AU leaders seek strategy to reduce poverty and unemployment

Poor urban dwellers bear the brunt of inadequate water systems.
Water, sanitation and poverty are inextricably connected.” Without adequate clean water, there can be no escape from poverty.” (Shadley Lombard/UNEP)

The leaders of about 20 African countries began a two-day summit in Burkina Faso on Wednesday to discuss ways of reducing chronic poverty and rising unemployment across the continent.

The African Union summit, is due to adopt an action plan to halt and reverse the steady decline in living standards of most ordinary Africans. The United Nations reckons that 320 million people across the continent scrape by on less than one US dollar per day.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who chaired the summit in his capacity as AU chairman, told the opening session that it was not enough for African leaders to make eloquent speeches about the poverty of their countries.

Obasanjo stressed that they had to take concrete action to create more jobs through their economic development policies at both a national and regional level.

Officials said the meeting was expected to consider specific proposals to promote stronger job creation through agriculture, tourism and the growth of small businesses.

President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso, the summit host, called for "a strong political commitment to produce opportunities for the creation of decent jobs for the people of Africa through realistic projects and programmes."

The world's wealthier countries could help to create better conditions for long-term economic development in Africa by opening up their markets to African products and scrapping subsidies to their own farmers, he added.

Alpha Oumar Konare, the chairman of the executive commission of the AU, said the biggest problem facing Africa was a lack of financial resources. He urged the international community to simply wipe out the continent's external debt and pump in new investment.

But Konare, a former president of Mali, also reminded African leaders that their own governments would have to provide the AU sufficient funds to coordinate the fight against poverty across the continent.

The Ougadougou summit attracted several of Africa's most influential leaders, including the presidents of South Africa, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Algeria.

Juan Somavia, the director-general of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), reminded the heads of state that they had to address a clear message to three different audiences: their own people, who wanted a better life, international organisations which would be called on to respect their governments' priorities, and international donors, who would asked to fund the strategy they adopted.

Landlocked and semi-arid Burkina Faso, which hosted is hosting the conference, has one of Africa's weakest economies.

Its 12 million inhabitants are mostly subsistence farmers who generate an average annual per capita income of just US$264. Their main cash crop is cotton, which struggles against US and European Union subsidies to achieve a decent price in the world market.

No surprise then that Burkina Faso ranks 175th out of the 177 countries listed on the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Index.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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