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August 16, 2001


'Mystery' Soy DNA Safe But Misinterpreted & Not New; Bove


Today's Topics in AgBioView at http://www.agbioworld.org/

* Researcher: Soya DNA Study Misinterpreted
* Belgian Scientist Says Gene-spliced Soy Safe
* Parrott and Miller on 'Mystery DNA'
* Monsanto Says 'Unknown Gene Fragments In GM Soya Not New'
* Champion of Small Farmers Loses Sting
* M.S. Swaminathan: Partnerships, Not Piracy
* Africa Needs New Development Vision
* Report That May Help The Third World
* GM Crops -- What Do Scientists Say?
* Firefighter Deaths in Washington State / Hannity

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Researcher Says Findings of Previously Unrecognized Soya DNA Were Misinterpreted

- Emma Ross, Associated Press Writer August 16, 2001
(Forwarded by Rick Roush )

LONDON (AP) - A researcher who discovered that the DNA pattern in genetically engineered soybeans differs from normal soybeans said Thursday that his findings are not a cause for concern. He rejected calls by environmental group Greenpeace International to suspend safety approval of the product, Monsanto Co.'s Roundup Ready soybeans, the world's most widely grown genetically modified crop.

Marc de Loose, a plant geneticist at the Center for Agricultural Research in Melle, Belgium found a previously unrecognized sequence of genetic material in the soybeans, which contain a gene that makes them immune to herbicides. De Loose, a food safety adviser to the Belgian government, says he was not worried by the finding and that the discrepancy was simply a case of technology now allowing scientists to examine DNA in more detail than previously. The product itself has not changed, he said.

"One of the possibilities is that during the integration of the gene, there are some rearrangements at the site of insertion and it's perfectly possible that it's plant DNA as such or scrambled plant DNA, or that it's filler DNA that forms when a gene is inserted," he said. "This has already been reported in some other plants."

Greenpeace contends that it cannot be ruled out that it is DNA of another organism that inadvertently got into the mix during the engineering process. The group published an open letter by Janet Cotter, one of its staff scientists, on the Internet Wednesday appealing to researchers for help in identifying what it called the unknown DNA and its possible consequences.

"That's not the correct interpretation," said De Loose, whose findings were published Wednesday in the journal European Food Research and Technology. "All this is a fragment which we cannot find in the wild bean and that was not described in the original dossier on the soya bean."

Some type of rearrangements in the DNA sequence of a plant to accommodate a new gene is normal, said Janet Bainbridge, director of the School of Science and Technology at Teeside University in England.

Conventional crop breeding creates as much as, if not more, DNA shuffling than genetic modification, said Bainbridge, who is chairwoman of the advisory committee on novel foods and processes for Britain's Food Standards Agency. The genetic makeup of the herbicide-resistant bean was outlined by the company in 1994 when it submitted the product for Belgian approval.

Last year, as part of a routine cross-check of genetically modified products, he examined the genetic sequence of the Monsanto bean at the site where the gene was inserted. It did not match what was described in the 1994 documents and differed from the pattern found in a natural soybean.

"They are not abnormal, they are just there. They were not discovered by Monsanto at that time, but that's not strange because the methods we have available now allow a more detailed analysis," De Loose said. The new technique is about nine times more sensitive than the old.

"Is it a problem? In my opinion no. This kind of variation is required to improve plants in traditional breeding, so no I'm not suspicious. I have no scientific data that we have to be afraid of."

Cotter said the concern over the newly described genetic pattern is that it might affect the functioning of other important genes in the soybean and might have altered its composition. "That's just ridiculous," Bainbridge said. "We do know the downstream effect. That's why we have the regulatory process. We know far, far more about GM DNA than we do the non-GM crops."

De Loose's findings were examined by food safety experts in Belgium and Britain more than a year ago and neither country changed its mind. Britain's Food Standards Agency determined that because the scrambled DNA has been in the engineered beans all along, results of the original safety tests were still valid.

Belgian authorities also determined there was no harmful effect.


Belgian Scientist Says Gene-spliced Soy Safe

August 16, 2001, Reuters (Forwarded by: Dr. Jens A. Katzek, Managing Director, Deutsche Industrievereinigung Biotechnologie (DIB), Katzek@VCI.de)

LONDON- Marc De Loose from Belgium's Center for Agricultural Research was cited as saying on Thursday his research into gene-spliced soybeans, the world's most widely grown genetically modified crop, had not cast doubt on their safety, dismissing concerns by green groups.

Loose was further cited as saying he and colleagues had found alien gene fragments in Missouri-based Monsanto Co.'s Roundup Ready soybeans which had no link with the plant's DNA sequence or the genome of soy, but he said there was no evidence to suggest that the unidentifiable genetic sequence could lead to unknown and unpredictable results, dismissing assertions made by environmental group, Greenpeace, adding, "There is no scientific data to support this idea because we checked this sequence in different generations that were on the market and we didn't see any differences. This means that the sequence is stable and all the data concerning safety are still valid in my opinion. There is also no evidence that the sequence causes any expression, so we did not demonstrate that the sequence is expressed...there is no indication that this (soy) might cause any allergy."

Greenpeace said the discovery of the unknown sequence cast doubt over how much Monsanto knew about its product, calling on the UK government to re-examine the genetically modified soy.

De Loose said his work would help educate debate in Europe over whether to approve the sale and use of such crops, stating, "In my opinion the most important thing out of this research...is that we can give information and monitor data which can be used in a discussion on GMOs submitted for authorization in the future. Government now has the tools to check the quality of future GMOs."

Kimberly Wilson, a Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner, was quoted as saying in a statement that, "Like Dr. Frankenstein, Monsanto has created a new life form but doesn't know what will happen when it's turned loose in the world." A spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, commenting on the Belgian group's research, said the agency was "aware of it and is looking into it." Monsanto spokesman Bryan Hurley was quoted as saying, "This isn't a (food) safety issue. The information about the soybeans were characterized by Monsanto more than a year ago and we have shared that with regulatory authorities throughout the world."

He said the unidentified gene fragments could be the result of DNA being "rearranged" as a result of the process when the bacterium to make the plants resistant to Roundup Ready soybeans was inserted. "It's been there since the point of the original transformation 10 years ago and throughout all of the safety tests," he said, adding that new high-precision equipment allowed the company to detect the alien fragments.

"We are better able to see the stars than a hundred years ago. It doesn't mean the stars have changed, just your perspective.... It's the same principle," Hurley said. Hurley said he did not foresee any loss of consumer confidence in foods produced from gene-altered crops. "As we characterize things better, it doesn't change the fundamental safety questions that are addressed and have for a long time been established," he said.


From: Wayne Parrott
Subject: Re: Greenpeace "Unknown DNA" story in soybean

1) Rearrangements during the insertion process led to 784 bp at the 3' end
-- 254 are from the EPSP coding sequence itself
-- the remaining 534 are presumed to be of plant plant origin. They were BLASTED against sequences in GenBank, and got no hits. Thus, this means that the sequence is unknown in the sense that it is not homologous to sequences in GenBank, but then, short of depositing the entire soybean genome into GenBank, it is hard to imagine the sequence would be there, as only tiny snipets of the soybean genome have been sequenced
-- the "unknown" sequence has been deposited into EMBL (accesion # AJ308515), making it available to all.

2) The relevance of 784 bp in soybean is a topic that merits discussion. Existing soybean varieties vary in DNA content among themselves by 4.6%. The reference is

Chung,J., J.-H.Lee, K.Arumuganathan, G.L.Graef, and J.E.Specht. 1998. Relationships between nuclear DNA content and seed and leaf size in soybean. Theor. Appl. Genet. 96:1064-1068.

It reports that, "Variation of 2C nuclear DNA among the 12 soybean strains was 4.6%, ranging from 2.37 pg for a small-seed strain to 2.48 pg for a large-seed strain." Other references documenting DNA variation in soybean exist, but those have been challenged. This reference has not.

I then asked Dr. Lane Rayburn from the University of Illinois to look at DNA content of several lines. He conducted replicated experiments, and his conclusion is that, "There is no doubt that DNA variation exists in soybean and that the level of variation is at least 4%." Dr. Rayburn is in the process of preparing a manuscript on this work.

Back to the published Chung et al reference. The document that varieties differ by 0.11 pg. 0.11 pg does not sound like much, but when one converts the figure to bp (1 pg = 965 million bp), these soybeans differ by 106 *million* base pairs. If one uses Greenpeace's logic, these 106 million bp are all unknown DNA.

At some point in the process, we need to come to grips with the fact that plants are full of DNA sequences which amplify and de-amplify themselves, with no ill effect to the plant or the organisms which consume the plant.

- Wayne Parrott, University of Georgia


From: "Henry I. Miller"
Subject: Mystery DNA

The emerging 'mystery DNA' flap is yet another of the inevitable pseudo-crises -- similar to those surrounding the killing of Monarch butterflies and 'contamination' [sic] by StarLink corn -- that will befall the new biotechnology, as long as it is held to an unnecessarily inflated standard of testing and characterization that has no real-world relationship to environmental safety or public health.

There is a long-standing and broad scientific consensus that adding genes to plants does not make them less safe either to the environment or for humans to eat. Dozens of new plant varieties produced through hybridization and other traditional methods of genetic improvement enter the marketplace each year without scientific review or special labeling. Many such products are from crosses, hybridizations in which genes are moved from one species or one genus to another to create a plant variety that does not and cannot exist in nature.

For example, 'Triticum agropyrotriticum' is a new man-made 'species' which resulted from combining genes from bread wheat and a grass sometimes called quackgrass or couchgrass. Possessing all the chromosomes of wheat and one extra whole genome from the quackgrass (containing tens of thousands of genes), 'T. agropyrotriticum' has been independently produced in the former Soviet Union, Canada, United States, France, Germany and China, and is grown for both human food and animal feed. (If a single gene from quackgrass were introduced into wheat by gene-splicing techniques, however, the resulting plant would be subject to regulatory agencies' draconian review and licensing processes.

Or, putting this into the context of the soybean 'mystery DNA' pseudo-controversy, how many thousands of gene rearrangements, mutations, duplications and deletions are present in the different varieties that are called T. agropyrotriticum?) What have been the effects of these tens of thousands of added genes (and subsequent genomic changes) on invasiveness, weediness, toxicity, or allergenicity?

As long as we continue to tolerate, let alone embrace, the myth that recombinant DNA modifications can with impunity be subjected to a wholly irrational and stricter standard than is warranted by the evidence, this promising technology will be like Gulliver bound by the Lilliputians.
Finally, on that theme, here is the text of a letter on a related subject that I sent this week to Maxine Clarke, managing editor of Nature:

Dear Maxine:

I was most disturbed to read the editorial, 'A sound approach to GM debate,' in the 9 August issue of Nature. I found it uncritical and to verge on the sentimental.

What do I have against the New Zealand deliberations about genetic engineering? Simply that, by discussing the subject as though it were 1971 instead of 2001, they came up with the wrong answer. As Nature editorialized almost a decade ago, in 1992, 'The same physical and biological laws govern the response of organisms modified by modern molecular and cellular methods and those produced by classical methods, and therefore, no conceptual distinction exists between genetic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or by molecular techniques that modify DNA and transfer genes.'

And consider that by that time, the consensus about old versus new biotechnology already had gone even further: An authoritative 1989 analysis of the new biotechnology by the United States National Research Council had observed that, 'With classical techniques of gene transfer, a variable number of genes can be transferred, the number depending on the mechanism of transfer; but predicting the precise number or the traits that have been transferred is difficult, and we cannot always predict the phenotype that will result.With organisms modified by molecular methods, we are in a better, if not perfect, position to predict the phenotype.'

This view needs to be regarded in scientific circles -- and elsewhere that intelligent grown-ups discuss these issues -- as a GIVEN. Will we NEVER get past this dithering? Do we still argue about whether Pons and Fleishman deserve the Nobel Prize? About whether water has 'memory' of a solute at infinite dilution? About whether phlogiston is given off during combustion?

It may be useful, and also politic, for governments to consult widely on high-profile public-policy issues, but when those consultations and deliberations are completed, government leaders are supposed to LEAD. The regulation of risk is complex, to be sure, but if democracy must eventually take public opinion into account, good government must also discount heuristic errors or prejudices. Edmund Burke emphasized government's pivotal role in making such judgments: Your Representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

We love and respect democracy, but we exist not in participatory democracies, but in republics, in which we elect leaders who, in Burke's words, owe us their judgement. Moreover, the objective of deliberations of this sort is to get the right answer, not merely to establish what your editorial called 'a model of community consultation.'

In the 1950's, something called the 'New Math,' a new way of teaching secondary-school mathematics, was introduced widely into the United States. Many parents of school children were exercised about neither understanding it nor being able to help the kids with their homework. They made their dissatisfaction known, and about a dozen state legislative bodies responded to this grass-roots plea for relief -- by defining, in law, pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) as equal to exactly 3.0. Democratic, yes; in the public interest, no.

Persons of good will might have differing views of whether New Zealand's deliberations about public policy toward the new biotechnology is, indeed, 'a model of community consultation,' but by no stretch of the imagination can it be considered to have represented 'scientific rigour.' Scientific rigour would dictate that the new biotechnology would be strongly encouraged for a wide range of applications, and that it would be 'less'stringently regulated than, for example, the less precise and predictable genetic constructions of wide crosses and other hybridizations.

Sorry for this ranting, but the scientific community deserves better from its premier journal.

Warm regards, Henry

- Henry Miller, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University


Monsanto Says Greenpeace Claim of Unknown Gene Fragments In GM Soya Not New

AFX News August 15, 2001

LONDON (AFX) - A scientific study which Greenpeace claims has found further unknown gene fragments in genetically modified soya produced by Monsanto Co, "is not a new problem" and will not alter the assessment of the product by the relevant authorities, a Monsanto spokesman said. Greenpeace said in a statement that the report in the European Journal of Food Research Technology represents a second discovery of "inaccuracy in Monsanto's original application for EU approval of the soya". A Monsanto spokesman in the UK, howeer, said the report provides "absolutely no impediment" to the evaluation of the Roundup Ready soyabeans.

He also referred to a Monsanto reaction in January following a similar statement from Greenpeace which said: "The phenomenon of modification, deletions or rearrangements at the point of insertion is widely recognised within the plant transformation field." It also stated that "any deletion, rearrangement or modification of the DNA... would have been a constituent of the Roundup Ready soyabeans used in all the safety assessment studies."

Greenpeace said it has written to UK Environment Secretary Michael Meacher and to the Food Standards Agency asking that sale of Monsanto's GM soya be suspended. The environmental pressure group believes that "at the very least, they will be obliged to re-examine the GM soya."

A Food Standards Agency spokesman was unable to confirm whether the FSA had received any communication from Greenpeace and declined to comment further.


Champion of Small Farmers Loses Sting

South China Morning Post, August 16, 2001

The halo appears to be slipping from the head of Jose Bove, France's mustachioed defender of small farmers and Roquefort cheese.

Exactly two years to the day after he and his colleagues from the pressure group he set up, the Confederation Paysanne, attacked a branch of McDonald's to protest at "bad food", only a couple of thousand supporters turned up for the anniversary at the scene of the crime, Millau in southern France. Sunday's festivities were a far cry from last year, when 50,000 gathered for a Woodstock-style carnival. Most protesters this time were farmers still angry over US taxes on certain speciality products, those opposed to GM crop testing in France and quite a few people who were already in Millau for the world petanque tournament and came along to see what all the fuss was about. About 10 tractors mounted a symbolic blockade of the "McDo" but the manager had already decided to close until the demonstrators went away. By Sunday night, only a few hundred people were still there.

Mr Bove has got an invitation to Brussels to discuss the ongoing trade wars between Europe and the US with Europe's commerce commissioner, and secured a promise from Paris for a round-table discussion on genetically modified crops today. Apart from the small turnout, some of the sparkle was missing this year. When Mr Bove first burst on the scene with his attack on McDonald's, the French took him to their hearts. He looked like Asterix, the cartoon character who tries to defend ancient France against the Romans. His message - save small farmers producing quality food from being oppressed by big, bad America - went down well.

But doubts have been creeping in of late. Many French have looked on rather perplexed as this anti-globalisationist takes his cause, well, round the globe. Mr Bove has popped up pretty much everywhere, from Brazil to Canada, Sweden and India, in the past 12 months. He was arrested by Israeli police and was, of course, present in Genoa. But his globe-trotting is costing him support back home. A scathing editorial in one local paper accused him of portraying himself as the only defender of truth.

It went on: "There is also this propensity to set things up when there is little other news so as to monopolise the cameras. The strings in this marketing game are more and more obvious." It concluded by reminding readers that Roquefort cheese is too expensive for the average Frenchman, and no help to starving millions in Africa. While the anti-globalisation movement is definitely gaining momentum, Mr Bove looks like he is running out of steam.


Innovation Interview -- M.S. Swaminathan: Partnerships, Not Piracy

Far Eastern Economic Review, August 23, 2001

How to profit from biotech? Science and ethics need to go hand in hand

BIOTECHNOLOGY: the best hope for feeding a hungry world, or an environmental disaster in the making? While big business and nongovernment groups debate the pros and cons, one of the world's leading agricultural researchers, M.S. Swaminathan, carefully treads a middle path: He argues that the developing world can benefit from biotechnology, but must avoid being taken advantage of by the biotechnology industry. Swaminathan has served as the director of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines; he was the first chairman of India's National Biotechnology Board in 1982, and was president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Currently, he chairs the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation for Research in Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development in Chennai, India, and holds the Cousteau Chair in Ecotechnology at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco. He recently talked to Anne Marie Ruff about the promise a

What Is The Current Role Of Biotechnology In India?
At present there is no product available on the market in India that is of value to consumers. But the government has been anxious to ensure that the biotechnology revolution does not bypass the country. Several transgenic crops have been produced locally. These include potato varieties rich in protein and tobacco and mustard varieties with a high degree of salt tolerance.

In The Past, Most Agricultural Research Was Publicly Available. Now, Patents And The Protection Of Intellectual Property Rights Allow The Private Sector To Market And Profit From Transgenic Products. Why Have You Been Critical Of This Shift?
Intellectual property rights will stand in the way of getting the benefits of modern biotechnology to poor farming families. If private industry agrees to a system of compulsory licensing of rights -- in the case of seeds which can make a difference to the productivity, profitability and sustainability for small farmers -- then the benefits of new discoveries can reach everyone and there will be a "win-win" situation. Gandhi advised all committed to including the excluded in benefitting from technological and economic progress, to consider themselves as trustees and not owners of their financial and intellectual endowments. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening. Findings of great importance to food and health security are being covered by intellectual property rights.

Why Do You Feel The Way Biotechnology Is Currently Packaged And Sold By Private Companies Is Not What Is Needed In The Developing World?
If market is the sole [driver] of investment decisions in biotechnology, "genetic divide" will be added to the list of digital, economic and gender divides. While there are many benefits from competitive private-sector R&D investments, [reducing] investment in university and public-sector research will harm the goal of ending unsustainable consumption and poverty. There must be a balance between public and private-sector research. Universities should structure their priorities so that there is synergy between the two sectors.

You Advocate The Conservation Of Biodiversity And Traditional Varieties Of Agricultural Crops. How Does This Relate To Biotechnology?
Biodiversity is the feedstock for the biotechnology industry. Therefore, the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is important to safeguard the future of molecular breeding. The present situation, where the primary conservationists remain poor, while those who use their knowledge and material become rich, is not conducive to conservation. What we need are bio-partnerships, not bio-piracy.

What Is The Way Forward?
Political will and action are important to ensure that biotechnology is developed and used for public good. It is becoming clear that unless the technological push is matched by an ethical pull, the products of our intellect, as Albert Einstein warned many years ago, may become a curse rather than a blessing.


Cereal Biotechnology (2001)

Edited by Dr. Peter Morris and Dr. James Bryce explains techniques and regulations in the cereal biotechnology area and includes ways that the technology can add value. The 264-page text costs Pounds 95/$157/Euro157 and can be obtained from the publisher: Woodhead Publishing, Abington Hall, Abington, Cambridge CB1 6AH, UK, Tel: +44 1223 893694. http://www.woodhead-publishing.com ;


Dr.John Kilama: Africa Needs New Development Vision

- Zephania Ubwani, Sunday Observer, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania- August 5, 2001

Sitting by the sea at the Bahari Beach Hotel north of Dar es Salaam, Dr. John Kilama sees Africa as being clearly rich in natural resources including the marine resources in the Indian Ocean he was facing. However, he realizes that poverty was still on the rise in much of the vast continent and even where some form of development has taken place, it was only concentrated in the urban areas.

"Development has always been directed to urban areas in Africa. People in the rural areas are living without running water, health facilities, schools and reliable income simply because little investment has been directed there" he said in an interview. Dr. Kilama, a medicinal scientist born in Uganda, but now a US citizen, believe that Africa is not a poor continent "but has remained poor because of failure to utilize various talents and resources.

"We have vast talents in various fields and we have never collaborated to utilize them. Instead we are more interested in wasting resources complaining about why development has stagnated for a long time" he explained. He added: "African leaders have always been quick to blame the outside forces for their development woes. We have never looked inward to find solutions to our problems."

Dr. Kilama, who is currently in the city conducting a training course in biodiversity, biotechnology and Law for scientists, lawyers and policy makers from ten Eastern Africa countries never looked like Africans in Diaspora blaming the governments of their mother continent for everything that went wrong. However, he did attack some African policy makers who lacked "compassion towards fellow citizens and rather more interested in hindering the progress of those who might be interested in developing the continent".

He is currently the president of the Global Bio Diversity Institute (GBDI) based in the United States which he founded two years ago specifically to conduct biodiversity and biotechnology training for the developing countries. The primary focus of the institute is to train and provide information to developing countries in order to better equip themselves to manage their biodiversity and provide sound economic development.

He said, "the overall objective is to train lawyers, scientists, policy makers, civil society and economists to develop skills in utilization of natural resources that will allow the economic development to take place in the developing countries." His special interest has always been in Africa. "I always believed and I know Africa is not poor but we allow ourselves to be poor."

The Institute (GBDI) besides training experts from various fields and policy makers is engaged in examining issues that were impeding progress in Africa. "Leaderships together with the public must understand that the only way we can develop Africa is through hard work and utilizing our diverse talent. Africa can only be developed by Africans" he said.

The Uganda-born scientist says biodiversity which is abundant in African continent provides the best opportunity to do the following:-

*Create research and development (R&D) programmes across any given nation, based on natural resources
*Develop scientific infrastructure which will allow for innovation in economic development utilizing newer technologies such as biotechnology
*Engage the legal establishment so that they recognized their responsibility for promoting orderly economic development and stability in the continent.
*Bring awareness to scientists who are involved ion R &D and other organizations engaged in utilization of natural resources that any attempt to develop agreement between the two parties required the knowledge and participation of legal people.

Dr. Kilama was born in Loyobo village near Gulu in Acholi district in Northern Uganda. His father was a school teacher. He attended his "O" level at St. Mary's College near Entebbe and "A" level in Gulu where he completed in 1971. He taught briefly at a Catholic Mission School in Masaka district.

In early 1972 he left for the US and attended a college at Berea College in Kentucky and obtained a degree in Chemistry in 1976. He then joined the University of Kentucky, Lexington to study pharmacy and graduated in 1979. Between 1979 and 1983, Dr. Kilama practised clinical pharmacy in Dallas Texas before he enrolled at the Graduate School Programme at the University of Arizona, Tucson and obtained a Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry in 1988.

For one and a half years after obtaining his Ph.D. the new "doctor" did his post-doctoral Fellowship in the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "Thereafter I joined Du Pont Company as a research scientist in agricultural sector where I was engaged in developing new compounds for crop protection" he said.

During his tenure with Du Pont, he rose to a level of Senior Research Scientist. During the same period he developed collaborative links between several developing countries' institutions and pharmaceutical and agro-chemical industries in USA. In 1999 he founded GDI. Dr. Kilama says he believes that the only way Africa could develop was if major reforms were taken in each country.

The reforms he proposed include creating viable institutions to help and promote entrepreneurship in order to create employment for hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in Africa. "The leadership must be absolutely committed to their country by demonstrating, as an example, on how to curtail misuse of