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African Finance Ministers Meet to Discuss Continent's Economic Problems - 2003-06-02


Finance ministers from 53 African nations are gathering in Ethiopia for a three-day meeting of the African Development Bank group. The meeting, which officially begins Tuesday, is expected to focus on how to ease the many economic problems facing the world's poorest continent.

The meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, brings together the African Development Bank's board of directors, comprised of finance ministers from 53 African and 24 other countries.

The African Development Bank, along with the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, functions as the continent's main economic and financial institution.

A priority for the ministers at the meeting will be to assess the progress, if any, of the New Partnership for Africa Development, or NEPAD.

NEPAD is an African initiative, introduced two years ago. It is ultimately aimed at creating a self-dependent Africa through better governance, increasing investments and reducing poverty.

But some officials already concede that Africa made little progress last year toward achieving NEPAD objectives, especially in its efforts to reduce poverty levels.

A large part of the reason for this, they say, was the global economic downturn, which dampened growth in Africa. Recently released data show that in 2002, Africa's economy grew just 3.1 percent, a significant drop from the 4.3 percent growth the year before.

Droughts and flooding in certain parts of north, east and southern Africa, as well as on-going civil conflicts and terrorism threats that affected travel and tourism, also contributed to the continent's poor overall economic performance, the officials say.

But the director of economic and social policy for the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, Patrick Asea, also blames donor countries for not fulfilling their long-held promise to provide more aid to the struggling continent.

"For instance, they have promised to make sure that zero-point-seven percent of their GNP is provided as official development assistance to African countries. They have made other promises as well, in terms of allowing market access for African products. But these promises have not been met," Mr. Asea said.

It is a charge that has been heard in France at the annual gathering of the world's richest nations.

The primary architect of NEPAD, South African President Thabo Mbeki, is attending the summit. He has been urging G-8 countries to drop trade barriers, saying more aid would not be necessary, if poorer countries could export goods more freely to wealthy countries.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told G-8 leaders that Africa needs more debt relief and a significant increase in aid money, if the international community is to reach the goal of cutting Africa's poverty level in half by 2015.

African finance ministers gathering in Ethiopia, meanwhile, face the daunting task of finding a way to spur growth and development in a continent that has seen little of either in decades.

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