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African Leaders Confront Governance Challenges

African leaders from the government, civil society and private sectors are in Burkina Faso for a three-day U.N. conference on good governance. Organizers say despite recent democratic reforms, the continent still has a long way to go. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar. Zoumana Wonogo contributed to this report.

A U.N. conference organizer with the Economic Commission for Africa, Laila Ben Barka, says despite examples of good governance on the continent, problems are still widespread.

She adds it is important for leaders to come together to talk about improving governance in order to solve social and economic problems.

"Repression against journalists and academics still continue. We have seen the re-emergence of de-facto authoritarian rule, electoral slides in some relatively strategic countries in which election results were highly disputed," Barka said.

Election observers have questioned the fairness of Nigeria's recent presidential election that installed Umaru Yar'Adua.

The Paris-based press-freedom group Reporters without Borders has condemned recent journalist killings in Somalia, and detentions in Niger and Gambia.

Chris Fomunyoh with the National Democracy Institute for International Affairs says there are examples of governments becoming more transparent. Sierra Leone and Togo both recently held legislative elections that observers judged to be mostly free and fair.

It was Sierra Leone's first locally-organized election after a brutal decade-long civil war. Togo has had a long history of bloody, contested elections.

But democracy analyst Fomunyoh says there is still a long way to go.

"Elections do not democracy make," Fomunyoh said. "Elections are only one component. We cannot gloat about turning the corner yet."

He says countries in conflict, like Sudan and Somalia, and countries coming out of conflict like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, struggle with introducing democratic reforms.

Fomunyoh says reforms in Guinea, where President Lansana Conte has ruled for 23 years, are hard to push through because new leaders are not able to rise to power.

Fomunyoh says African governments are increasingly facing more internal opposition from civil society and political groups. At the same time, he adds there are more financial incentives to introduce democratic reforms as donors tie aid to governance.

One of the criteria to receive Millennium Challenge grants from the United States, worth up to hundreds of millions of dollars, is good governance.

The U.S.-based democracy watchdog group, Freedom House, ranks 11 sub-Saharan African countries as free, 19 partially free and the remaining 18 countries lack basic freedoms.

The U.N. conference, which is focusing on ways to strengthen the African state, is expected to conclude Saturday.