Writing off Africa’s debt, boosting aid and improving trade conditions are not enough to bring the continent out of poverty, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai said recently.

Maathai said Africans must also fight for good governance, an end to corruption, and for education that gives citizens more than just basic schooling.

“We must continue to remove the obstacles and causes of poverty by getting down to the root causes,” Maathai said at an African Union (AU) summit in Libya.

“There is no reason why we can’t raise our moral consciousness to a level where we say it’s unacceptable that a dictator in Africa steals money from his people and brings it to a country like Britain where it is protected.”

Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her devotion to Africa’s forests, and her desire to end the corruption that has brought their destruction.

She said she hoped audiences at the recent star-studded Live 8 rock concerts, aimed at pressuring rich nations to drop African debts, realized some banks in wealthy nations, including Britain, were holding money looted by African rulers in the past.

Leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations are meeting in Scotland, tasked with tackling African poverty and devising a strategy against global warming.

African leaders meeting in Sirte, Libya, urged the G8 to cancel debt owed by their governments, reform international trade and increase aid to fight poverty on the continent.

More than 40% of Africans live on less than $1 a day, while 200 million Africans are threatened by serious food shortages. AIDS kills more than two million Africans a year.

Anti-poverty campaigners say the G8 leaders have a unique chance to stop 30,000 children dying every day due to extreme poverty by doubling aid to poor countries.

Good governance

The veterinary anatomy professor called on the G8 to cancel all of Africa’s debts, saying countries have more than paid back their size of the original loans. Maathai warned, however, that debt relief alone would not solve the continent’s problems.

“Canceling the debt is not the panacea. But there are a lot of people who think it would be, because we keep saying ‘debt, debt’,” she said.

“Governance is a very important piece of the puzzle and governance has improved in Africa. We’re moving in the right direction,” said Maathai, a blunt-spoken personality.

She said removing unfavorable trade conditions were key to helping prop up local economies, particularly agriculture.

“A lot of resources that are extracted out of Africa are not paid for at an adequate price, such as timber from the Congo, to European countries,” Maathai said.

She said foreign help will not end all Africa’s woes.

“I always look to what we Africans can do for ourselves because there’s so much we can do which we don’t do.

“It’s very important that people understand that they must become actively involved in the way they are governed and that they are not just following (leaders),” Maathai added.

She said Africans were increasingly demanding an end to corruption and more accountability from their leaders.

Maathai rose to fame for campaigns against government-backed forest clearances in Kenya in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Her Green Belt Movement, mainly women, has gone on to plant about 30 million trees around Africa—seven million of them in Kenya—in a campaign to slow deforestation and erosion. The movement has spread to about 20 African nations. (Reuters)