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DEVELOPMENT: Sweden, Ireland, Britain Lead in Aiding Africa

Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON, May 13 2008 (IPS) - Sweden, Ireland and Britain top an index of 21 rich countries that ranks their commitment to help develop African nations. The United States, the world's largest economy, was a distant thirteenth, while Japan remains the least committed to the continent among rich nations.

The Washington-based Centre for Global Development said in its Commitment to Development Index (CDI), which rates rich countries on how much their policies help or hurt Africa countries, said that the three European nations were doing more to assist the continent in seven development categories.

The index tracks rich countries' performance based not only on the quantity of foreign aid, but on the quality of assistance, their openness to exports from African nations, environmental stewardship and support for multilateral security mechanisms – for example, contributions to international peacekeeping and forcible humanitarian interventions that have an international mandate. On the other side, countries lose points for exporting weapons to authoritarian regimes with heavy military spending.

The index also rates investment and migration policies, as well as commitment to promote and freely share technology. It is designed to replace the usual criteria of measuring only foreign aid as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.

"Rich nations are linked to Africa in many ways and not just through foreign aid," David Roodman of the Centre for Global Development (CGD) told IPS. "If we are serious about helping development in Africa we cannot just look at one piece. We need to look at the whole thing."

The index gave Sweden the top spot because of its strong showings in aid and security, while Ireland finished second on the back of its high aid and a large peacekeeping troop presence in Liberia.

Britain landed the third spot because it is among the largest investors and backers of security in Africa. Britain has also high performance on friendly migration and environmental policies.

Portugal, in sixth place overall, is ahead of the pack on openness to African migrants.

Japan, the host of the 2008 meeting of the Group of Eight most industrialised nations which will be held in Hokkaido in July, came in last, mostly weighed down by its huge tariffs on rice, which average 600-800 percent.

"The Africa CDI depicts Japan as a country that is distinctly more insular and inward-oriented than its economic peers – which it indisputably is," said the report.

In the environment subcategory, the United States came in last. The U.S. has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the most serious international effort yet to deal with climate change.

"That gap, along with high greenhouse emissions and low gas taxes, puts the U.S. last," said the study.

The index also gave the United States poor marks in the aid category since it still gives little aid to Africa for its size.

The United States ranked fourth, after Britain, Ireland and Sweden, however, in security arrangements, prompting criticism from independent groups who otherwise said the index was reliable.

Africa Action, a Washington based group that monitors events in Africa, said that U.S. security policy toward Africa is actually moving in a "very dangerous direction that has the potential to create a host of development problems," particularly the creation of AFRICOM, the U.S. Joint Unified Command for Africa.

"AFRICOM represents a potential sea change in U.S.-Africa relations, where the Department of Defence could gain control over development functions previously within the purview of USAID or the State Department," Michael Swigert of Africa Action told IPS.

The group has warned of the "the perils of militarising U.S. development policy".

Roodman of CGD said that the main message of the report was that all of the world's rich countries could do much more to encourage development in Africa. Even top-ranked Sweden scored about average (five) in four of the seven Africa CDI policy areas.

"None of the countries, then, should be content with its performance. All can do better, and especially the low-ranked titans among the G-7 have an opportunity to help Africans much more," the group said.

On top of the development challenges that require more accommodating policies from the rich nations, the continent is facing new threats from the recent sharp rise in food prices.

On Monday, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations warned that the food crisis could unravel progress made by many countries toward attaining the Millennium Development Goals, which seek to halve extreme poverty by 2015, and called for greater assistance from rich nations.

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