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African nations make progress in fighting poverty

(CNN) -- Some call it a re-invention of decades-old dreams and perhaps the highlight of developments in Africa in 2001. At their annual summit in Lusaka, Zambia, African leaders agreed to retire the Organization of African Unity and initiate the African Union.

The year also saw a new generation of leaders spearheading efforts to combat poverty on the continent. South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and Senegal's Abdulaye Wade took on the task of trying to convince wealthier nations that Africa could no longer be ignored. The New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD grew out of their efforts. The goal of NEPAD is to extricate Africans from the malaise of underdevelopment and exclusion.

Increasing foreign investment was also a major priority of many countries on the continent. Leaders traveled the globe trying to convince the international business community that investing in Africa was profitable.

Their efforts received a major boost when U.S. President George W. Bush set up the U.S. Sub-Saharan Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum. It aims to improve trade between Washington and 35 African nations. The forum was mandated by the African Growth and Opportunity Act passed by the U.S. Congress.

On the political front, 2001 began as a promising year for democracy when Ghana ushered in a new government. Former military ruler Jerry Rawlings stepped aside after his party lost the presidential election.

In Zambia, after months of squabbling, President Frederick Chiluba gave up his attempt to seek a third term, which paved the way for peaceful elections in late December.

In Gambia, former military leader Yahya Jammeh won a second five-year term in October. However, the opposition United Democratic Party cried foul, accusing the government of manipulating the votes.

In Zimbabwe, it was a turbulent year. Opposition leaders complained of increased government harassment as the country prepares for presidential election in March. Newspaper editors and opposition figures face frequent arrests. Several opposition party members have lost their lives in recent weeks. The opposition blames government loyalists. Despite an agreement to resolve the land dispute, President Robert Mugabe continued his controversial land reform policy.

Elsewhere, the continent made strides in resolving conflicts. Nelson Mandela brokered a deal between warring factions in Burundi, which paved the way for a new power-sharing government. However, some Hutu rebel factions rejected the pact and continue to battle the government.

In Sierra Leone, peace may be on the horizon. The United Nations says nearly 40,000 fighters of the Revolutionary United Front have been disarmed. Under a peace deal reached in May, elections are scheduled for this year.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the peace efforts hit a major stumbling block. All sides in the conflict are still arguing over who should attend peace talks.

Some experts say while it was a year of progress in some areas, Africa still faces major hurdles in improving the well-being of its people. AIDS continues to be a threat. Of the 40 million people infected with AIDS worldwide, at least 28 million are in Africa. In addition, the World Bank predicts harder times for the continent in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States.




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