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Year-ender: Africa -- A continent stepping onto world stage
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2006-12-19 14:11
The African continent, afflicted for years by bitter wars, political turbulence and economic stagnation, is entering a new stage, seeking peace and security and promoting economic development.



The overall situation in the African political arena has improved and become increasingly stabilized.


Civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and Burundi have come to a standstill, and the war-scarred nations are using the hard-won peaceful environment to rebuild.


On May 5, the Sudanese government signed the Darfur Peace Agreement with the main faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) in the Nigerian capital Abuja, a development that promises peace for the battered western Sudanese region of Darfur.


On Aug. 26, the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) signed the cessation of hostilities agreement, a step closer to a final peace agreement to end the 20-year rebellion in northern Uganda.


On Dec. 6, Joseph Kabila was inaugurated in Kinshasa as the Democratic Republic of Congo's first democratically elected president - the country's first - opening a new page for the war-torn country.


And Africa's Great Lakes region, after being plagued with chronic violence and tangled intra- and inter-state conflicts since the 1990s, is making its way out of long-term turbulence and heading towards an all-round peace.


As they move towards political stability, most African countries are absorbed in exploring their own path for development. And peace and development has become an overriding theme of the resource-rich, but underdeveloped continent.



African countries have witnessed a steady and relatively rapid growth in their economies, thanks to vigorous economic reforms, realistic economic development programs and cautious monetary and fiscal policies.


In 2005, the African economy as a whole grew by 5.5 percent, the biggest increase in 30 years and above the world average rate of economic growth.


And the vigorous pace is projected to be maintained in 2006, according to World Economic Outlook released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September 2006.


The overall economy of southern African countries will advance at a brisk 6 percent pace, said the IMF document. And the eight oil-producing nations in the sub-Saharan region are expected to log a robust rise in growth of 10 percent this year. In Angola, the economy is projected to grow at a rate of up to 25 percent.



A more consolidated Africa, as seen at events such as the biannual African Union (AU) summit, the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the Africa-South America summit, has become an increasingly influential force on the international scene.


As the largest political and economic entity on the continent, the AU plays a key role in intervening and settling regional conflicts, promoting peace and security, advancing the implementation of the New Partnership for African Development and facilitating the process of African economic integration.


With the AU leading the way, African countries have assumed a common stance on major international issues - the United Nations reforms and the Doha Round of WTO trade talks - in an outstanding performance on the world stage.


Other regional African organizations, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the summit mechanism of the International Conference on the Great Lakes, also contribute a lot to regional peace and development.


At the second Summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes, which ended in Nairobi on Dec. 15, the 11 countries in the Great Lakes region signed a security, stability and development pact, which gave top priority to peace, democracy, good governance, economic development and regional integration as well as humanitarian social issues.



African countries have also been striding ahead in social areas.


Efforts to reduce poverty in many countries, including Senegal, Mozambique, Cameroon and Uganda have made great advances, said a report, Africa Development Indicators 2006, released by the World Bank in November.


The report specified the achievements made by African countries in social areas: the enrollment in primary education has seen a considerable rise; the AIDS incidence and infant mortality rate has begun to decline; and gender equality has notably improved.


And the Africans are also undergoing profound changes in the way they think - focusing on self-reliance rather than foreign assistance.


In a bid to make themselves more attractive to investors, most African countries have adopted more favorable regulatory frameworks and policies at national, bilateral and regional levels



Africa, with improved security situation and steady economic development, has created a most favorable environment for investors from around the world.


The World Bank said in a report that doing business became easier in Africa in 2005-2006.


Forty-five regulatory reforms in 30 economies in the region reduced time, cost, and hassle for businesses to comply with legal and administrative requirements. And two-thirds of African countries have made at least one reform, the report added.


A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce showed that the rate of investment returns in Africa has been more than 36 percent in recent years, while the figure stands at 16 percent in Asia and at an averaged 14 percent worldwide. The continent, therefore, is now the territory of profit-seeking international investors and entrepreneurs, and has been deemed the "last investment frontier of the world."


With the advent of an economic resurgence, Africans have embarked on the road towards prosperity. In a land where the supply of most commodities, from daily necessities to highly sophisticated products, is heavily dependent on imports, the gradually amplified purchasing power will continually stimulate market demands, opening up tremendous commercial opportunities for the rest of the world.


And the exploration of energy sources and mineral deposits, the construction of infrastructure, and the development of agriculture on the resource-rich continent will surely add to its charm and draw the attention of entrepreneurs from around the world.


Experts expect inflows to the region will increase sharply in 2006 against a backdrop of a high volume of new projects and renewed merger and acquisition activity.


In this positive environment, the continent's trade with the rest of the world, currently averaging nearly 300 billion U.S. dollars every year, is bound to expand at a fast pace. Economists estimate that the one-way trade - the imports into Africa - will reach 480 billion dollars by 2025.

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