, I commend the President of Ghana for establishing, as part of his office, a unit for diaspora affairs, encouraging Africans and the diaspora to forge even stronger bonds.

Ghana has been a longtime supporter of the African diaspora, successfully hosting in 2019 the Year of Return, a historic initiative that commemorated the resilience of people of African descent and saw Ghanaians welcome the diaspora with open arms.

That same year, a group of Afro-descendant parliamentarians met with Ghanaian parliamentarians and explored socio-economic opportunities between Africa and the diaspora – laying the groundwork for the stronger links envisioned in Agenda 2063.

Indeed, Africa could benefit from facilitating cultural, economic, educational and scientific exchange with the diaspora, which in turn could bring significant development gains. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could also provide an important mechanism to explore and promote mutually beneficial partnerships, business and trade.  

With its youthful population, it is important for Africa to invest in the health and education of young people and create the space for them to participate in all sectors of its economy. Building bridges with the diaspora can help Africa’s youth connect to new opportunities and drive growth.

Across the continent, UNFPA is supporting governments in their quest to achieve a demographic dividend and is generating the data, evidence and policy frameworks for countries to realize it.

Through censuses, surveys, monitoring and evaluation, innovative data platforms, research and reports, UNFPA contributes to bringing the unseen to light.

In our latest State of World Population report, we delve into the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy. Each year, 121 million pregnancies are unintended – a development and human rights issue of global concern. Such reports help lift the cloak of invisibility off the shoulders of those most vulnerable to discrimination and inequality.

They also build a body of evidence that helps government leaders and policymakers pinpoint solutions for those at risk of being left out or left behind.

UNFPA will continue to work to ensure that the fundamental rights and freedoms of the most vulnerable, particularly women and young people, are protected, and that they have equal access to health, including sexual and reproductive health.

All of this is critical to making progress against the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and, ultimately, achieving the Africa We Want.

Distinguished guests,

There is a Ghanaian proverb: Fawodhodie ene obre na enam

Total freedom, emancipation, and independence come with responsibilities.

As we live life in larger freedom, let us heed our responsibilities to one another and make good on our collective promise to leave no one behind.

This means lifting up and empowering people of African descent, and other historically marginalized people, now and in the future.

Let us channel our shared culture, talents and legacy of resilience towards collective prosperity and progress. As always for Africa and the diaspora, in unity and solidarity lies our strength.

Thank you.

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