The G8 summit kicks off Wednesday in the wake of rock concerts and calls for increased aid and debt relief for Africa. But experts in Germany remain divided over the best way to help the continent out of poverty.
Germany and the US say more aid won't reach the right people
Hundreds of thousands of people grooved to some of Germany's favorite bands last weekend at the Berlin Live 8 concert to raise awareness of poverty. And while most admitted coming out to enjoy the music, there was also some thought of the poor in Africa.
"Yes, it's true that I came to enjoy the music and the day," said Sebastian Hovermann, 22, of Berlin. "But this concert is also an important reminder that we have it good in this country and need to help others."
While he admitted to knowing little about debt relief and other complicated development issues, he, and others in the audience, cheered performers' calls for increased development aid to Africa.
They want to help Africa
The statistics are grim: in Sierra Leone, three out of 10 children die before the age of five. In Niger, only 17 percent of the population can read. In Mali, half of all children under the age of 14 work. The average Ethiopian does not have access to clean water and lives from about 70 euros a year.
Learning from the past
In the past decade, development aid, debt relief, and economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa have risen but "reducing poverty remains a challenge," according to the World Bank's annual report on Africa. And in the future, the rapid spread of HIV, insufficient aid and investment flows, weak commodity prices and a lack of trade opportunities could reverse gains.
The rapid spread of HIV has created hundreds of thousands of "Aids Orphans"
As a result, the international development community, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has dubbed 2005 the "Year of Africa" to call attention to the continent's needs. They suggest that with the July G8 meeting, a UN summit in September on the "millennium goals" aimed at cutting poverty and a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in December looking at fair trading practices, Africa could have a real chance to get on track.
"We made mistakes in the past but development cooperation is different today," said Reinhard Hermle, chairman of the board of the Association of German Development NGOs (VENRO) in Bonn. "We are no longer pouring millions into a bottomless pit but working with African leaders, a good number of whom have become aware of their responsibilities to their people. So I think, hope, that 2005 will be different."
Some relief on the way
This week's G8 meeting's agenda will include the development challenges facing Sub-Saharan Africa, climate change and debt relief for the world's poorest countries. The leaders will also try to assess progress on the Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight targets intended to halve poverty in the developing world by 2015. Progress on these aims has been "slow and uneven," according to the Global Monitoring Report, a World Bank/IMF publication. In Africa, there is no way to meet the targets at the current rate of progress, the report adds.
The G8 participants will also assess available resources and new mechanisms aimed at lifting billions of people out of poverty. In early June, the G8 finance ministers agreed to 100 percent debt relief for the world's poorest nations -- 14 of which are African -- totaling 33 billion euros. They also agreed to add nine more countries for additional relief over the next 18 months and another 11 afterwards for another 12 billion euros.
A "Marshall Plan" for Africa
While debt relief is supported by the G8 countries, a "Marshall Plan for Africa" as envisioned by British Prime Minister Tony Blair is more controversial. His aim is to double the amount of development assistance to Africa, cuurently at about 20 billion euros ($25 billion).
Blair wants to double African development aid
"In a situation where literally thousands of children die from preventable diseases everyday, it is our duty to act and we will," said Blair during a meeting with US President George W. Bush.
But Bush and other leaders such as German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder say that recipient countries are just not able to handle the increased aid.
"Of course we want to double development assistance to Africa," Uschi Eid, the German government's official responsible for African affairs, told reporters. "But this must be done step by step to be able to make the reforms work."
Many within and outside the development community argue that while hundreds of billions have poured into Africa over the past three decades, it has made little difference for a variety of reasons, including corruption, inappropriate projects and a lack of true commitment. Development assistance needs to be more carefully planned and executed for it to work.
"The British plan pushing for more aid is a generous one," said Andre Carvelho, chief of program development at United Nations Volunteers in Bonn. "But if this increase goes through conventional government channels, it probably won't work."
Other NGO officials applaud the G8 development initiatives and say an increase in aid to Africa could make a real difference.
Peter Eigen, right, says that corruption is key obstacle to African economic development
"The Millennium Development Goals are modest ones and yet we are off-track," said Peter Eigen, the head of Berlin-based Transparency International, an NGO devoted to fighting corruption internationally. "That is why what is going on at Gleneages is very important."
Eigen cautioned that financial assistance is not enough.
"The greatest enemy to economic development is corruption, which aims at buying the wrong decisions and mismanages resources," he added. "That doesn't mean that corrupt societies don't deserve our support. But there has to be a parallel effort in the North and the South for aid to work and both sides need to come through."
Regardless, the outcome of the two-day Gleneagles meeting will be closely watched by those in the developing world as a sign of the rich world's commitments to meet the Millennium Development Goals and its desire to help the world's poor.