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African Unions, NGOs Criticize G-8 Summit - 2003-06-04

Non-governmental aid agencies and trade unions in Africa are criticizing the outcome of the G-8 summit in France. They accuse the world's richest nations of having lost the political will to meet their obligations to the struggling continent.

In a joint statement, six groups, comprised of trade unions, research and development networks and non-governmental organizations across Africa, expressed their disappointment in the G-8 nations for not making firm commitments to combat Africa's problems.

Calling the three-day summit in France a stunning failure, the groups say the world's richest countries made only a half-hearted attempt to address the problems of famine, water shortages, diseases, poverty, and crushing debt.

Africa was the main topic at last year's G-8 summit in Canada. There, world leaders agreed in principle to give greater development aid and debt relief to the continent. Although G-8 nations at this year's summit pledged to continue assisting Africa, critics charge that the commitments were too vague and not enough to meet Africa's needs.

A key issue that has angered activists and aid workers is the failure of the G-8 nations to come up with a plan to give African countries access to cheap anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS and other diseases.

Another issue is the G-8's failure to agree to stop subsidizing farmers in Western countries for their food exports to Africa. Critics of the subsidies say they make it harder for poor African farmers to compete.

At the summit, the European Union announced it would contribute $1 billion a year to a fund to help fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The contribution follows calls by activists to match a $15 billion AIDS package that U.S. President George W. Bush recently signed for Africa and the Caribbean. But critics say the allocated amount is still not enough to treat and prevent these diseases.

They note that overall, the G-8 Summit closed Tuesday with offers of assistance that were less than one percent of what was spent on the war in Iraq.

Irungu Houghton, a pan-African policy adviser for the aid agency Oxfam, says he believes it is now time for African leaders and the people of Africa to take much of the initiative and responsibility for resolving the continent's problems.

"I think we have to learn the painful lesson that Africa's future depends more on decisions that we take within Africa rather than expecting the political goodwill to emerge within Europe and America," said Mr. Houghton.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who attended the summit, said that he welcomed the funds the G-8 nations have promised to Africa. He suggested that instead of being disappointed, Africans should focus on proving to the international community that the money they receive is being managed and spent properly.

Many African nations are on the World Bank's list of the most corrupt countries in the world.