Britain bids for US support for Africa plan

Britain will be seeking approval from the United States for its grand plan to help alleviate poverty in Africa when finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrialised nations convene in London on Friday and Saturday.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has pledged to use Britain’s presidencies of the G7 and G8—the Group of Seven plus Russia—this year to push for a scheme delivering full debt cancellation, trade benefits and financial assistance for the world’s poorest countries, notably in Africa.

But the US is widely reported to be sceptical of the project, whose main aim seeks to double global aid to the developing world to $100-billion per year.

Brown’s has dubbed his blueprint, launched in Edinburgh last month, the modern day Marshall Plan after US former secretary of state General George Marshall, who initiated a grand project to restore the European economy from the devastation of World War II.

“We will be trying to persuade America that debt relief and extra finance for development is in its interests not just because it is good economics and social policy but [because it is] good for its security as well,” Brown said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper this week.

“We are winning support. Now is the time to take the next step forward. We are making a major push this weekend.
We are demanding action this weekend from the G7,” added Brown, who also wants the world’s richest countries to cancel the $80-billion of debts owed by poor nations to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and African Development Bank.

A Treasury spokesperson said Britain’s G7 peers France, Italy and Germany have pledged their support for Brown’s Marshall Plan, while discussions are continuing with the group’s other members, Japan, Canada, and the US.

Meanwhile, US President George Bush has launched his own development initiative for impoverished nations—the Millennium Challenge Account—which ties foreign aid to good governance, anti-graft measures and transparency.

Professor Tony Barnett, an expert on African development at the London School of Economics, said the difference of opinion between Britain and the US amounts to “an ongoing low-level conflict”.

“The level of American cooperation is not going to be as high as Brown and other European [finance] leaders would wish,” he said.

Barnett said he believes Britain, with the help of French President Jacques Chirac, is trying to establish an independent European position over Africa.

“The European governments, whilst having a clear view of what their [economic] interests are [in Africa], do have a humanitarian involvement.”

He added that Washington’s main interest in Africa is securing control of the oil reserves in Sudan and Equatorial Guinea.

“While those interests are not far from the consideration of the British government, there is a very strong humanitarian driver here, particularly at a personal level from [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair and Brown.”

With that in mind, it would “be quite a hustle” for Britain to win over the US at the G7 meeting, Barnett concluded.

During a visit to Ethiopia last October to attend a Commission for Africa summit, Blair made an impassioned speech describing efforts to help development on the continent as the “one noble cause worth fighting for”.

Brown, meanwhile, said last month that rich nations have “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to deliver a modern Marshall Plan.—Sapa-AFP

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