Africa prepares G8 message

Leaders of many of the 53 member nations of the African Union have arrived for a summit in Libya to agree a message to send to the summit of the Group of Eight richest nations in Scotland later this week.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere said the G8’s decision last month to wipe out a sizeable chunk of debt to the world’s poorest nations did not go far enough.

“They’ve got to get the message that the debt burden for the entire continent needs to be lifted. Solving the problem half-way does not remove the problem,” he said ahead of the summit in the Libyan town of Sirte.

The G8 summit will be chaired by British Prime Minister Tony Blair who has put Africa at the top of the agenda.

Anti-poverty campaigners say G8 leaders have a unique chance to stop 30,000 children dying every day due to extreme poverty by doubling aid to poor countries, especially in Africa.

African leaders are expected to call for unconditional cancellation of all debt to the poorest African countries and the dismantling of trade barriers which prevent them getting access to rich country markets, analysts say.

The likely emphasis on trade rather than aid is consistent with the stated goals of the AU, a three-year-old continental initiative that plans to wean Africa off aid and push it into the globalised mainstream of international trade and investment.

“The challenge is to reciprocate these (G8) moves with sound governance and fighting corruption, to show that we are true partners in development and are able to take on our responsibilities and discharge them effectively,” said Alcinda Abreu, Mozambique’s Foreign Minister.

Zambian Foreign Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha said his country already had a plan for how to spend the gains of debt relief, from increasing the provision of life-prolonging drugs for HIV/AIDS patients to employing several thousand new teachers.

“I think we should accept any assistance that will help us tackle the problems we face. Debt relief has been one major move forward for us and the gains will be there for all to see,” he said.

The continent’s wars will also be discussed and the leaders are expected to call for increased Western funding of AU peace missions, particularly a small force of less than 3,000 troops and monitors trying to stabilise Sudan’s troubled Darfur region.

Foreign ministers holding a preparatory meeting on the weekend were trying to forge a consensus African position on the expansion of the UN Security Council.

The AU’s 53 votes in the UN General Assembly are considered crucial and African nations are being wooed by several countries seeking permanent seats on the Council for themselves or their allies.