North Africa dominates African ministerial meeting ahead of AU Summit

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) - African ministers kicked off the high-level segment of the African Union Summit on Thursday, urging the continent to move rapidly to end a looming economic crisis and address youth unemployment, to avoid a continuation of the Arab revolts across the continent.

“The uprisings in North Africa were about dignity, freedom, justice and accountability, but were also an expression of discontent arising from sharply rising inequality and lack of economic opportunity,” UN Under-Secretary General Abdoulie Janneh told the ministers.

Janneh, who heads the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), said economic growth in Africa was cut down by half due to the North African crisis, and noted that conditions that led to the onset of the crisis were present in most countries across Africa.

“Such economic concerns are present in virtually all our countries where high rates of youth unemployment continue to be of major concern. Previous governance reforms have provided an opportunity for people to protest peacefully against policies to which they are opposed, but we cannot take things for granted in the face of continuous and unrelenting economic hardships,” he said.

The UN official proposed that African countries should make good use of taxes gained from natural wealth, including oil and gas, to develop road and rail infrastructure and save their economies from decline.

However, critics expressed doubt that the proposals, including an invitation to international investors to step up investments in Africa’s infrastructure expansion, can be the magic wand.

“The issue is not just about jobs, but it is also about livelihoods. The economic sectors of Africa cannot expand faster enough to create descent jobs,” Houghton Irungu, the Pan African Director of Oxfam International, told PANA. “We expect them to come up with concrete proposals on this issue.”

African Union’s Commission Deputy Chairperson Erastus Mwencha said the Arab uprising in North Africa was a lesson to Africans, that measures were required urgently to prevent future revolts.

“These events will take place like a tsunami. Those who reacted effectively and accommodated the demands of the people survived, if you resist, it would sweep you,” Mwencha told journalists.

He said African leaders had no option but to act on the demands of their citizens by taking proactive steps to address those demands.

“When the people call for change - it important to give in - because it is them who give those privileges,” Mwencha said.

Several institutions represented at this year’s Summit, dedicated to addressing the issue of Intra-African Trade, have focused on jobs for the youth, insisting that it was a key component of the efforts to ensure a more peaceful Africa.

Earlier, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) signed an agreement on the sidelines of the meetings, pledging to boost cooperation on matters affecting the youth.

IGAD Executive Director Mahboub Maalim said: “We want to expand our joint efforts to promote lasting peace and development in the countries of the Horn of Africa.”

On his part, ILO Regional Director for Africa Charles Dan said the ILO was ready to implement the agreement, and that focus would remain on creating employment opportunities and extending a social protection of the youth.
-0- PANA AO/SEG 26Jan2012

26 january 2012 11:03:23

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