The head of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa is urging homegrown economists to take the lead in addressing Africa's economic challenges. VOA's Peter Heinlein has details from the opening session of the African Economic Conference under way in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

U.N. Economic Commission for Africa Executive Secretary Abdoulie Janneh says homegrown talent is an essential component in Africa's future economic success. Janneh made the comment in his keynote address to the three-day economic conference being sponsored jointly by the U.N.E.C.A and the African Development Bank.

Janneh welcomed the presence of what he called the many African economists from the diaspora attending the conference. But he urged them to remember that their ideas and intellectual contributions are most needed at home.

Afterward, Janneh told VOA these "homegrown" economic thinkers must take the good ideas that work for them abroad, and put them to use for the future prosperity of the lands of their birth.

"What we are advocating is that these intellectuals give priority to Africa. If you go to the U.S., you go to other countries, there are outstanding African intellectuals and economists working in this context, in these institutions, and they are involved in a lot of global issues, and their voices are being heard," said Janneh. "We are saying, this is fine, continue to do so, but reserve a substantive portion of your intellect, or your attention, on African issues. Once you do that, I think it is fine. Do not leave this to outsiders."

Janneh noted that many of the most prominent schools of thought on bringing prosperity to Africa come from Europe and the United States. He pointed to the opposing ideas of American economists Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly.

Sachs argues that what is needed is a massive increase in development assistance from wealthy countries. Easterly counters that the huge amounts of aid already poured into Africa have produced meager results, and suggests that the old 'top-down' assistance programs are in need of a fundamental revision.

Janneh says he agrees with Jeffrey Sachs that significantly more assistance is needed from the rich countries. He says recent history shows that donors often make generous promises, but fail to live up to them.

"The acceptance of the need for increased assistance is there," added Janneh. "The commitments are made. But if you look at the reality, in terms of actual disbursements, it is not at the level that has been commitments made last year. In fact there was a decline in Official Development Assistance to Africa."

The conference being held at the U.N.E.C.A. headquarters in Addis Ababa has attracted a number of top economists from abroad, including many with African roots. But it also features top economic officials and thinkers from several countries on the continent. Among them, the deputy director of Sudan's finance ministry is leading a discussion on trade negotiations, a top official in Equatorial Guinea's finance ministry is chairing a meeting on micro-finance, and a senior South African official is heading a panel on the increasingly important question of Africa's business and development relationship with China.