African leaders urge action on poverty goals

African leaders said on Tuesday they could do more to meet UN goals to slash extreme poverty and urged stronger leadership among developing countries to tackle hunger and disease and attract investment.

“If Africa fails to achieve the MDGs, the world would have failed,” South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told a summit of the UN General Assembly reviewing progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals agreed to in 2000.

While the world looks set to halve poverty and hunger by 2015, the United Nations agrees countries are behind on other goals such as improving education and maternal health, reducing child mortality, combating diseases including AIDS, promoting gender equality and protecting the environment.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is set to announce a multibillion-dollar strategy on Wednesday — the last day of the poverty summit — to boost women’s and children’s health.

The goals have been set back by the global economic crisis, which has forced some rich donors to cut development assistance as they try to trim their budgets and focus on job losses.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame urged developing countries to examine why some were behind on meeting the goals and to take charge of their own development agendas instead of leaving it up to donors and aid groups to dictate them.

“Despite their good intentions, their perspective is often predicated on paternalism not on partnership, on charity not on self-reliance, and on promises unfulfilled rather than real change on the ground,” he said.

The global political and economic landscape had changed significantly since the goals were set, said Kagame, whose development strategies and anti-corruption fight have won applause from donors and investors.

“We in the developing world could do more. We have to reflect deeply on how we have driven this agenda so far and why we are lagging behind on these targets … we must assume effective leadership,” he added.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has long championed African solutions, said it was time for developing countries to take ownership of their own development.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we in the developing world have to do more and better to take charge of our destiny, to design programs and strategies appropriate to our circumstances and mobilise our own resources as the primary means of achieving the MDGs,” he said.

Blaming sanctions
The views of Kagame and Meles chimed with those of some Western leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said her country had not cut aid but that poor countries should not rely indefinitely on handouts.

“The primary responsibility for development lies with the governments of the developing countries,” she said. “It is in their hands whether aid can be effective. Therefore, support for good governance is as important as aid itself.”

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe blamed “illegal and debilitating” sanctions for widespread poverty in his country.

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on state firms and travel restrictions on Mugabe and dozens of his associates nearly 10 years ago after a violent re-election campaign and commercial farm seizures.

“As a result of these punitive measures and despite our turn-around economic plan, Zimbabwe has been prevented from making a positive difference in the lives of the poor, the hungry, the sick and the destitute among its citizens,” he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fiery speeches are watched closely at UN gatherings and have often prompted walkouts by the United States, told the summit capitalism was dying and a new economic system was needed.

“Now that the discriminatory order of capitalism and the hegemonic approaches are facing defeat and are getting close to their end, all-out participation in upholding justice and prosperous inter-relations is essential,” he said.

“The world is in need of an encompassing and of course just and human order in light of which the rights of all are preserved and peace and security are safeguarded.”

Several speakers said the goals would not be achieved unless more was done to improve the lives of poor women.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, called for more investments in sectors that help women, including agriculture and small-scale enterprises.

“As we renew our resolve in the year 2010, we must recognize the need for inclusive economic growth … rapid, sustained growth that creates jobs especially for youth and that help the poor and in sectors that help women,” she said. – Reuters

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Lesley Wroughton
Lesley Wroughton works from Washington. I write about U.S. Foreign Policy for Reuters based in Washington. Opinions are my own and retweets are not an endorsement. Lesley Wroughton has over 1577 followers on Twitter.

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