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G8: ‘Arab Spring Could Lead to African Drought’

A. D. McKenzie

DEAUVILLE, France, May 28 2011 (IPS) - Stressing that there is only so much money to go around, development experts worry that the aid package the Group of Eight (G8) has announced for North Africa may mean fewer funds for the rest of the continent.

During their two-day summit here that ended Friday, G8 leaders envisaged financial aid of some 40 billion dollars to Tunisia and Egypt, with other countries in the region set to benefit when democratic reforms take hold.

The G8 also announced a “renewal” of their partnership with Africa, welcoming the “spread of democracy” and the “new dynamism” of African nations. The group met with leaders of seven African states and, for the first time, adopted a joint declaration with them.

Non-governmental observers hailed these moves, but many said that much more needs to be done for the poorest people on the continent, and that the G8’s focus on the Arab world should not detract from the commitments made to Africa in the past.

“At their Gleneagles summit in 2005, the G8 promised 25 billion dollars to Africa by 2010. We’re now in 2011 and looking back we’re missing 40 percent of the sums that were promised,” said Guillaume Grosso, French director of anti-poverty group ONE.

“We can say the G8 has not fulfilled its promise, and there is no new promise, which is quite worrying,” he told IPS. “There is no money lined up to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.”

Grosso said that while it was “a good thing” that the G8 was now “embracing democracy and freedom for the first time”, world leaders should not forget about sub-Saharan Africa.

“The Arab Spring could mean an African Summer drought,” he told IPS. “The overseas development budget is under severe strain, and funds have been frozen or reduced in several countries.

“We are concerned that by putting a lot of emphasis on North Africa, we get even less money for sub- Saharan Africa, which would be a big mistake,” he added.

Prior to the summit, NGOs had slammed Italy and some other G8 countries for not honouring their commitments. The United Kingdom is the only member of the G8 on target to meet its promises, and Prime Minister David Cameron urged his partners to follow the UK example.

“I think what people back at home think about these summits is that frankly a bunch of people in suits get together and make some promises, particularly to the world’s poorest, and then they go in and have a big lunch and forget all about the promises. I am not prepared to do that,” Cameron said.

“The UK will not balance its books on the backs of the poorest,” he told reporters.

ATD Fourth World, one of 50 NGOs accredited to attend the Deauville summit, said extreme poverty persists.

“The G8’s commitment for the values of freedom and democracy will remain half-baked while extreme poverty continues to persist in all corners of the globe,” the group said.

Despite fast growing economies on the continent, there are still 300 million people going hungry in Africa, with many in “dehumanising poverty”, according to African Monitor, a pan-African, non-profit organisation.

Its founder Njongonkulu Ndungane, former archbishop of Cape Town, wrote prior to the summit that it was important that the G8 and its African guests make their commitments count.

“Africans expect their economies to grow and to grow fast. But they also expect that a simple life of dignity – not necessarily opulence – should be guaranteed for all,” Ndungane stated.

For its part, Tunisia says that the priority will be on boosting its economy, providing jobs for the thousands of young people who are out of work, and giving humanitarian aid to refugees, many of who are from Libya.

“The Tunisian people have, in a very short time and only through the strength of its democratic convictions, achieved a peaceful revolution, which will go down in the history of humanity,” the country’s delegation to the G8 summit said in a statement.

“Tunisia has launched a profound democratic movement in the Arab world that may completely remodel the future of North Africa and the Middle East, as well as that of the Euro-Mediterranean zone,” it added.

Tunisian Finance Minister Jeloul Ayed said that G8 had expressed a clear willingness to support this democratic movement, but he said that the financial package announced came with conditions.

Tunisia pledged to implement better governance, speed up the development of infrastructure, “develop its human capital”, increase its participation on international markets, and transform the financial sector.

“Without international aid, the risk will be great for Tunisia: increase in unemployment and social instability which, in their turn, will lead to more poverty and an augmentation of migration flows,” the country warned.

Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, head of the country’s interim government, said that women would play a more important role in governing the country after the next elections, originally set for Jul. 24, but expected to be delayed. He told reporters that 50 percent of government seats would be allotted to women in the next government.

Many activists as well as parliamentarians from 35 countries had called for development packages to focus on women and girls during the G8 summit. As the Deauville meeting began, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had launched a high-profile initiative at UNESCO in Paris to highlight the specific educational needs of girls.

The G8 did not announce the canceling of Tunisia’s foreign debt as some observers had expected. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who hosted the summit, told journalists that this was because there were “many countries poorer” than Tunisia that also needed help.

In all, 33 of the world’s least developed countries are in Africa, and many of them are former French colonies.

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