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Washington DC Holds Symposium On Africa's Past And Hopes For The Future

A look at Africa’s past and its hope for the future was the subject of a symposium at Howard University in Washington Wednesday. Delegates focused on trade, climate and the environment. The event was called “Africa: Looking Back and Ahead.” It concentrated on the challenge of economic decline and environmental degradation.

But all is not lost, says John McIntire, who works in environmental development at the World Bank.

"There’s been a real revolution in the engagement of African countries in the areas of deforestation, global warming, bio-diversity, and so forth. And many years ago, the African countries, I think, didn’t take this agenda very seriously; they thought it was something that was being forced upon them by the West, and now the African leadership at all levels, has taken this very seriously. And under the African leadership -- the African Union, under the leadership of NEPAD, under the leadership of many individual African countries -- they’ve gotten much more involved in the international dialog about environmental issues … and they’re standing up for their rights and their interests."

In March of last year, the Paris Declaration, signed by both developed and developing countries, laid out steps to try to make aid work better. On the issue of corruption and aid, McIntire says the Paris Declaration is effective.

"I’m not going to say that corruption in some cases is not a problem – it is, but I think the African countries are taking a stronger stand against corruption. I think they’re taking effective measures. You can see what’s come out recently in Kenya about this big corruption case there. The government of Kenya is taking this very seriously. So I think there’s some grounds for optimism about the fight against corruption at all levels."

Madeleine Thompson is a scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University in New York – and has a background in health. She says the U-N Millennium Development Goals, established some six years ago, are making progress in many parts of the world but not in Africa, especially in health.

"In Africa, by and large, they’re not being achieved, and that’s been documented in recent reviews, and what have you. In relation to health issues that have been highlighted in the Millennium Development Goals – particularly malaria, HIV and TB, there have now been substantial new resources, new drugs made available. And they really have to be delivered to the communities affected. What’s important though, is that disease in Africa doesn’t stop with those three diseases. There are many, many infectious diseases which affect the poor very directly in terms of reducing the quality of life that are very cheap to control, that have, to a certain extent, been ignored and are now called the neglected tropical diseases, and new initiatives are now underway to really finance those."

The symposium was sponsored by the British Embassy in Washington. Thompson says its underlying purpose was to “keep things moving” -- to keep the subject of Africa and concerns for the continent’s welfare in the public eye.

The British government listed milestones leading up to this event and said they show promise for the future. Among them is the AIDS funding conference in September, sponsored by the WHO and UNAIDS. Delegates promised universal access to treatment by March of this year. Another was the Gleaneagles Summit in Scotland on aid, health, education and conflict. And the Africa Partnership Forum, held in October, agreed to finalize a joint Africa donors’ action plan by April.

Delegates to this symposium listed 16 more goals for the future, including cooperation among various organizations, such as UNICEF, the European Union, the IMF and the World Bank. Delegates say achieving a number of these would lead to substantial progress by the end of this year.