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From AU capital Addis Abeba, 11 April 2002

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien pledged to put Africa at the heart of the powerful G8 leaders' summit to be held in his country in June.

He told African leaders in Addis Ababa that the continent was on an "historic journey of renewal" and its legacy of decline would be reversed. "G8 leaders understand well that a cohesive and prosperous Africa - an Africa with a brighter future - means a more prosperous and secure world," he told a packed conference hall at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The G8 group of industrialised nations contributes more than 70 percent of the development aid received by the continent.

"I am mindful of the blunt fact that Africa is a place where optimism, confidence and hope have for too long been in short supply," he added. "Growing poverty, famine disease, war, debt, corruption - these are milestones of Africa. A cascade of crisis upon crisis has driven the African people to the fringes of our globalised world."

Chretien also praised the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) - a landmark document for the development of the continent. "It recognises the enormous potential creativity and dynamism of the African people," he said. "It has been shaped by their personal experience of the painful history of Africa. And it acknowledges that peace, security, democracy, good governance, human rights and sound economic management are preconditions for ending the economic marginalisation of the continent."

Chretien, who is on an 11-day whistlestop tour of seven African countries, said democracy in Africa was improving. He stressed that countries which met NEPAD requirements would enjoy better relations with the west. "We will be partners in every sense of the word," he said. "It will be a two-way street, with reciprocal and integrated obligations."

Chretien said he believed the success of NEPAD would draw in massive investment from the west and "shatter the illusion" that Africa does not pay. While development aid could help, real investment would turn the continent around, he noted.

The prime minister, who was re-elected in 2000, also re-affirmed his government's commitment to the continent. Canada - which has one million citizens of African descent - has written off billions of dollars in debt relief. Its peacekeepers were also the first to arrive in the Ethiopia/Eritrea border dispute. Canada has also pledged to increase aid by at least 8 percent a year.

But Chretien acknowledged he was a realist and said NEPAD and strong commitments by the industrialised world will not offer quick fixes. "For our part," he said, "the G8 cannot reasonably expect the political and economic changes called for in NEPAD to be achieved overnight. The economic marginalisation of Africa was not a sudden catastrophe, but rather the result of generations of decline."

"A decline which has left a legacy of dashed hopes and fostered a good deal of mutual scepticism," he said. "But have no doubt," he added. "The millstones of despair that have weighed down the people of Africa for too long will be lifted."

Both the head of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the head of the Economic Commission for Africa praised his commitment. Amara Essy, who is overseeing the transition of the OAU to the African Union (AU), said Canada had been a key player in the continent. Chretien also met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for talks on implementing NEPAD.