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UN Econ Official Confident Africa Will Emerge Stronger from Financial Crisis

The top United Nations economic official in Africa says the global financial crisis will have a negative impact on efforts to cope with the continent's severe food shortages. But the official expressed confidence that Africa would emerge from the crisis even stronger, as we hear from VOA's Peter Heinlein at the headquarters of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa.

UNECA Secretary General Abdoulie Janneh says donor countries hit by the economic downturn will likely find it more difficult to maintain the level of food aid deliveries to Africa.

At the same time, he says Africans struggling to feed their families could see a silver lining to the crisis, in the form of lower commodity prices. That could mean more affordable food stuffs in African shops.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Janneh noted that lower oil prices would also help in poor non-oil producing countries like Ethiopia, which have seen hard currency reserves drained as the price of energy skyrocketed this year.

He expressed the belief that some of the bailouts and government rescue plans would restore common sense and sanity to global economic forces.

"I don't think we have reached an alarming situation yet. So let's hope the actions they have taken to improve the global economy will start to bear fruit, that we will not go back to 1929 days of recession and so on, and if that doesn't happen, I think this is a storm we can weather. I am convinced about that."

Janneh describes himself as an optimist by nature, and is encouraged by the spirit of international partnership that has seen donors pour billions of dollars in food aid into Africa in recent months. He expressed confidence that partners would realize that the continent is at a critical juncture, and that this is not the time to lessen attention and cooperation with Africa.

"So my advice to African leaders is, we will stay the course, we will continue, we are conscious of this, but we work within the context of the international community to ensure that the impact on Africa continues to be minimized, and we hope this does not dampen international cooperation."

Several experts are predicting slower growth in Africa as a whole, due to recent rises in commodity and energy prices. The global financial turmoil will only lower growth expectations. The International Monetary Fund Friday reduced its estimate of African growth from six and a half to six percent for this year and next.

Nevertheless, there is a broad consensus among economists that Africa will be among the least affected by the global financial crisis.

UNECA chief Abdoulie Janneh summed up his remarks to reporters by saying, "it is frightening, but I am optimistic that the process of fixing the problems has begun, and at the end of the day, we hope this continent would be better off."