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AU Chief Warns Price Hikes Pose 'Crippling Challenge' to Africa


The head of the African Union, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, has warned that rising oil and food prices could wipe out Africa's recent economic progress. Mr. Kikwete spoke at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, at a swearing in ceremony for the new leadership of the African Union Commission. VOA's Peter Heinlein was there.

It was a largely festive and ceremonial occasion. It was a farewell to outgoing AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare and an inauguration for the administration of incoming Chairman Jean Ping, a former Gabonese foreign minister and U.N. General Assembly president.

But in his remarks to the gathering, AU leader and Tanzanian President Kikwete raised the question worrying many African officials. He said Chairman Ping and his commission face a double-barrelled challenge during their term in office.

"The new commission is coming at a time when Africa is faced with two crippling challenges - the high food prices and the high oil prices," said President Kikwete. "If these challenges are not checked, they will cripple many African economies, which fortunately in the past few years have been doing very well."

Mr. Kikwete warned that all Africa's recent economic progress is in danger.

"Average growth in Africa is now six percent, but things may fall apart if the food crisis continues and the oil crisis continues to creep," he sais. "There is a serious danger that all the economic gains may be lost."

Mr. Kikwete paid tribute to Alpha Oumar Konare, the former Malian president who led the AU Commission in its early years. He noted the new commission inherits several African disputes.

"There are, for example, challenges of the continuing conflicts on our dear continent," said Kikwete. "The crisis in Darfur, Chad, Central African Republic and Somalia, which are yet to be resolved. The situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Zimbabwe, which demand the close attention of the African Union."

In his farewell address, outgoing chairman Konare urged Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to respect the outcome of recent elections. Speaking in French, Mr. Konare said, 'the people of Zimbabwe have expressed their desire for change. We hope the president of Zimbabwe accepts these results.'

Human-rights groups have expressed grave concern about reports of violence in Zimbabwe as the wait drags on for all the results of the March 29 elections.

The top American diplomat for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer told the British Broadcasting Corporation that Washington would be willing to seek U.N. sanctions against Zimbabwe if post-election troubles continue.

During a visit to the region last week, Frazer told reporters that Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won a clear victory in the first round of voting, and possibly a total victory. She based her comment on results released by the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network.

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