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Africa Benefits from G-8 Summit

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who hosted this year’s G-8 Summit of the major industrial nations in Gleneagles, Scotland, put two major issues at the forefront of the agenda – climate change and African development.

In an “unprecedented” gesture, according to Mr. Blair, the G-8 leaders personally signed a communiqué issued Friday containing their pledges to double aid to Africa and substantially increase assistance to other poor nations. He said he believes considerable progress was made, particularly in relation to Africa. The leaders also agreed to debt cancellation and promised a new deal on trade and more resources for peacekeeping in Africa.

G8, African and other leaders applaud British Prime Minister Tony Blair, center, after a speech at the G8 Summit

Professor John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto’s research group on the G-8, said he thinks the terror attacks in London, which cast a shadow over the summit, in the end had an “enormously energizing effect” on the results.

Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Encounter program, Professor Kirton called it the “most successful summit ever” in the 30-year history of these events, adding what was delivered at Gleneagles went well beyond what Prime Minister Blair expected. He noted an “upsurge in solidarity,” in which petty politics were cast aside. One area the University of Toronto professor highlighted was what he termed an important advance on peace support to help Africans deal with their own security.

But policy officer Simon Wright with ActionAID, a non-governmental organization dedicated to reducing poverty around the world, said many of the summit’s accomplishments had been agreed upon even before the meetings in Scotland began. He noted that what was achieved at Gleneagles fell below what NGO’s had campaigned for and what the British government had set as a target last year. Mr. Wright added that it was imperative to hold the G-8 nations to account for their promises on increased aid.

According to Professor Kirton, compliance levels have been rising and he observed that the country that followed through the most after last year’s summit was the United States. Furthermore, he praised the conditions that poor countries will be required to meet for increased aid – for example, good governance and improved education and health delivery.

Both John Kirton and Simon Wright agreed that trade is an area that needs far more attention and that export subsidies on agricultural products, which favor the richest nations, are injurious to African farmers. In fact, Professor Kirton called them the “most vicious form of protectionism.”

Mr. Wright said that non-governmental organizations were disappointed that there was no commitment at the G-8 Summit to end pressure on developing nations to give up protection of certain areas of their economies, what is called, “forced liberalization.” On the other hand, he said he was pleased by the commitment to try to get universal access by 2010 to anti-retroviral drugs for those living with HIV.

For full audio of the program Encounter click here.