German President Horst Köhler called Sunday for a "true partnership" between the West and Africa as he kicked off an initiative to solve the continent's urgent problems.
Köhler, right with delegates in Bonn
Africa has long had relations with western industrial nations, but they've largely been one-sided so far with the rich West providing development aid to the poorest continent.
Real equal partnership, which is enshrined in the eighth millennium goal of the United Nations, still remains a distant dream. And that's exactly where Köhler's "Partnership with Africa" initiative plans to step in.
During a two-day meeting in Bonn over the weekend, the German president said that industrialized nations must "finally understand that a partnership will only come about if we respect one another and treat each other equally."
South African President Thabo Mbeki, left with other African delegates
The conference included an illustrious round of invited delegates including former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Ourmar Konare and Nigerian author and Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka.
Köhler was confident that the international gathering sent an important message.
"The conference triggered a clear awareness that we're dependant on each other. Africa needs support from outside, but Europe needs Africa as much," Köhler said, citing global environmental problems, AIDS and the influx of African refugees on European shores as areas where the two needed to cooperate more closely.
Common interests should dominate
The German president urged both sides to carefully consider the term "partnership."
"Partnership doesn't assume that everything is equal. There are asymmetrical things, but there has to be a common interest in any case. Both partners must derive advantages from such a relationship," he said.
Köhler, a former International Monetary Fund chief, warned that the West couldn't come to Africa with a bagful of expectations. Rather it needed to help the continent formulate the right questions and then seek the answers.
South African President Thabo Mbeki called the first "Partnership with Africa" meeting, aimed at fostering political and economic cooperation between Africa and wealthier nations, a good start.
Mbeki added that bilateral dialogue had to take on a new quality.
"We all want partnership but why does it take so long for it to yield results? Does it have to do with hypocrisy and double standards that we sow? Does it have to do with the lack of honesty and integrity among us Africans so that we make no progress?" Mbeki said. "If that is so then in the future we'll discuss it together and see to it that we change it."
Africa to take more responsibility
Köhler underlined that both sides must be ready to tackle unpleasant questions such as the unfair world trade system which massively discriminates against Africa.
A man runs past a billboard warning of the dangers of malaria in Lagos, Nigeria,
He urged Germany, the European Union's largest member country, to take a leading role in forgiving African debt and training young African professionals.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is also head of the African Union, stressed that African nations must do more to take responsibility for their own development and fight corruption.
"We have long blamed history, colonialism and everything that has happened in the past for our misery," Obasanjo said. "Now the time has come where we have to take responsibility for it, for where we stand and for what will become of us."
The conference in Bonn was just the beginning of an initiative that the German president plans to continue during his entire office term. Another conference is to take place next year in Nigeria.