Focus on Africa, here; 'Summit': Conference in Baltimore brings scrutiny of policies, possibilities on continent.


TWO recent events in Africa went unnoticed in this country. Finance ministers and central bank governors of many of the continent's 17 most indebted nations met in Nairobi, Kenya, and agreed that their countries need both debt relief and new investment.

In Johannesburg, South Africa, rebels fighting President Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo signed a peace plan that leaves many issues unsolved but calls for elections next summer.

The moral drawn from both events is this: Africa is huge and important, with monstrous problems that its leaders and others are trying to solve -- whether the United States is involved or not, whether Americans care or not.

It's national folly for the United States to ignore Africa. To counteract that, a National Summit on Africa, funded by foundations with the broadest possible leadership and support, is gearing toward a sort of convention in Washington next February.

Along the way are five "regional summits," to promote interest and debate policy proposals. The East Coast Regional Summit will bring about 1,000 participants to the Baltimore Convention Center today through Saturday. Joining as co-sponsor is Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the Baltimore-based aid-distributing arm of the U.S. Catholic Church.

Interest in Africa is maintained by universities, African-American leaders, faith-based nongovernment organizations providing humanitarian aid and African expatriates. The regional summit brings them together for exchanges of ideas and interest, focused on everything from trade and investment to culture to public health to conflict resolution to human rights. Thanks to CRS, side events abound, including a show of African movies free to the public.

Africa is not going away. Neither should the United States.

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