Saturday, July 09, 2005

G8 offers plan for Africa; continent underwhelmed

The G8 summit of the world's leading powers meeting in Scotland decided to double the amount of aid they spend on development aid to Africa.

They also agreed to cancel $40 billion of debt owed by 18 African countries.

Sounds like a lot of money until you consider that the amount represents only 10% of what is needed to help countries achieve the Millenium Development Goals designed to slash the most extreme forms of poverty.

Sounds like a lot when you consider that last November, a single country, Iraq, had $44 billion in debt written off by developed countries. And US and European officials were pressing for all the rest of the debts of the world's second-largest oil producer to be erased.

Some Americans oppose debt relief for Africa because it would be 'irresponsible' or would 'promote economic mismanagement.' They argue that all debts should be repaid or else it would be promoting deadbeat-ism. I don't recall any such objections being made to the erasure of Iraqi debt.

While many in the west view Africa as a charity case, its people on bended knee looking for handouts, reality is somewhat different. Most acknowledge that aid by itself won't do a lot of good. They know this simply by looking at history. In reality, the most prominent African leaders are looking not for handouts, but fundamental changes in the world's trading structures. They want increased access to developed country markets for African goods and raw materials. They want the end of huge agricultural subsidies developed country governments lavish on their farmers. They don't want charity; they just want to compete. Sadly, the G8 summit decided to avoid this issue, which is much more fundamental than aid or debt.

(And yes, I suspect many Africans would rather have fairer trade so they could make money for themselves)

Due to President Bush's objections, the G8 also avoided the issue of climate change. Many groups have warned that African poverty reduction efforts will be rendered worthless without action on climate change.

Anyone who is familiar with the increasingly erratic weather in West Africa and the rapid expansion of the dry, brush area known as the Sahel or the reduction of rainy seasons in the Horn of Africa from two to one knows that climate change isn't a figment of anyone's imagination. Not coincidentally, Horn countries Ethiopia and Eritrea are facing food emergencies after disastrous crop yields while Sahel countries Niger and Mali on the verge of famine for the same reason.

Just yesterday, the UN's World Food Programme announced that crops had failed in much of southern Africa, meaning that some 10 million people will need food aid. The main cause cited by the WFP? Erratic weather.

British Chancellor (finance minister) Gordon Brown offered a plan whereby the World Bank would offer financial incentives to developing countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and adopt "clean" technologies. But the move could provoke controversy since US companies, which are in the lead in this new industry, will benefit most from the bank's grants.

It would provoke controversy in Britain perhaps. But since US companies would clearly benefit from such emphasis on new 'green' technologies, it makes President Bush's objections all the more baffling.


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