July 5, 2005

Africa prepares G8 message on aid, debt, trade

By William Maclean

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - African leaders, admonished byLibya for "begging" from the West, met behind closed doors onTuesday to agree a message to rich nations that is expected tocall for more aid, freer trade and debt relief.

Heads of state of many of the African Union's (AU) 53member governments were holding a private meeting in the Libyantown of Sirte on the second and final day of thepan-continental organization's half-yearly gathering ofleaders.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, a wealthy force among poorAfrican states, told the leaders on Monday that the solution toAfrica's woes was the creation of one pan-continental country,not Western aid that came with strings attached.

But Britain, which is hosting the Group of Eight (G8)summit due to start in Scotland on Wednesday, said any move toincrease aid was simply the right thing to do, and in any casetrade was the key to unlocking Africa's development.

"It's not about charity, it's about justice," saidBritain's international development secretary, Hilary Benn, atthe AU summit.

"But in the end it's going to be economic development,opening up the world trading system, enabling Africa to earnand trade its way out of poverty that's really going to makethe difference, and for that to happen you also need peace andstability, good governance, and we have heard all that veryclearly from the African Union summit."

AU chairman Olusegun Obasanjo, also president of Nigeria,Africa's most populous nation, praised a British-backed reportrecommending more help for Africa to be presented to the G8summit.

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.


Benn said without elaborating that he expected a "real stepforward" by the G8.

"People are being ambitious. We are putting pressure onourselves and on each other. Of course you run the risk (ofdisappointment), but the greatest crime of all would be not totry in the first place."

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.

In the African gathering's other major piece of business,the leaders endorsed a plan to demand two permanent seats on areformed U.N. Security Council, although they dodged thequestion of how their representatives would be selected.

Diplomats said the gathering was running out of time totackle the subject, and leaders did not want to spark acrimonyamong top contenders Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt.

"We have agreed the principle but have not gone into theselection process," South African Foreign Minister NkosazanaDlamini-Zuma told reporters. "It will be negotiated."