Accessibility links

African Development on G8 Agenda - 2004-06-02

Leaders of seven of the world's richest nations plus Russia will be focused on geo-political issues, particularly the Middle East during next week's summit in the American state of Georgia. However, as in previous G8 meetings, African development will also be on agenda.

Six years ago in Birmingham, England anti-poverty activists encircled the G8 summit venue demanding that rich countries cancel the debt of Africa's poorest countries. Though the G8 leaders failed to act on the demonstrators' demands, since the Birmingham summit Africa's problems have been prominent at the annual meetings of the world's rich countries.

At the 2002 G8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada four African leaders unveiled a plan for economic reform and debt relief. Known as Nepad, the New Partnership for African Development was predicated on African countries developing their own plans for market-based reform and having progress monitored by other African nations. In return there would be an increased flow of assistance and investment to Africa.

Salih Booker, the head of U.S. based group called Africa Action and a critic of the Bush administration, says President Bush, this year's summit host, initially did not plan to invite Africans to the meeting in Sea Island, Georgia. But earlier this month, the White House invited six African leaders to Sea Island. They include the leaders of South Africa, Senegal, Algeria and Nigeria, who unveiled Nepad in Canada two years ago. They will be joined on June 10 by the leaders of Uganda and Ghana. Together with the G8 leaders they will examine trade, investment and debt issues.

Mr. Booker says other summit participants persuaded the president to change his mind.

?That [change] came belatedly because of pressures both here in the United States and internationally,? he explained. ?But there hasn't been any preparatory work to develop any new initiatives.?

John Kirton, a University of Toronto professor and expert on the G8 summit process, says it is not true that the administration did not plan any initiatives for Africa. He says President Bush had always planned to unveil a proposal to promote private sector development in Africa. And he points to the $15 billion U.S. emergency plan to combat Aids. Mr. Kirton enumerates other African issues that will be discussed on the last day of the summit. ?At the urging of America's G8 partners there has been added a major initiative on peace building, again primarily in Africa, on famine and food security, on global health-beginning with the important area of polio, but extending to the broader question of the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis,? he said.

But of all the issues of importance to African leaders the question of debt relief still looms largest. One program already exists, called HIPC, which stands for Highly Indebted Poor Countries, but the programs is due to expire at the end of this year. While G8 member Britain wants the plan extended, some activists say that is not enough. Marie Clarke of Jubilee U.S.A., a U.S. based group that is calling on G8 leaders to cancel Africa's debt, is one of them.

?While we're pleased that it is on the agenda, we need real action and not just rhetoric about HIPC,? she said. ?The reality is that the world will not be satisfied any longer with rhetoric that is divorced from reality.?

Ms. Clarke's advocacy group says rich industrial countries have thus far made good on only half of the $100 billion of debt relief they had promised the poorest African countries.

Many African countries, despite generous debt relief, still pay more in debt service each year than they receive in investment and foreign assistance. Analysts worry that with most developing countries in Asia now growing rapidly Africa risks becoming marginalized from the world's dynamic globalized economy.