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Globalization

Experts Question G8's Emphasis on Africa

Germany has put aid for Africa at the top of the agenda for the upcoming G8 summit. It isn't the first time the continent is a G8 focus. But have previous commitments brought about any change?

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Development aid to date hasn't alleviated African nations' problems

Africa was last the focus of a G8 summit two years ago in Gleneagles. At the time, the world's leading industrialized nations resolved to double development aid by 2010 and to free the poorest countries of their debts.

Denis Tull, an Africa expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said he considered the debt relief a positive move. But added thatsuch measures should not be overrated.

"You should look at it matter-of-factly," Tull said. "The debts were cancelled -- well knowing that they never would have been paid back anyway."

Tull said it was ultimately in the hands of African governments to decide whether the funds freed by the debt relief would now be put to good use.

Broken promises?

The international community has committed itself to fighting worldwide poverty in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The G8 nations in particular have repeatedly affirmed their commitment and want to set a good example. Yet worldwide development aid has decreased in the past years.

G8 Gruppenfoto in Gleneagles

The gentlemen at the G8 summit in Gleneagles committed to do more for Africa

"The G8 countries are not true to their word," said Africa and development aid expert Cord Jakobeit from the University of Hamburg. "The commitment by the G8 to significantly increase their contribution to development aid looks gloomy."

The latest figures by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) confirm Jakobeit's opinion. Together, the 30 OECD member states spent 5 percent less on development aid in 2006 than in the previous year. The thriftiest were Italy with a 30 percent cut and the United States with a reduction of 20 percent. Both countries are members of the G8.

In absolute terms, G8 nations spend the most money on development aid. But viewed in terms of countries' economic output, a G8 member first appears seventh on the list. Half of the most frugal aid donors belong to the Group of Eight, according to the OECD.

Is outside aid the right measure?

But both donor countries, as well as African nations themselves are questioning the concept of development aid. The Kenyan economist James Shikwati said he rejected conventional development policies. Instead, he emphasized progress by Africa's own means.

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"Without foreign aid, governments would have to see to an economic development which develops in the country itself," Shikwati told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

According to Tull, development aid isn't a panacea for poor nations.

"It can only have a limited impact, as does every measure which comes from outside," Tull said, adding that it would be presumptuous to believe one could steer certain economic or political processes in such a way that the result would meet western expectations.

The situation in post-colonial Africa has not improved

There are good reasons for the world to deal with Africa's problems, according to development experts.

"Africa is the hardship case of the global community," said Jakobeit.

Of course, this assessment doesn't apply to all African countries. But in many cases, the political and economic situation has tended to worsen rather than improve since the years of great hope following the end of colonial rule.

The facts show how staggering the situation in Africa really is. Some 75 percent of the population living south of the Sahara has to survive on less than $2 per day and according to the United Nations, two-thirds of the world's least developed countries are located in Africa.

In the past five decades, trillions of euros have been spent on development aid, yet a sustainable impact has only been achieved in rare cases.

"Long-term studies prove that the positive effect of development policies in Africa cannot be significantly proven," Jakobeit said.

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