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Peacekeeping, Droughts Dominate Africa's Agenda


NOT all the news in 1994 from sub-Saharan Africa will be gloomy, but enormous problems will challenge Africans, donors, and diplomats to come up with improved ways to foster democracy, end conflicts, and ease the grip of poverty.

The number of Africans living under democratic rule stands to grow substantially in 1994: South Africa will hold its first multiracial elections in April. Efforts will continue toward ending wars in Liberia and Angola and implementing earlier peace accords in Mozambique and Rwanda.

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Urban, educated Africans are likely to continue demanding greater freedom of the press, expanded worker's rights and benefits, and more curbs on official corruption and abuse of human rights.

But 1994 is also likely to see continued war in Sudan; widespread anarchy, if not outright war, in Somalia after United States and most Western troops leave in March; and more ethnic tension in Burundi, Kenya, and Zaire.

Despite gains over the past two decades in education and life expectancy (still only 52 in sub-Saharan Africa) declining economies and rapid population growth signal increased poverty and joblessness for many Africans.

The following political and economic themes bear watching:

Democracy. Africa's battered trend over the past several years toward greater democratic rule continues, despite setbacks in 1993.

In November, the military in Nigeria took over an interim civilian government another military regime had installed. The first democratically elected president in Burundi was murdered in a failed coup. Elections in Gabon and Togo were judged by the international community to be shams.

But the Central African Republic, Niger, and Madagascar - following months of earlier, massive public demonstrations, held democratic elections and installed new heads of state. In Ghana, military head of state Jerry Rawlings became the elected president, though there were complaints by the opposition of irregularities in voting.

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Even where democracy is nonexistent, or limited, people are demanding individual freedoms.

In Nigeria, human rights groups continue to insist on a strong press, independent courts, and curbs on human rights abuses. Nigerian unions have squared off with the military over pay and consumer prices. In Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi and the police still hold great powers despite multiparty elections in December 1992. University teachers are on strike demanding the right to be recognized as a union. Opposition members of parliament frequently make detailed corruption charges against the government.

Peacekeeping. After more than three years of trying to end the conflict in Liberia, a West African peacekeeping force is still stymied, despite numerous accords between the warring parties. In Rwanda, the Organization of African Unity is now trying to help keep peace with a small team of monitors. It is about to send a similar group to Burundi. Ethnic tensions remain high in all three countries.

In Somalia, possible renewed fighting after Western troops withdraw could spur another big round of people fleeing for their lives, and raise the prospects of famine. But relief groups are better organized there than they were in 1991-92. Armed robberies, meanwhile, have soared even before the troops pull out.

Economy. Many African countries have reduced government controls over the economy, at insistence of the World Bank and other donors. But despite economic growth of about 5 percent a year since 1984, in Ghana, a World Bank showcase, ``people's living conditions have yet to improve,'' according to the UN Development Program.

Droughts are threatening parts of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and a number of other countries, according to the United Nations and the US government. Improved early warning systems - including use of satellite data and ground reporting networks, can help avoid famine, if donors are willing to contribute once again.

African farmers have not been sitting back, however. Their production has been climbing for many years, though seldom has it caught up with population growth. Sub-Saharan Africa still has a population growth rate of 3 percent, the highest in the world. Per capita income is only $350.

Some 6.5 million Africans, including 750,000 children, are infected with the AIDS virus, according to the World Health Organization. AIDS is having a ``catastrophically costly'' impact on the economy of Africa because it kills people in their productive years, the World Bank says. But educational programs are picking up in some countries.

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