The European Union launched an ambitious new strategy for Africa Wednesday including bolstering the continent's transport infrastructure, saying recent immigrant deaths highlight the need for action.
Povery drives many Africans to risk their lives to get to Europe
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso outlined plans after talks with the chief executive of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konare, who said poverty remained a fundamental problem driving young Africans to seek to leave.
"The problem of immigration, the dramatic consequences of which we are witnessing, can only be addressed effectively ... through an ambitious and coordinated development cooperation to fight its root causes," said Barroso.
"The EU strategy ... will mark a true turning point to help Africa help itself," added EU aid commissioner Louis Michel, noting that the strategy still has to be approved by the European Parliament and EU governments.
The EU initiative comes after the bloc's 25 member governments agreed in May to increase development aid budget by 20 billion euros per year by 2010. From 17 billion euros for Africa in 2003, the figure would rise to 25 billion at the end of the decade, according to EU figures.
"Walls and prisons"
On the immigration problem, Konare warned that the "walls and prisons" cannot prevent immigrants trying to enter Europe illegally, saying the underlying economic and social reasons had to be tackled.
Spain recently increased fortifications to prevent immigrants from climbing over the fence seperating its north African enclave Melilla and Morocco
"It's not security measures, it's not prisons in Madrid and walls in Africa that will solve the problem," said Konare, chair of the AU commission, after the Brussels talks.
Queried during a visit to Portugal about the issue, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also stressed that improving Africans' lives at home was the way forward. "If we create reasonable living conditions, people will not feel forced to leave," the Lusa news agency quoted him as saying.
Some 14 people have died in recent months while trying to break into Spanish enclaves, some of them shot by Moroccan security forces. Morocco has also come under fire for dumping hundreds of the would-be immigrants in desert areas near the Algerian border.
The African Union leader said the underlying problems which fueled an exodus of poor Africans had to be tackled.
"We have to have the courage to broach the problem of farm subsidies, which weaken our economy and impoverish our rural areas," he said, in a clear reference to the EU's long-controversial generous farm aid system.
Konare added that African immigrants like those trying to get into Spain "are a reflection of the poverty" of a continent on which 40 percent of the population lives on less than a euro a day.
Halve poverty by 2015
The EU strategy is designed to help Africa achieve the so-called Millennium Development Goals, chief among which is to reduce poverty by half by 2015.
After being abandoned by Moroccan police in the country's south, these illegal immigrants from Senegal walked 550 km (340 miles) on their way to Oujda, Morocco. Six of their group died during the 10-day trek.
Above all Africa needs peace and stability, said the EU executive, explaining its proposals to strengthen good governance -- sorely needed to overturn the continent's reputation for corruption.
But it stressed that the key motor of African development will be strengthening economies, and for that infrastrure -- road and rail transport, but also water, energy and telecoms links -- is crucial.
The creation of such networks will add a "spinal column" for the development of a genuine internal market across the continent, EU officials say.
Konare agreed that to bolster its own national economies is essential. "Without an African internal market, it is an illusion to believe that we can strive towards overseas markets," said Konare.