African Union Bemoans Continent’s Image

John Leicester, AP, Feb. 15, 2007

The head of the African Union lamented his continent’s image as a place of “doom and gloom” at a summit of African leaders that opened Thursday in a city that suffers no such image problem: sunny Cannes on the French Riviera. The crisis in Darfur and violence in Guinea overshadowed the summit, as well as perennial issues of poverty, development and

AIDS.

French president Jacques Chirac recited a list of challenges that lie ahead for Africa and the international community, not least how to tap but not squander its natural resources — most recently being sought by China, India and others.

“Africa is rich, but Africans are not. The continent holds one-third of the planet’s mineral reserves. It is a treasure trove. But it must be neither pillaged nor sold off cheaply,” Chirac said.

But the African Union’s chairman, Ghana President John Kufuor, said “the time has come” for foreign media “to desist from painting our continent with one brush as a place of doom and gloom just because there are conflicts in some parts.”

African economic growth, he noted, is averaging around 6 percent and “compared with some decades ago, the majority of African leaders are democratically elected.” He issued a reminder that Africa wants at least two permanent seats on an enlarged U.N. Security Council — now the exclusive domain of Western powers, Russia and China.

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Before the summit, France also held a conference in Paris this week to advertise African success stories — people such as media entrepreneur Daniel David from Mozambique, who set up a private TV station but said that he struggles to find funding to expand.

Kufuor said “Africa can no longer be described as a lost continent” and that reporters should concentrate on “positive developments” in the fields of human rights and “in the management of our economic affairs.”

“Reports of corruption, crime, civil wars and even weather in Africa should not be presented in the media as if they were inherently African and exclusive to our continent, since they occur everywhere,” he said.

Darfur was to be discussed on the summit sidelines by the leaders of Sudan, Central African Republic and Chad. Chirac said the crisis is a humanitarian disaster that threatens the entire region and he urged Sudan to accept peacekeepers.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has resisted U.N. efforts to deploy 22,000 peacekeepers in Darfur, where his regime is accused of masterminding a brutal counterinsurgency against the region’s ethnic African tribes.

More than 200,000 people have died in the fighting that U.S. officials have described as genocide, and instability has spilled over into Central African Republic and Chad.

Guinea was discussed at a dinner of African leaders that Chirac hosted Wednesday night. Rioting and clashes between protesters and security forces led President Lansana Conte to declare martial law Monday. A Guinea human rights group said at least 64 people have been killed since the weekend.

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