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West African Nations Hold 'Poor People's Summit'

As leaders of the world's richest nations and Russia meet in Canada, another "summit" has been going on in the West African nation of Mali. Representatives of several West African nations are holding what they call a "poor people's summit."

The meeting is being held thousands of kilometers from the G-8 summit in Canada, in Siby, a dusty village about 50 kilometers from the Malian capital, Bamako.

At the meeting in Mali, there is no fanfare, no large media presence, and no heads of state present. Like the G-8 summit, however, the agenda of this meeting includes discussions on what steps should be taken to eradicate poverty and stimulate the economies of some of the world's poorest nations. The gathering in Mali, which began Tuesday and ends Friday, was organized by a Bamako-based anti-globalization group, known as Jubilee 2000. It has drawn hundreds of people, including students, sociologists, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and activists from African nations, including Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, and Senegal.

Among those taking part is Malian sociologist Aminata Dramane Traore who, like others at the gathering, has some objections to the NEPAD African development initiative being presented at the G-8 summit. NEPAD seeks to draw investment from Western nations to help develop African economies. Ms. Traore told VOA she believes the plan will benefit only the African politicians who proposed it.

"The way they are acting serves their own political interests, so that they can have funds to invest in whatever they want. In terms of priorities, we think that the best thing Africa has to do right now is to invest in human beings. People are dying. The social reality [here] is just bad," Ms. Traore said.

Ms. Traore said she is dismayed that the African leaders did not consult with their people in putting together the NEPAD initiative.

Aside from the issue of poverty, the meeting in Siby has included discussions on commerce and the role of women in the development of poor nations. The village of Siby, which has no significant commerce, no industry, and no infrastructure, was chosen as the site of the gathering for purely symbolic reasons.

It was there that Chief Soundiata Keita, the founder of the first Mali empire, called a convention to draft the empire's first constitution in the 12th Century. To many, the village is a reminder that Africa has known periods of stability and prosperity, long before it had contact with the West.