African Poverty Crisis, an Embarrassment, Says Obasanjo
From Chris Nwachuku and Juliana Taiwo in Ouagadougou


President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday said the endemic poverty in Africa as well as the deepening unemployment situation constitute a continental embarassment.

Speaking at the extra-ordinary summit of African Union on Employment and Poverty Alleviation in Ouagadougou, Obasanjo urged African leaders to adopt far-reaching and comprehensive reforms built around people to reposition the continent.

He also warned the rich against displaying indifference in the face of poverty crises and its attendent security implications.

He added that the leadership corps in the continent must shy away from rhetoric and demonstrate fresh political will to tackle the problem which poses one of the greatest security threat to the continent.

According to him, "We must admit that at some level, this is an embarrassing scorecard for a continent that is so richly endowed with some of the most creative and hardworking people in the world."

Obasanjo highlighted the causes of the "gloomy picture of poverty and employment situations" as low or no economic growth, bad economic and political governance, conflicts, high population growth, deteriorating health, poor social conditions, debt overhang as well as environmental degradation among others.

He noted that the continent will continue to face serious challenges unless more determined efforts and well co-ordinated programmes on a sustainable level are developed.

"We all know what is required of us; far reaching and comprehensive programmes reforms built around the people and designed to position our countries and continent for growth, stability, democracy and development. We cannot run away from this reality and unless we reform no amount of rhetoric or half measures will turn round the fate and fortunes of Africa", he said.

Obasanjo added that only a macro economic framework that explicitly targets employment should engage the thoughts of leaders.

He added that the strategy must ensure that the emerging growth process should be non inflationary, pro-employment and pro-poor.

He said instead of treating employment as a sectoral or residual issue, all policies and programmes must be built on employment generation and sustenance to address the challenge it posed.

He urged government in Africa to assist the private sector to grow by increasing investment in infrastructure, which will in turn trigger employment and poverty alleviation strategies. "Within our continent resource , therefore, enhanced budgetary contents should be given priority. Such sectors must include agriculture, small and medium enterprises, information and communications technology, scientific education and training and infrastructure development", he added.

At the macro and sectoral level of the economies, according to Obasanjo, detailed strategic programming are being put in place to guide implementation, monitoring and evaluation of prioritised projects.

He added that at macro level, the oversight function should be sharpened towards ensuring effective delivery in consonance with the millennium development goals in the various plans and budgets.

The challenge of waging a sustained fight against poverty through productive creation calls for the commitment of both the poor and the non-poor of our societies.