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By Peter Heinlein
03 February 2009
African leaders meeting in Addis Ababa, Tuesday, have heard a series of grim economic forecasts for the continent and pledges by international financial institutions to dramatically increase lending to ease the expected pain. A debate at the AU summit on the deepening financial crisis was held in an atmosphere of uncertainty about how to address it.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, set the tone for the day's debate, predicting a continental disaster unless action is taken quickly.
|Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi, (file photo)|
"Our economic prospects are such that unless we act, and act now and decisively, the majority of African states could become failed states over the coming decade," said Meles Zenawi. "The consequences of such an outcome are dire."
There was little optimism in the summit hall, but there was general agreement that Africa could be the worst victim of a crisis not of its own making.
World Bank Vice President for Africa, Obi Ezekwesili:
"African countries did not create the situation that the world is having to deal with today," said Obi Ezekwesili. "However, Africa is not a far-flung continent different from the rest of the continents of the world. Therefore, it has to ultimately get the impact of the contagion effect we have seen."
Ezekwesili told the assembled leaders that the world has changed and warned that they have to be ready to change with it.
"It is clear we are in a new world and, therefore, the way we act and the way we respond cannot be the traditional way we have always known," she said. "Something has to change. And the people who can make the change happen for Africa are right within the room."
But some in the audience seemed to reject Ezekwesili's advice.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who has presided over the destruction of his country's once powerful economy, continues to blame Zimbabwe's woes on a campaign of Western revenge.
"The cause of our condemnation, isolation is because my government took the necessary measures to create the conditions for equal opportunities for decolonization, for creating conditions in which our people would regain their lost resources and have access to the means of production," said Robert Mugabe. "We believe these illegal sanctions are not only unjustified and cruel, but they have led to the needless suffering and foreign-induced polarization of the people of Zimbabwe."
Loans are not an option for Mr. Mugabe, whose country is under economic sanctions. But for most others, lending seems to be a critical short-term option. African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka told the summit that the bank would triple its lending to the continent to help soften the blow of a crisis many fear is still in its early stages.