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AFRICA: G8 Has Yet to Deliver on Aid Promises – World Bank

Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW, Jun 8 2007 (IPS) - The industrialised nations of the Group of Eight are failing on the promises made in their previous summits to help Africa’s economic development and to push for poverty alleviation for those struggling to survive on less than a dollar per day, say World Bank experts and development activists.

“It’s obvious to the whole world that G8 member countries are not fully delivering on their promises to Africa and nobody holds them accountable for those lapses,” Eric Kilongi Mgendi, regional spokesperson for the development campaign group ActionAid, told IPS in an interview from Nairobi, Kenya.

“African countries badly need technology and investment capital to help them adapt to all kinds of environmental hazards, including the changing climate. It needs the G8 to steer development to an appreciable level for the growing population,” he said.

While aid would help develop much of the infrastructure, harness energy resources and improve social services, African leaders should also take progressive steps to strengthen intra-regional trade, said the activist.

By doing this, “they can increase their influence in the international arena. When African countries are better able to utilise resources and increase financing at the domestic level, it will help positively position the continent within the global community. And this requires coordinated economic direction and good governance,” Mgendi said.

The problem with Africa, he maintains, is a lack of future perspectives on development processes and strategic leadership – an ability to look beyond today – and also the wherewithal to escape manipulation of their economies by some rich countries.

If all international negotiations or agreements were subject to parliamentary approval, for example, governments would be forced to act in the interest of their people and not those of donors or other possible temptation, Mgendi says.

Two years after pledging a doubling of aid for Africa and new opportunities for African exports, donor nations are falling behind in fulfilling their promises, said the World Bank ahead of this week’s G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.

With Africa’s economic prospects high on the G8 agenda, and despite the 2005 Gleneagles summit’s pledge to increase Africa’s development aid to 50 billion dollars by 2010, foreign assistance for development programmes in many African countries remains essentially flat, according to the World Bank.

“The record so far indicates that apart from debt reduction, African countries haven’t realised the benefits promised at the G8 summit two years ago, during the Year of Africa,” said John Page, the World Bank’s chief economist for the African region. “Many donor countries have increased support for special humanitarian assistance and debt reduction over four decades, but unfortunately this does not translate into additional resources for African countries to rebuild their infrastructure, train teachers and combat HIV/AIDS and malaria.”

Page noted that for their part, African countries are pushing improved governance, and in many cases have become significantly more hospitable environment for investment.

“The question is less whether the African partners are delivering on their promises, but whether the wealthy industrial nations are honouring theirs,” he said.

While donor aid may be lagging, progress in lowering debt burdens for sub-Saharan Africa has moved ahead somewhat faster, according to the World Bank

Multilateral debt relief undertaken by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank will bring about the full cancellation of 50 billion dollars of debt over 40 years. Since July 2006, when the initiative took effect, 16 African countries have benefited. Another 17 will become eligible once they complete programmes under the Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.

Lagging resource flows come on top of an earlier decline in African assistance: excluding debt relief and emergency food aid, assistance to sub-Saharan Africa fell 2.1 percent in real terms from 2004 to 2005. According to estimates in the World Bank’s Global Development Finance 2007, net official flows of aid to African countries dropped to 35.1 billion dollars in 2006 from 35.8 billion the previous year.

African countries that have posted solid record of economic growth, and have established macroeconomic stability through years of reform, have seen little or no increases in donor resources for financing development. Many of these countries – despite their recent success – need external help to rehabilitate roads, expand access to electricity, and improve education and health systems.

“Our biggest concern right now is that we help Africa extend the gains that we have seen in the past five years,” Page said.

The report, an advance excerpt from a fuller document to be published later in the year, was issued as the G8 leaders were meeting in Germany.

It outlines some hopeful trends in Africa, including six-percent economic growth continent-wide, a decline in civil conflicts, rising export earnings, business growth and more democratic governments. Yet it said this progress remained fragile because it was driven largely by a boom in commodity prices.

But the G8 is short by an estimated 10 billion dollars in the disbursement of the development aid pledged in Gleneagles, and according to the United Nations this could disproportionately widen the development gap, leaving Africa far behind.

“It is a scandal that in a world of plenty, 800 million people go hungry every day… 8,000 people die every day from AIDS. Africa is the one region where the numbers of people living in poverty are rising and life expectancy is falling. If the G8 was delivering on its commitments, these challenges would not evaporate, but they would be less massive,” ActionAid spokesperson Sarah Gillam told IPS from London.

She said that some African leaders have also failed on their part: poor governance, deep-seated corruption and misdirecting development priorities.

“It takes two to tango. Yes, some leaders in Africa have not been accountable and transparent in their dealings with the developed partners. Some African leaders have been involved in corruption together with multinational corporations from G8 countries. Others have stolen money from Africa and kept it in the G8 countries, with some G8 refusing to release the stolen money back into Africa,” she said.

Some African leaders have signed agreements with international financial institutions that have left Africa poorer, but things are beginning to change in the region, she said, noting that citizens are increasingly holding their leaders to account, and the leaders, using the Africa Peer Review Mechanism, are starting to hold themselves accountable.

“These are far from perfect processes, but they are a start. G8 leaders now need to deliver on their side of the contract. To date not a single G8 multinational corporation has been held to account for their actions in Africa, and G8 countries have not accepted their responsibility for failed World Bank and IMF policy experiments Africa,” said Gillam.

She also says Africa needs both development aid and to engage in fair trade with the G8 countries as means of transforming its economy: “The two must not be separated. Africa needs development aid that will build its capacity to move up the value chain, and trade fairly with the G8 countries. At the same time, the G8 countries need to stop dumping subsidised products on to developing countries’ markets.”

According to ActionAid, the G8 must confirm its commitment to ending poverty in the world, including delivering on its promised additional billions of dollars in aid, long-term funding to fight HIV/AIDS, recognising violence against women and girls as a key factor in the spread of HIV, accountability for G8-based transnationals, a science-driven approach to tackling climate change.

“With all the summit resolutions that were put forward it’s clear that there is a comprehensive direction towards global development, including Africa,” Dmitry Rogozin, a parliamentary deputy in the Russian Duma and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told IPS in an interview. “I think that the G8 countries will make consistent efforts to follow the various stages of its implementation to help humanity.”

He said it’s important that the G8 fully implement the summit agreements “if they want to achieve the (UN’s) Millennium Development Goals despite the enormous challenges.”

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