Sat, Jan 29, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Africa the focus of World Economic Forum

HELP NEEDED Africa's decline is due to insufficient aid money from the West and also government corruption in the continent, the summit's political leaders said

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , DAVOS

Irish rock star Bono, second right, gestures during the ``G8-Africa'' plenary session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday. Standing left to right are Former US President Bill Clinton, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, South African President Thabo Mbeki, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

PHOTO: AP

After decades languishing as the last item on the global agenda, seeming helpless to stem its own decline, Africa is poised this year for what the rock-star Bono called "its moment."

At the World Economic Forum in this snowy Swiss resort on Thursday, an American billionaire, an American ex-president, a British prime minister, two African presidents and Bono himself took to the stage to press the world to provide the money and the will to reverse Africa's slide.

If their entreaties to an assembly of more than 2,000 of the world's rich and powerful people had a loud sub-text, though, it was that the Bush administration will come under mounting pressure to underpin an effort to give Africa a new boost.

"The United States needs to move further up the table" of aid donors as listed by the proportion of their overall wealth they contribute to development aid, Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, said at a news conference. Gates, who has just announced a US$750 million gift to help poor children gain access to vaccines, was speaking shortly before he, Bono and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain joined Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and former US president Bill Clinton at a public session that ranked as one of the heavyweight events here.

The issue for Africa is as much how to raise new money as how to ensure it is spent effectively at a time when Western governments are preoccupied with matters like war in Iraq and nuclear policy in Iran. Disasters like the tsunami threaten to divert aid from Africa.

For as long as it has been in decline, of course, much of Africa has been the object of earnest debate and wrung hands, even as other regions of the world once known for their poverty have begun to find niches in the global economy.

But, this year, Blair has pledged to use his chairmanship of the G-8 wealthy nations and Britain's forthcoming presidency of the European Union to launch what he called Thursday "a big, big push forward."

"If what was happening in Africa happened in any other part of the world there would be such a scandal and clamor," he said.

The response, Blair said, will come through increased aid, efforts to end African conflicts, moves to end official corruption and tyranny, and enhanced campaigns against diseases like AIDS and malaria.

Westerners are hoping that African leaders will take charge of their destiny after a history of colonialism and Cold War division that left the continent in thrall to outsiders.

In changing some of its institutions to deal with its own social and economic problems, Obasanjo said African leaders had shown that "we want to help ourselves." But, he said, there is not enough aid to deal with in the lack of food, jobs, schools and health care

"We are getting aid when we have flood, disaster," he said. "We are not getting the critical mass of funds to make development possible."

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