Monday, June 04, 2007

African aid slips down G8 agenda

Every year, about this time, the moneyed world teases Africa with promises of solidarity and enhanced economic support.

It is the time of the annual Group of Eight (G8) wealthy nations summit and i t has become Africa’s season of hope. That hope was never higher than in 2005, when incoming G8 President Tony Blair put Africa near the top of the agenda for the Gleneagles summit and secured a commitment to double aid to Africa to 50-billion a year by 2010.

Pop stars Bono and Bob Geldof, who have championed Africa’s cause for more than a decade, set up a monitoring organisation, Data, to track delivery. Data reported recently that G8 aid had increased at less than half the rate needed to meet the Gleneagles promise .

African Monitor, another independent organisation that tracks aid to the continent, said this week that aid from the 22 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had fallen from 106- billion in 2005 to 103-billion in 2006.

This year there is again reason to expect a substantial focus on Africa when leaders gather in the German Baltic resort of Heiligendamm, from Wednesday. Host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who takes over the presidency from Russia’s Vladimir Putin, has made the fight against African poverty one of her eight agenda items for the summit.

In addition, the leaders are committed in terms of their Gleneagles pledge to conduct a two-yearly review of progress on their promise to double aid to the developing world to 100-billion a year by 2010, with half of the total going to Africa.

As with every meeting since Africa was first invited as an observer in 2001, other items threaten to dominate the agenda to Africa’s cost. Climate change and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran will feel more immediate to the those in the northern hemisphere than unkept promises to the poor South.

Beating the deadline for agreement in the Doha Round of World Trade Organisation talks is sure to be a priority, but the “developmental” label that settlement was meant to carry already looks tattered. The compromises are likely to be more to Africa’s cost than to its advantage.

Aids, though of overwhelming concern to Africa, could invite a treatment-focused response and not the broader poverty-linked strategy that Africa needs.

The hard talking tends to be about issues of concern to the G8 economies. This year, they also face the additional challenge of Russia’s increasing belligerence. Putin’s tone has begun to echo the Cold War era in East-West relations. His G8 partners are worried and this is likely to overshadow African poverty.

The good news is that Blair, who retires on June 27, will be trying to consolidate the African focus as part of his legacy and Merkel has shown she intends to pick up the baton.

Some African representation was consolidated at the Gleneagles meeting, where the leaders established what they call the G8+5 — the industrialised leaders sitting with China, Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa. Though he heads the smallest of those emerging economies, President Thabo Mbeki now attends by right rather than at the whim of a G8 presidential invitation.

Mojanko Gumbi, Mbeki’s legal adviser and closest aide was able to push for the prominent inclusion of African issues including Aids, good governance and peace and security, at this summit.

The presidents of Algeria, Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria will also attend, but none will enjoy Mbeki’s access. It will be up to Mbeki to reaffirm Africa’s commitment to improving governance as promised by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the African Peer Review Mechanism.

Nepad was the step change that encouraged the G8 leaders to adopt an Africa Action Plan at their 2002 summit in Kananaskis in Canada.

However, there has been little action on G8 promises since then. These range from assistance to bring Africa into the digital world to industrial and trade development. The developed countries’ pledge to curb their own farm subsidies and to open markets to African agriculture languish in the stalled WTO talks.

So although Mbeki is unlikely to return laden, he surely will not come home empty-handed.

Link to Sunday Times - Article