From: Anthony Mitchell, Associated Press
Published March 29, 2005 12:00 AM

African Union Appoints Nobel Laureate to Key Advisory Position

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The African Union has appointed Nobel peace laureate Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist, to chair an advisory commission on social and environmental policies.


Maathai's new 18-member council "is a vehicle for building a strong partnership between governments and all segments of African civil society and for achieving the goal of a people-centered African community," the AU said as it announced her appointment Tuesday.


Maathai, the first African woman and first Kenyan to win the peace prize, was honored by the Nobel committee for her role in founding the Green Belt Movement, which has sought to empower women, improve the environment and fight corruption in Africa for nearly 30 years.


A deputy environment minister in the Kenyan government, she also won acclaim for her campaign to fight deforestation by planting 30 million trees in Africa, making her Nobel prize the first to acknowledge environmentalism as a means of building peace.


Her council will "play an active role in charting the future of the continent, organizing itself to contribute to the Union's policies and programs," the AU statement said.


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Maathai was not at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa for the announcement, but the AU Commission's chairman Alpha Oumar Konare used the occasion to pronounce that Africa would play a leading role in the world in the next 50 years.


"We constitute the second lung of the world, there will be no future without us," he said. "No citadel of wealth will exist, if we are left in poverty, in hunger, in disease."


With time and hard work, Africa's agricultural and mineral wealth, along with a growing population, will give what is now the world's poorest continent a key role in the global economy, he said. He said that within 20 years, Africa's population was expected to grow from 830 million to 1.9 billion.


"Neither AIDS, famine nor conflicts will constitute a fatality to the continent," Konare added. "We are convinced our continent has all the resources in order to emerge from this quagmire."


Source: Associated Press


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