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Africa's Needs in Focus as Commission is Set for Meeting - 2004-10-05


British Prime Minister Tony Blair is traveling to Ethiopia this week, for the British-sponsored Commission for Africa meeting to discuss the continent's pressing needs.

Uganda's Minister of Gender, Labor and Social Development Zoe Bakoko-Bakoru told VOA Tuesday she hopes the Commission for Africa meeting in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, would go beyond promises to solve the continent's well-publicized problems.

"I hope that we're not going to have further declarations - we have had so many of them," she said. "They don't seem to move a single thing. Nobody is really talking about the bare fact(s), which is employment, trade access, market access, and building capacity and savings. All these are ignored. We are just talking about symptoms - we are not talking about the real issues."

Ms. Bakoko-Bakoru said her country plans to support policies that include: improving access to international markets for African products; adding value to African products; improving African countries' ability to produce goods; employment creation; and ensuring that women are involved at the highest levels of peace negotiations.

The two-day Commission for Africa meeting opens in Addis Ababa Wednesday. More than a dozen dignitaries from African and western countries are expected to attend.

Prime Minister Blair formed the commission earlier this year. For one year, the group will look at ways to solve problems in the areas of education, the economy, conflict resolution, health, the environment, HIV-AIDS, and governance in Africa.

This meeting is part of a process to come up with a policy agenda for Africa that will be presented next year when Britain chairs the Group of Eight industrial powers, or G8, and the European Union.

The Kenyan representative of the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD, Pete Ondeng, applauds the commission for wanting to bring Africa's concerns to the G8 for support.

But, says Mr. Ondeng, the commission should realize that Africa has created its own development initiatives, bringing to a close years of what he calls "externally driven development."

"There have been questions about what effect another initiative, which would seem to say let's go back to the drawing board to try to find out what the underlying causes of Africa's problems are, would do," he said.

Mr. Ondeng urged the commission to improve upon and support NEPAD rather than coming up with another development plan, as he calls NEPAD "the most acknowledged pan-African initiative that has come along."

NEPAD is an Africa-wide initiative launched in 2001 in which the continent's political leadership agreed to individually and collectively end poverty, war, accelerate economic growth, and have a greater presence in global markets.

Prime Minister Blair is expected to attend the Commission for Africa meeting. He is also scheduled to meet Sudanese government officials in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, to discuss the situation in the war-torn region of Darfur.

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