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International Journalists Discuss the Merits of Africa Debt Relief and Direct Aid

The world’s wealthiest nations recently agreed to write off $40 billion of debt owed by 18 of the poorest countries, including 14 in Africa. But they remain at odds over the amount of direct aid they are willing to offer and the mechanism for providing that aid.

Oonagh Blackman, political editor of London’s Daily Mirror, described the reaction in Britain to the debt relief measure agreed to by the leading industrialized nations as a mixture of optimism and pessimism. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA New Now’s International Press Club, Ms. Blackman said the British public was pleased that the all the finance ministers had signed up to a specific timetable for debt relief to the poorest countries. But, she added that the United States is perceived as “dragging its feet” on the matter of direct aid.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has spearheaded a movement to double global aid to Africa to $25 billion a year, a proposal that British public opinion strongly supports, according to Oonagh Blackman. She said that people are no longer satisfied with verbal promises from their politicians. They want action – physical evidence of more health and education facilities, more equipment, and large-scale vaccination programs to eradicate disease.

In Ghana, Nanayaw Duodu of Joy FM Radio in Accra said news of Western support for debt relief was initially received with great excitement. But, to be effective, debt reduction needs to be accompanied by increased trade.

He said that Africa needs the Western world to open up its markets. Richard Cockett, Africa editor of the Economist magazine, agreed with Mr. Doudu that expanded trade is even more important than direct aid. And he explained that farm subsidies in the United States, the European Union, and Japan represent a barrier to Africa’s ability to compete in the marketplace.

The Bush administration has made trade and investment with Africa the centerpiece of its Africa policy. The Millennium Challenge Account and the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which promotes trade, are the Bush administration’s primary vehicles for helping poor countries that show commitment to democracy and sound economic policies.

In his meeting with the presidents of five African nations, President Bush stressed his commitment to work with African leaders to improve their economies
According to Richard Cockett of the Economist, both the British and the European press ignore the Bush administration’s success in promoting trade and in combating AIDS in Africa. And instead, they chide Washington for rejecting the Blair proposal of doubling aid to Africa. Mr. Cockett said that the British and the European press barely mention President Bush’s economic initiatives, such as doubling the American aid budget since the late 1990’s and providing $15 billion toward AIDS eradication. All the attention, he noted, is directed to the fact that U.S. aid as a percentage of GDP is the lowest among the wealthier nations.

In three weeks, Prime Minister Blair will host the G-8 Summit of the world’s leading industrial countries in Gleneagles, Scotland, to promote his plan to double aid to Africa. While President Bush has endorsed the debt cancellation plan, Washington has thus far declined to accept Mr. Blair’s proposal. Nonetheless, Richard Cockett said he remains hopeful that America’s position on direct aid to Africa will move closer to Britain’s by the time the G-8 Summit begins on July 6.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.