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African Union Employment and Poverty Summit Begins  - 2004-09-08

Dozens of heads of state from around Africa are in Burkina Faso to address the issues of poverty and employment for the world's poorest continent.

The African Union, chaired by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, is sponsoring the two-day summit in the hopes of developing a strategy to create employment opportunities for the mainly unskilled labor force.

The continent has experienced a small economic growth during the past two years. But the International Labor Organization warns that growth will not continue if unemployment remains high.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is attending the summit in Ougadougou and says unemployment is a problem that unites sub-Saharan Africa.

"The invitation for the extraordinary summit of the African Union, which is going to address a number of issues that are of interest to us and the general continent," Mr. Kagame said. "And that is to be the employment and how to deal with the poverty. How can we register growth and development on our continent and focus on what needs to be done so we can continue to move ahead."

The labor force across Africa is expanding, and the African Union hopes to find a way to create eight million jobs each year for the next decade to handle the growth.

The vast majority of Africans survive on less than a dollar a day, and while they live mainly in the rural villages, the major cities such as Lagos, Johannesburg, and Kinshasa are experiencing increasing numbers in slum areas. These cities do not have the infrastructure to accommodate the population expansion.

International Labor Organization chief Juan Somavia says that job creation must be a "targeted objective" and not just an offshoot of economic growth. The ILO says Africa needs to plan for its future if it is to move out of a development slump while the rest of the world moves forward.