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Give us support, not sympathy, Africa tells West

July 4, 2005

By Paul de Bendern

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) – African Union chairman OlusegunObasanjo urged rich nations on Monday to send the continent”massive” financial help, saying it was moving from a past ofmilitary coups to a future of good governance.

Some of Obasanjo’s remarks ran counter to a call by AU hostLibyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, a wealthy force among poorAfrican states, that Africa should refuse conditional aid fromwealthy countries including some former colonial powers.

Obasanjo, president of Africa’s most populous countryNigeria, said he hoped this week’s Group of Eight (G8) summitwould extend a recent debt cancellation beyond the 14 Africancountries that benefited from it.

“This is not the time for a lot of talk but more of a timefor serious and concerted action,” he told the opening sessionof a half-yearly summit of the 53-nation African Union.

He praised a British-backed report recommending more helpfor Africa to be presented to the G8 summit chaired by BritishPrime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday and Thursday.

But he said rich nations should repay money looted in thepast by corrupt African leaders and deposited in the West –funds believed to be worth tens of billions of dollars.

“For Africa (to fight poverty) it will require not only thedebt forgiveness for which we have been vigorously campaigningbut also a massive inflow of finance through repatriation ofcorruption-tainted funds in foreign banks, the fulfillment ofcommitments made by our development partners, new funds throughinvestments … and our collective political will to undertakeour own part for our upliftment,” he said.

Gaddafi told the leaders the solution to Africa’s woes wasthe creation of one pan-continental country, not Western aid.

“Begging will not make the future of Africa, (instead) itcreates a greater gap between the great ones and the smallones,” he said.

But it is Obasanjo who will be the key influence behind thewording of a message that African leaders are expected to sendto the G8 summit about rescuing the continent of 800 millionfrom poverty, war and disease, diplomats say.

IMPROVE QUALITY OF AID

AU spokesman Desmond Orjiako, a Nigerian, told Reuters theAU would ask the G8 to improve the quality of aid.

Many critics of Western aid say it suffers a number ofdefects, principally that much of it goes to pay expensiveWestern consultants or that it is conditional on Africangovernments doing business with a donor country’s companies.

More than 40 percent of Africans live on less than $1 aday, 200 million Africans are threatened by serious foodshortages and AIDS kills more than 2 million Africans a year.

As it does at all its summits, the AU targeted wars as abig barrier to growth on a continent that has seen 186 coupsd’etat and 26 major conflicts in the past half century.

“African leaders have said loud and clear and demonstratedour resolve that never again shall we allow unconstitutionalchanges of government,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the summit nationshad a responsibility to protect people from genocide, warcrimes and ethnic cleansing if their own governments failed todo so.

There was no mention in the agenda of Zimbabwe, in keepingwith the AU’s habitual deference to President Robert Mugabe, anicon of the continent’s anti-colonial struggle.

But summit guests include European Commission PresidentJose Manuel Barroso, who has urged Africa to join in globalcondemnation of Mugabe’s crackdown on illegal shantytowns.

AU officials last week rejected calls from non-governmentalorganizations to intervene in Zimbabwe, saying the crackdownthere was an internal affair.