As the African Union is making its first strides to build mechanisms that will help promote good governance in the continent, the U.N. Secretary-General appointed an experienced African, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, to be the focal man to deal with an almost daunting task. The former Ambassador of Nigeria, who played a pivotal role in securing the post of Secretary-General for Africa, is entrusted with leading the co-ordination and guidance of African-related reports; supporting the various bodies in their deliberations on Africa; initiating reports on critical issues; backstopping the Secretary-General in promoting a co-ordinated response in support of African development.

There is also the advocacy role. Otherwise, if the public is not aware of the efforts, if the targets of development are not willing and enthusiastic participants, then very few results would be expected.

Professor Gambari explained: "This new Office would neither succumb to the widespread Afro- pessimism in the sense that the situation of the continent is hopeless and nothing can be than to remedy it, nor to blind Afro-optimism, which ignores any and all problems in the continent." Instead, it would be guided by a sense of realism, such that when and where Africa is doing well these should be highlighted and if the contrary is the case, we must draw attention to the shortcomings. Our approach in the new office would be to listen carefully to what the stakeholders in the continent are saying and to be guided by an objective and accurate assessment of the African condition."

In evaluating the African condition, he felt that there is progress in resolving some of the most prolonged and complex wars in Africa, notably Angola, where he accomplished a delicate mission authorized by the Security Council. Additionally, a new framework has emerged as the vision for Africa's development under the auspices of the Africa Union.

The global fund for HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, has taken off and international support for it is building gradually. Democratic governance is witnessing a rebound, though slowly and unevenly. On the other hand, there are several areas in which Africa remains mired in vicious cycle. For example, despite recent progress in the peace process, the conflict in Sudan is yet to be resolved; the situation in Liberia is worsening and Cote d'Ivoire, which used to be an oasis of stability in a dangerous neighbourhood, has been the theatre of internecine conflict and war. Moreover, famine and drought bring havoc on large populations and evidence is mounting that more countries may face severe food crisis in the future. The debt crisis in Africa is no longer merely an issue of temporary illiquidity, but structural insolvency and a serious obstacle to socio-economic development of the continent. The new office, therefore, will focus on four areas. These are the pursuit of peace and security and the related issues of poverty reduction and good governance; agriculture and food security; diversification and competitiveness of Africa's output and export and related issues of market access; and infrastructure development. Success in these areas would not only benefit the African peoples but also move the continent from the margins of globalisation to its mainstream.

A general comment made by many African observers is that the right person has been put in the right place to handle the right subject. The question is: Will he be allowed to deliver? Will he be given the tools -- and the cooperation -- to do the job?