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Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 21:37 GMT
African conference tackles poverty

Rwanda refugees War is one the main obstacles to development


By economics correspondent Andrew Walker

A summit of African leaders is under way in Libreville, Gabon, to discuss issues of poverty and economic development.

The leaders have been joined by the top officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

The international financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank say they are putting a new emphasis on reducing poverty.

And the head of the IMF, Michel Camdessus, said he went to this summit with high expectations.

He believes many African countries turned a corner in the last decade.

Average living standards had been declining, but he thinks that by adopting more market-oriented economic policies and keeping better control of inflation, many have started to improve.

New approach

Last September, the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank member countries agreed a new approach to economic policy that put poverty reduction at the centre.

The starting point is an assessment of what is needed to reduce poverty.

The approach also foresees a key role for consultation with what is called civil society - groups outside the institutions of the state such as development agencies, churches and unions.

The IMF's critics welcome this language but they want to see what it will mean in practice.

Opening the summit, the Gabonese President, Omar Bongo, called for innovative solutions.

They are likely to be necessary if the countries at the summit are to achieve what the IMF chief Michel Camdessus said they could - to eliminate half of the continent's most extreme poverty within 15 years.

Countries seeking debt relief must have IMF-approved policies. But the IMF's critics say it is obsessed with low inflation, and its economic programmes achieve that by slashing government social spending - making poverty worse.


IMF boss Michel Camdessus Mr Camdessus promises a new approach
IMF chief Michel Camdessus says the new approach does not mean there will any less importance attached to containing price rises.

He says inflation is a taxation of the poorest - while the well-off always find a way of protecting themselves.

They should also curb their military spending, because war is one the main obstacles to development.

Opening up markets

And he said the rich countries should not promote their arms exports so much. He also wants to see the trade talks that collapsed in Seattle last year resumed to improve the developing countries' export opportunities.

"If the industrial countries do not open totally their markets to all the products of the poorest countries the debt reduction is just a nonsense," he says.

And there is another role for the rich countries - to reverse the recent decline in their spending on aid.

That will certainly get a warm welcome from the African leaders gathered in Gabon

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See also:
04 Jan 00 |  Africa
No more aid, says Kenya opposition
02 Jan 00 |  Africa
Call to stop African arms trade
20 Dec 99 |  Africa
Debt relief conditions 'killing children'

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