The 8th summit of the African Union (AU), under the theme of science, technology and climate change on the continent, opened Monday in the pan-African body's headquarters in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, with peace and security also high on the agenda.
The two-day summit is expected to examine a set of measures initiated by African science ministers in a meeting held in Cairo, Egypt in November 2006 to promote science and technology across the continent.
The measures include creating a pan-African Intellectual Property Organization and officially beginning to promote science, technology and innovation in Africa as from this year.
The science ministers have recommended that each African country allocate at least 1 percent of GDP for research and development by 2010 against the backdrop that many African countries invest as little as 0.01 percent of their GDP in R&D compared with 2 to 3 percent of the larger GDPs of industrialized countries.
Climate change is increasingly imposing a threat to Africa, whose economy is heavily dependent on agriculture.
Over 95 percent of Africa's agriculture depends on rainfall, yet "consecutive dry years with widespread disruption are reducing the ability of the society to cope with droughts by providing less recovery and preparation time between events," says a UN report.
Scientists forecast that by 2100 mean surface temperatures in Africa could increase by two to six degrees Celsius.
Despite the theme, AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare devoted his address to the summit mainly to the continent's peace and security issues, hailing current situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and saying peace and security are still a big problem on the continent.
On the situation in western Sudanese region of Darfur and Somalia, he said "peaceful agreement on Darfur should be respected... and the AU has decided to deploy troops to Somalia, and will do everything to deploy quickly."
He cautioned that "if the troops of the African Mission in Somalia are not deployed quickly then chaos will descend."
So far only Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi and Ghana have announced that they would contribute around 4,000 troops to the peacekeeping forces, half of the number that the AU has proposed.
"We have approached other countries and are waiting for response," said Konare.
League of Arab States (LAS) Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the opening session as invited guests.
Ban urged the leaders to bring unity of purpose to other intractable crises "that bleed like open wounds on the face of the Continent," such as the conflicts in Somalia and Cote d'Ivoire.
He noted how the UN-AU partnership helped to resolve the crisis in the DRC where last November's elections, the first in more than40 years and the largest such support operation in UN history, were "a remarkable peacekeeping achievement."
"Liberia, too, shines as an example of what can be achieved through our collective will for peace and security in Africa," he added.
The UN chief also underscored the significance of year 2007 in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 to slash a host of social ills, such as extreme poverty and hunger, by 2015.
"If we are to make the target date of 2015, we have to see concerted action in 2007 -- the mid-point in the work to reach the MDGs," Ban said.
Ban pledged to convene in the coming months a working group on Africa and the MDGs, a coalition of the willing bringing together key African stakeholders, as well as international organizations and donors.
"We will aim to meet by March, to formulate an action plan supporting practical initiatives for accelerating progress in 2007and 2008," he said, adding that the participants "will work to ensure the plan is ready in time for the Group of Eight summit in June."
(Xinhua News Agency January 30, 2007)