G8: Not so great on Africa

The Group of Eight’s (G8) meeting this week in the United States will spew forth promises for Africa that will amount to nothing, say its critics.

The involvement of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) with the G8 — which represents Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US — is meant to be a partnership: Africa promises to improve political relations and promote democracy, and the West promises financial aid in return, said Chris Landsberg, director of the Centre for Policy Studies.

Unfortunately the priorities of the two are in opposition. The West sees global terrorism as its priority, and issues such as development and malnourishment are second on its agenda.

Writing for ThisDay, President Thabo Mbeki this week challenged the G8 to live up to its Africa Action Plan, and has expressed concern over the limited progress made in Africa.

The West, said Landsberg, makes promises on a unilateral basis, while Africa negotiates as a whole.

This makes it difficult for Africa to hold the West accountable. He cites as an example of failure a pledge — largely ignored — by developed countries in the United Nations to contribute 0,7% of their gross domestic product to developing countries. Goals are set, he says, but based on past performance, Western countries lack the political will to implement them —which will leave Africa with little recourse but to look at enhancing relationships within the continent.

The G8 launched its Africa Action Plan in Canada in 2002 when it made commitments to resolve problems that have plagued the continent for years. Nepad’s steering committee welcomed the plan, referring to it as “an initial reaction sufficient to kick-start the implementation of Nepad”.

It intended to improve peace and security by regulating the activities of arms brokers and eliminating illegal weapons and land mines.

Trade in Africa would be fostered, greater market access for African products was to be provided and Africa’s efforts to improve its agricultural sector were to be supported. The G8 was ready, Nepad said, to consider additional financial support to countries committed to good governance.

Human development would be enhanced by promoting equal education and information and communication technologies. The G8 promised support for Africa’s efforts to build a sustainable health system.

Yet the plan drew immediate criticism. Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Export Credit Agencies Watch issued a press release that “condemned the G8 heads of government for turning their backs on the world’s poor”.

WWF’s climate officer went further: “The G8 claim to tackle poverty by providing Internet connections and computers, but what they forgot to include is the plug and the power.”

Oxfam raised issues they believed the G8 should focus on. The most important was to increase aid and debt relief, implement a trade timetable and intervene diplomatically to end wars on the continent.

Africa did not fare much better in the 2003 summit, held in France. The European Union committed to contribute $1-billion annually in the fight against Aids, tuberculosis and malaria; Landsberg said he would be surprised if the EU has come through with 20% of the pledge.

The G8 committed to responding to emergency food-aid requirements, the need to ensure long-term food as well as emphasising UN targets to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water.

Oxfam said the Africa Action Plan was “ambitious in its rhetoric, [yet it] produced little new aid or debt relief for Africa, and no reform of unfair terms of trade”.

It further pointed out that Africa is plagued by poverty and “40% of children never go to school in Africa — the only region in the world where the numbers of children out of school are rising”.

Oxfam called for the summit to address subsidised farming in the West that cuts Africa out of the competitive market. It further called on the G8 to deliver on the promised $6-billion extra aid annually and to cancel debts of poor African countries.

Late last year an Africa Partnership Forum (AFP) was inaugurated to enhance the G8 and Nepad discussions. Kevin Watkins, Oxfam’s head of research, said: “Africa figures prominently on the G8 agenda.” This is the third year that Nepad has engaged in talks with the G8.

But, he said, “put diplomatically, the G8 record on aid is shameful. Not one of its members is remotely near the UN target of spending 0,7% of national income on development assistance”.

A history of G8 promises

Canada 2002

  • Improve peace and security and resolve refugee problems

  • Prioritise programmes in the area of democracy, human rights, peace and good political, economic and corporate governance

  • Help Africa attract investment, facilitate capacity building and develop infrastructure projects

  • Provide greater market access for African products

  • Consider additional financial support to countries that are committed to good governance. Debt-vulnerable and very poor countries were to receive International Development Association grants

  • Promote equal education, information and communication

    France 2003

  • The European Union committed to contribute $1-billion per annum to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria

  • Committed to responding to the emergency food aid requirements and agreed on the need to ensure long-term food supplies

  • Emphasised United Nations targets to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and committed to providing support to do so

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