Act on Sudan, Zimbabwe, G8 Chairman Tells African Leaders

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Berlin, Germany ( - African governments must do more to tackle conflicts and human rights abuses on that continent if they want to benefit from globalization, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel, whose country chairs the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized nations, told African representatives meeting here that conflicts in Sudan and Somalia and human rights violations in Zimbabwe are affecting how the world views Africa and its ability to cooperate in socioeconomic development programs.

Germany hopes to make Africa a key agenda item when G8 leaders meet here in June for an annual summit. The meeting will look at helping Africa set up a robust peacekeeping force, review commitments to increase aid to the continent, and forgive debts of some of the world's poorest countries.

Merkel said Germany "will do everything" to ensure that a better-equipped and more responsive peacekeeping force is deployed in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

The Islamist government in Khartoum has defied United Nations' attempts to deploy a strong peacekeeping force in Darfur. A 7,000-strong Africa Union peacekeeping force currently there is widely regarded as unable to protect civilians in the region, which is about the size of France.

"Every day counts for Darfurians and we shall make sure they live in human dignity," the German leader said.

According to U.N. figures, at least 200,000 people have died in Darfur since the conflict erupted between government-backed militias and Darfurian rebel groups in 2003, and two million more have been displaced. Washington accuses Sudan of perpetrating genocide there.

Merkel was addressing a conference in Berlin known as Africa Partnership Forum, examining ways highly developed nations can help Africa and provide the help needed for sustainable development.

Leaders of the G8 - the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia - have made financial pledges to Africa over the years.

Germany currently also holds the presidency of the European Union, which is defining a new relationship with Africa that may include a new trading pact.

Merkel warned that the gains Africa could make from such partnerships are at risk because of the continent's handling of the crises.

She pointed to the situation in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe's government has been accused of egregious rights abuses at the same time that the country's economy has been run into the ground.

Mugabe relies heavily on neighboring South Africa, but the government in Pretoria has been criticized over the years for not taking a tougher line with the 83-year-old despot.

Merkel said she hoped to see the Southern Africa leaders "doing more" to help bring social and economic stability to the country. She urged leaders and others attending the forum to make their influence felt in Zimbabwe.

One of the participants, Ghana's minister for foreign affairs Nana Kofu Addo, voiced regret for the poor image presented by Africa because of the continuing conflicts. But he also said there was optimism to be found in positive economic developments and the fact that the incidence of civil strife in the continent has dropped.

Even though many African nations don't have important commodities like oil or valuable mineral deposits, the latest economic data from the U.N. Commission for Africa says African countries are growing at an average rate of five percent.

Addo and Merkel agreed that this was a positive sign that the continent is changing. They also noted with satisfaction that HIV infection rates in some African countries have been dropping.

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