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World - Africa

New year brings new promise to troubled Africa

Former combatants are being turned into farmers as Mali strives for prosperity  

January 3, 2000
Web posted at: 4:07 a.m. EST (0907 GMT)

In this story:

The poorest of the poor

Conflicts stymie investment

Africans urged to take the lead


From Johannesburg Bureau Chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault

TIMBUKTU, Mali (CNN) -- In the ancient Saharan trading center of Timbuktu, once embattled Tuaregs have put down their guns, embracing the end of a 16-year war that threatened to destroy their near-mythical home.

Former fighters are adopting a new trade: farming. And the nomadic people now enjoy a sense of peace and accomplishment, taking comfort in the promise that they will be allowed to once again have the power to determine their destiny.

"It's only now, these years with democracy and decentralization, that I see signs that maybe, we hope, that times are changing for good," said Ibrahim ag Youssouf, a Tuareg working for the United Nations.

But Mali's economy has yet to recover from the war, and it remains heavily dependent on international aid.

"We do not need charity," said Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare. "We do not want people to carry our hands to make us work. It's just a matter of helping us get on our feet. We'll work by ourselves."

The poorest of the poor

Konare's plea is one heard all over the African continent of some 600 million people -- a continent where democracy has brought a season of hope to some 20 sub-Saharan countries in the last decade. But democracy has not guaranteed prosperity. More than 40 percent of Africans live on less than $1 a day, making them the poorest of the poor.

At the bottom of the poverty scale: Tanzania. Like many newly independent African countries, Tanzania chose socialism over democracy 30 years ago, only to see its economy wither and fail.

But the country has now changed course. Tanzania and other young democracies are winning high marks for their economic reform programs, mandated by international lending institutions as a prerequisite for financial assistance.

However, that process is too slow, Tanzanians say, and the sacrifices people are asked to make are potentially explosive.

"If there is conflict, conflicts will spread out. And when these conflicts spread out, even the oceans will not prevent them from extending to other continents," said Konare.

A baby suffering from AIDS lies in a hospital nursery  

"In every adjustment program, you're going to have some groups that are going to suffer ... for a short period of time," countered Fayad Omar of the World Bank. "But the key is the economy. It is the economy on a sustainable level."

Conflicts stymie investment

The most promising avenue for Tanzania and other African nations to follow, Omar says, is private investment.

But investment flourishes only in times of peace. From civil war in Sierra Leone to border fighting in the Horn of Africa to ethnic bloodshed in the Great Lakes region, some 120 million Africans -- 20 percent of the continent's population -- live in countries severely disrupted by conflict.

Unfortunately, the world has been reluctant to act in far too many of these conflicts, said South African President Thabo Mbeki.

"A conflict that takes place in Sierra Leone -- very brutal, with all those children's arms being chopped off -- that matter should really evoke as much concern as Kosovo ... and (the world should) show the same sentiment and the same impatience and the same willingness to act," Mbeki said.

Africans urged to take the lead

At the same time, it is Africans who must take the lead, Mbeki said, in resolving not only conflicts, but all other problems plaguing the continent, including HIV and AIDS.

Mbeki has campaigned for Africans to "drop the begging bowl" and take charge of their destiny. But he's not letting the West off the hook.

"We can't cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, no," Mbeki said. "Since the shoe is pinching, it's (we) who ought to say, 'The shoe is pinching. Let's take it off.' We might want somebody else to help us pull it off ... But I think in the first instance, the agenda has got to be determined by Africans."


Africa News Online - Mali
African Development Forum
TIMBUKTU - Mali, Africa.
Dan Heller's Photos of Timbuktu, Mali
Etchings, Africa, Gravure, Mali, Tanzania, African Artists
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