The G8 leaders gathering in Canada this week want to unveil a new action plan to reduce poverty, corruption, stop the spread of AIDS in Africa. But critics say the programs on the table provide too little, too late.
Playing with Africa's future
It's about 11 a.m. in Calgary. Eight young men in soccer uniforms are wearing enormous masks of the leaders of the G8 countries, who are meeting about one hour away in the mountain outpost of Kananaskis for their annual summit. The men kick the soccer ball back and forth to one another, always keeping the ball to themselves.
An African referee blows his whistle and pulls out a yellow card for each teammate, saying they're playing an unfair game. The demonstration has been organized by Oxfam, the global aid organization.
Indeed, organizations like Oxfam and even the 2,500 journalists gathered in the Canadian province of Alberta won't have any access to the G8 meeting. Following the violence and fears of a terrorist attack that clouded the last summit in Genoa, Italy, Canadian officials are keeping demonstrators at a safe distance. But these men are mainly here to protest current aid proposals being discussed by the G8 for Africa.
"Africa is giving the eight heads of state a yellow card," says Jörn Kalinski of the international aid organization Oxfam Germany. "The purpose of this meeting is to adopt an action plan for Africa. But from everything we've heard, it's only going to be peanuts that they decide on here. It won't be nearly enough."
The G8 gets serious about Africa
At the close of the last G8 summit in Genoa, the leaders of the world's seven richest countries plus Russia agreed to develop an action plan to reduce poverty in Africa, which has been plagued by war, famine, extreme poverty and ravaged by AIDS in recent years.
According to German government sources, it is likely that the world's leading industrial nations meeting in Canada will agree to an additional injection of financial aid for the poorest countries in Africa this week.
Two key proposals are being considered: The first is the G8's own plan, developed by Germany and Britain, to provide an addition $1 billion (1.009 billion euro) toward debt forgiveness and development projects.
60 percent of the supplementary billion, German government sources say, will be allocated for debt relief, with another 40 percent being given as a reward to the countries that have shown the most initiative toward establishing "good governance." The latter would include, for example, countries that have begun the process of democratization and those that have cracked down on corruption and other political maladies.
Africans helping Africans help themselves
This money could also help the five African countries planning to introduce the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) in Kananaski. The leaders of South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and Egypt are traveling with UN General Secretary Kofi Annan (photo) to introduce the plan. The premise behind NEPAD is that African countries need to take their own initiative for advancement in order to not be seen by the rest of the world as a "hardship case."
A good deal of this would be achieved by building an infrastructure that would be desirable for foreign investors. NEPAD also calls on member states to eliminate nepotism and ramp up efforts in the international war against terrorism - two areas that make industrial nations skeptical of investment there.
In return, the African leaders are asking for more investment from the west and better access to western markets for their products and services. The core goal of the $64 billion (64.6 billion euro) annual project is to cut poverty in half and double the number of telephones in Africa by 2015.
Schröder pledges support
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder offered his support for the NEPAD initiative in an editorial published on Wednesday in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. "We need a more intensive partnership with Africa," Schröder wrote.
He pledged that Germany would bilaterally forgive 5 billion euros ($4.95 billion) to African countries and an additional 2.5 billion euro ($2.47 billion) in multiladeral debt as part of its efforts to support the initiative. Additionally, he reiterated the European Union's plan to increase by $7 billion (7.067 billion euro) annual aid to the poorest countries by 2006. It currently spends $25.4 billion (25.64 billion euro).
"It's nowhere near enough"
Some are less than optimistic about the prospects for NEPAD in the long run. Kalinski of Oxfam Germany says he is doubtful that NEPAD will be strong enough to bring about the revolutionary change needed to help Africa to pull itself up by the bootstraps.
"First of all, I think it's good that African leaders are saying that they need to take responsibilities for themselves," he says. "But it's also correct that the G8 and the rich countries in general do too little for Africa. Now they're talking about a billion dollars. Take a look at the World Bank's action plan. In order to ensure that every child in the world has access to a school education by 2015, they predict it will cost $10 to 15 billion annually. Then you can see that a billion is nowhere near enough."