Nepad takes centre stage at G8 summit

The world’s richest nations on Thursday turn their sights to Nepad, Africa’s homegrown development plan that aims to lift tens of millions out of poverty by 2015.

The Group of Eight (G8) summit in Kananaskis will discuss the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), a project which offers good governance in return for investment and development aid.

Its goals include an average growth rate of more than 7% a year for the next 15 years and compliance with international targets on poverty reduction, health, education, sustainable development and the empowerment of women.

Likened to the Marshall Plan, under which the United States pumped vast sums of money into European reconstruction after World War II, it was conceived by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, South African President Thabo Mbeki and Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

Along with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, they were invited to discuss the plan with G8 leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

It has already been endorsed by the Organisation of African Unity.

“For the first time, Nepad is offering a perspective, a dream on a continent-wide scale,” explained Luc Sidjoun, a professor of international relations at the University of Yaounde.

“At the very least, it is an inspiring vision,” he commented during a study of the plan last week in Pretoria.

The initiative comes 45 years after African countries began winning their independence, which led to phases of authoritarian rule, violent coups, budding democracy, and the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien pushed to get the project considered by G8 leaders, but it had to share centre stage with US President George Bush’s Middle East peace plan and the fight against global terrorism.

As a sort of “appetiser”, summit leaders agreed on Wednesday to grant up to one billion dollars in additional debt relief to some of the world’s poorest countries, a day before sitting down to consider Africa’s plight.

Their contribution to the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative is to benefit 22 African states that qualify for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank plan established in 1996.

Twenty six countries worldwide have already received a total of $62-billion in debt relief according to a statement issued by the summit’s Canadian chairmanship.

Some of the money “saved” has been earmarked for reinvestment in health care and education.

The billion dollar pledge, which had strong backing from Britain, Canada, and Germany, will benefit countries hit hard by a plunge in prices for crucial commodity exports and the global economic slowdown in general.

In Calgary, an international aid agency representative welcomed the G8 leaders’ concern on Wednesday, but said the sum was equal to just 50 days of debt repayment by developing countries.

“We have got to see much bigger sums committed,” said Andrew Graham, a representative for the Canadian chapter of CARE.

He noted that while the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria had not yet managed to raise two billion dollars, the US Congress had approved $40-billion to combat terrorism three days after the September 11 attacks.

“I would like to see these leaders go home and tell their countries that poverty is one of, if not the, defining moral issues of our generation.”

Henry Northover, a policy analyst for the Catholic Aid Agency CAFOD, said: “This is progress but not the breakthrough the Africans were hoping for.

“In order to meet 2015 millennium development goals most African countries will need 100% debt write-offs,” he added in reference to an international pledge to halve global poverty by that date.

Three years after $100-billion in debt relief was promised at a G8 summit in Cologne, Germany, four African countries—Mali Niger, Sierra Leone and Zambia—actually face heavier debt repayments, CAFOD said. - Sapa-AFP

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