A no-action plan for Africa

G8 summits increasingly resemble hot-air ballooning. Apart from escaping to the furthest retreats to avoid the masses, the exclusive basket of rich-country leaders now customarily issues grand declarations that give the impression of being significant but are really vacuous.

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) proposed to begin a mature relationship with rich countries to halve poverty by 2015. African officials staked their political futures on making Nepad palatable to the G8 but could squeeze in only 90 minutes on the $250-million summit burner.

The hot-air brigade returned a scandalous plan for no action on Africa. They recycled stale commitments without saying how and when they would act.

Half of Africa’s people live in absolute poverty. About 19 000 African children die each day from preventable diseases and 75% of all people living with HIV/Aids are in Africa.

This is not the fault of African governments alone. Africa exports 30% more today than in 1980 but receives 40% less income from it. Fifteen years of International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programmes, and failed World Bank projects and debt-relief initiatives, leave Africa with a foreign debt of more than $300-billion, while unemployment rates across the continent are anyone’s guess.

To decisively address these problems Nepad proposed to raise an additional $54-billion annually.

But the G8 rehashed previous announcements of $12-billion in aid to all underdeveloped countries worldwide to justify its inaction on Africa, even though aid to Africa has fallen by 43% over the past 10 years.

“Our partners will be selected on the basis of measured results. We will match their commitment with a commitment on our own part to promote peace and security in Africa, to boost expertise and capacity, to encourage trade and direct growth-oriented investment, and to provide more effective official development assistance,” the G8 belched.

G8 leaders want to dictate the terms of Africa’s development without a corresponding commitment in real financial terms.

They latched on to the “cost-free” aspects of Nepad—conflict resolution and governance reform, as well as the promotion of private business in Africa, and flatly rejected African proposals for large-scale regional infrastructure development, suggesting this sounds too much like state-driven development initiatives of former times to merit financial backing.

As important as peace-building and accountable governance are for Africa’s development, the political will required for that will not come about unless there is the real possibility of a massive programme to deliver a better life for all Africa’s people.

But new capital follows development and growth, not just peace and good governance.

The G8 has placed all hope on increased foreign trade as the economic centrepiece for Africa’s development. However, it is unable to indicate how its plans to “provide increased trade-related technical assistance to help African countries benefit from” global trade will translate into real development gains.

Africa cannot prosper in agricultural trade when subsidies in rich countries drive down world prices, high tariffs and quotas keep out African products, and small industries in Africa are destroyed by the G8-enforced removal of protections on such industries.

Yet, while more than 12-million people are starving from food shortages in Southern Africa, the G8 agriculture plan focuses on research, the promotion of genetically modified crops, and “working with international organisations” to temporarily provide food relief. The G8 hypocritically overlooked its own unfair agricultural trade practices.

Avoiding African access to rich-country markets, the G8 turned attention to access by its companies to African markets. It plans to reallocate development aid to “facilitate the financing of private investment” especially through G8 export credit agencies.

Export credit agencies provide loans to underdeveloped countries to guarantee the return of multi- national company profits to their countries of origin. This is an astoundingly ridiculous way to respond to Africa’s plight: more debt for more capital haemorrhaging!

Nepad asks for debt reduction to at least 10% of government revenue, but the G8 only regurgitated its commitment to the ineffective debt relief initiative promised at the 1999 Cologne summit.

Remarkably, it gave no commitment of additional resources for Aids prevention and treatment, only a weak promise to “promote the availability of an adequate supply” of affordable medicines.

The G8 crew have demonstrated again that they are an uninspiring group that have contempt for the world’s poor. They lack direction and purpose. The failure of any meaningful outcome for Africa from the Rocky Mountain summit spells a treacherous path for the world.

This is “orchestrated hype rather than reality”, warned Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy for Aids and former Canadian ambassador to the UN.

Resistance is no longer the preserve of protesters. In an unscrupulous turning of the tables the G8 is now actively resisting a decisive plan to turn around Africa’s impoverishment.

African leaders’ hopes have been sullied in the mountains of Kananaskis.

Perhaps they should blame themselves for not focusing more on national alternatives to overcome poverty. The question is whether they have learnt any lessons.

“We will go it alone” if G8 leaders did not respond appropriately to Nepad, said Frank Chikane, Director General in the Office of the President, before hearing the G8 outcome.

But will our leaders now be seriously open to adjusting Nepad’s strategy in favour of direct poverty eradication?

Neville Gabriel is the director of the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference justice and peace department. He is also a national executive committee member and spokes- person for Jubilee South Africa, convenor of the Apartheid Debt and Reparations Campaign, and member of the board of directors of Transparency South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity

Client Media Releases