The outcome of that debate could well determine the success or failure of the gathering and of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s association with the cause.
Blair, who will host the 6-8 July summit of the planet’s richest countries, has insisted with that industrialised nations can no longer escape responsibility for the plight of Africa’s millions.
“The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world, but if the world as a community focused on it we could heal it,” he declared in a landmark address as he took up the G8 presidency last year.
He and his finance minister, Gordon Brown, have since then pushed an ambitious programme of trade, aid and debt cancellation for Africa that could flourish or flounder depending on what happens at this week’s gathering in the Scottish resort of Gleneagles, near Edinburgh.
Cause for concern
The initiative risks running headlong into the Bush administration’s scepticism that more official development aid is the answer. Another danger is Washington’s insistence that such aid be reserved for countries that implement free-market reforms and take bold steps on their own to confront poverty.
While each side in the debate recognises merit in the other’s position, the difference in emphasis threatens to muddle the discussion and doom the summit to an ineffectual conclusion.
“By doubling aid, by fully cancelling debt and delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future for millions of men, women and children”
Already, a British government official quoted anonymously in the UK’s Guardian newspaper has said the parties are “a long way from an agreement” in pre-summit consultations.
At the heart of Blair’s initiative is a proposal under which the Group of Eight – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States – would pledge to boost African development aid by $25 billion a year.
The prime minister has lately found articulate allies both in the milieu of pop culture and in academia.
A global rock fest this weekend, with concerts in all Group of Eight countries plus South Africa, was arranged to galvanise public backing for a campaign to “Make Poverty History” as the rich men in suits prepared to confer at Gleneagles.
“By doubling aid, by fully cancelling debt and delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future for millions of men, women and children,” said British rock star turned activist Bob Geldof.
Japanese rock fans enjoy the
Another high profile advocate of more aid for Africa has been Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, who in a recent column in The New York Times alluded to the hurdle Blair must surmount at the summit.
“Africa needs increased investment to rise out of pervasive hunger, disease and poverty,” he wrote. “Those investments need to be funded partly by increased aid from the world’s rich countries. Europe has come on board. Now Africa’s fate rests with a recalcitrant White House.”
Sachs’ column appeared before the Bush administration’s announcement on Thursday that total US aid to Africa would be increased from $4.3 billion in 2004 to $8.6 billion in 2010.
President George Bush has nonetheless come in for stinging criticism from activists and commentators who have faulted him for a less then generous approach to development assistance, one that stands in stark contrast to Blair’s efforts.
The administration in response has trumpeted its Millennium Challenge Account, which ties assistance to embracing democracy and the open market.
But although the effort was launched three years ago, only one African country, Madagascar, has gotten any money.
Bush and other US conservatives insist that while poor nations may need aid, they must first of all establish efficient and corruption-free institutions to ensure that funds from overseas are well-used.
“There is unfortunately not sufficient attention paid to the conditions in which development is delivered,” US Treasury Secretary John Snow argued last week. “Money alone is not the answer.”
The US position was later echoed in a just-released research paper from the International Monetary Fund.
“Despite the political momentum in favour of massive aid inflows in the near term, we should not lose sight of issues like how much aid can be handled to begin with, how the aid should be delivered, and when,” the study cautioned.