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Commission for Africa Wraps Up Consultations

The British-led Commission for Africa has ended its East and Horn of Africa consultations with a list of recommendations on what needs to be done to build a strong and prosperous continent.

British High Commissioner to Kenya Edward Clay closed the three-day meeting saying it is encouraging that Africa is looking for African solutions to its problems.

Many of the 20 or so recommendations to the Group of Eight industrialized countries and the European Union on how they should assist the continent's development called for more support for African structures such as the African Union and the AU development plan for the continent.

"And that is a very important evolution, because I think that is a clear signal that Africans finally give precedence to African institutions reflecting African aspirations, and that, I think, is wholly to be welcomed," said Mr. Clay. "Because nothing of what the outside world can do will be effective unless Africans show the way and give a lead."

Mr. Clay said Prime Minister Tony Blair intends to put Africa "at the top of the agenda" as Mr. Blair chairs both the Group of Eight and the European Union next year. He said the recommendations would be passed to the Commission for Africa, which, in turn, would make them known at meetings of the two bodies.

Participants called for the developed countries to help fund the AU conflict management and peace building program, support the Nile Basin Initiative that brings 10 countries together on how to manage and share the Nile River and back land redistribution and resolve border disputes through the African Union.

They also urged rich countries to cancel the debts of African countries, get rid of trade-distorting subsidies and raise their development aid to 0.7 percent of gross domestic product within five years.

The executive director of a Uganda-based advocacy group, Godber Tumushabe, called on the British government to fund groups that plan to track the recommendations' progress as a way of follow-up to the meeting.

"We recognize the good gesture of the commission in creating this valuable forum where civil society has been able to provide input into the Commission for Africa process," he said. "But we regard this event only as the first step in continuing consultation with civil society in the region."

Mr. Tumushabe also urged the British government, the Group of Eight, and the European Union to be accountable for what they have done about the recommendations.

Africa's debt burden is estimated to be about $230 billion. According to a paper presented by the aid agency Oxfam, low-income African countries pay out about $39 billion per year to service their debt, while receiving only $27 billion in aid.

The paper says industrialized countries' policies often discourage African countries from exporting finished or manufactured goods. For instance, it says, the European Union charges an average tariff of 21 percent for fresh fruit, but a 37 percent tariff on fruit juice.