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Africa / G-8 - 2002-06-28

African leaders are praising a new aid and investment program for Africa approved by the G-8 group of industrialized nations meeting in Canada. But critics are describing the plan as a re-hash of previous promises to address African poverty.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki - writing in his "weekly letter from the president" -- says the meeting of industrialized nations will go down in history as a defining moment in the evolution of Africa and in the birth of a more equitable system of international relations. Mr. Mbeki says it is the moment that ended the master-servant relationship between western nations and those in Africa.

Mr. Mbeki is upbeat because for the first time since European nations decided in 1885 to carve Africa up among themselves, the world's leading industrialized countries used a plan devised by African leaders as the basis for forming their policy for the continent.

The African plan, known as the "New Partnership for African Development", or NEPAD, is the brainchild of Mr. Mbeki and the leaders of Nigeria and Senegal. Under the plan, African countries will set their own developmental and democratic goals and standards and will adopt a review system to ensure compliance. In return, they want developed nations to support them with investment, trade and, where appropriate, aid.

The eight industrialized nations agreed on a package that will see African countries, which successfully reform their governments and economies, benefit from 12-billion dollars in aid.

However, critics of the G-8 plan say it is nothing more than a fresh announcement of aid previously promised to all underdeveloped countries.

South African activist Neville Gabriel described the announcement as a grand but vacuous declaration issued by a group he calls "the hot-air brigade".

Mr. Gabriel is the spokesperson for Jubilee South Africa, a group that champions the cause of debt relief for Africa. He writes in South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper that the G-8 plan ignores fundamental facts about Africa.

He says these include the fact that African nations today export 30 percent more than they did in 1980, but they earn 40 percent less. Mr. Gabriel says Africa cannot prosper as long as agricultural subsidies in rich countries drive down world prices, and rich countries compel African nations to remove their own economic protections while imposing quotas and high tariffs in their own countries.