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African Groups Organize G-8 Parallel Ceremonies


As the leaders of the world's richest nations met in Scotland on African poverty and global environmental issues, African groups organized meetings of their own. They say, even though rich countries can do much to help Africa, they too must participate in the process.

Traditional dancers performed at a tree planting ceremony this week in the village of Yintenga, about 160 kilometers from Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.

A similar ceremony was taking place in Scotland, with the participation of the wives of the G-8 leaders. For each Baobab tree planted in Yintenga, a first lady planted her own tree in the United Kingdom. The goal of the event, organized by a local civil society group, was to highlight the focus of talks at the summit in Gleneagles, poverty reduction and the environment.

Burkina Faso's minister for the environment and social welfare, Colonel Laurent Sedgo, who planted the sister tree of American First Lady Laura Bush, says the event is symbolically important.

"The G-8 leaders are talking about how to come through [with] poverty alleviation in Africa," said Colonel Laurent. "How also to tackle the problem of global warming. Here, in this place, where we are planting, these two events are connected."

Burkina Faso is considered one of the world's poorest countries, a situation that has been aggravated in recent years by frequent periods of extended drought.

Colonel Sedgo is hoping for aid to Africa similar to the United States' Marshall Plan, which helped European countries rebuild after World War II.

"As you know, Europe, they also had problems after the Second World War," he noted. "But it was because of the help that they could have that already now today in Europe, we see that things are going well. So, we think that with the same effort Africa will go also well."

The tree planting ceremony was one of several events across the African continent scheduled to coincide with the G-8 summit. Some were much more than symbolic.

In Mali, another heavily indebted nation, groups organized a so-called Forum of the People in the city of Sana, about 100 kilometers from the capital, Bamako. There, civil society leaders and public officials discussed alternatives to current trends in globalization, seen by many in West Africa as adding to the already substantial obstacles faced by countries in the region.

A top government official handling Mali's public debt, Bakary Konimba Traore, says simply canceling debt is not enough.

Mr. Traore says, for countries like Mali to develop, they need to borrow money. And, he says, that, if in canceling current debts, wealthy countries become less likely to give to Africa in the future, then Africans will continue to suffer.

The G-8 summit of the world's richest nations concluded in Scotland Friday with promises to double annual aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010 and pledges to make trade more fair.

G-8 leaders also backed a recent deal to eliminate $40 billion in debt owed by the world's poorest countries, most of them in Africa.

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