March 15, 2005
UK Seeks the Lead with Plan to Lift Africa's Poor
The British-led Commission for Africa has urged rich countries to double their aid to the continent and challenged African nations to do even more to root out corruption and promote good governance.
Abid Aslam, OneWorld US
WASHINGTON, D.C., Mar 14 (OneWorld) - The British-led Commission for Africa has urged rich countries to double their aid to the continent and challenged African nations to do even more to root out corruption and promote good governance.
The commission's final report called on donor countries to increase annual aid to Africa by a total of $50 billion in two steps over the next 10 years. It said they also should return to African authorities money stolen by corrupt officials because many African governments already were improving their practices and democracy was rising.
It added that Britain, the United States, and the European Union (news - web sites) (EU) should halt arms sales to conflict zones, fund African peacekeeping, and stop paying agribusiness at home export subsidies that thwart African farmers' efforts to compete in a fair global trading system.
Wealthy countries' spending on such subsidies in 2002 amounted to as much as the income of all the people in sub-Saharan Africa combined, the report said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites), speaking in London Friday at a news conference to launch the report, described reducing poverty in Africa as ''the fundamental challenge of our generation.'' Blair set up the commission last year and said British policy would be changed in line with the report's recommendations. The panel included several African leaders.
''Africa can change for the better and the report shows how,'' Blair said at a news conference to launch the report in London Friday.
''There can be no excuse, no defense, no justification for the plight of millions of our fellow beings in Africa today,'' he said.
Other key recommendations in the 400-page report included canceling African countries' debts; spending more on health, particularly efforts to rein in AIDS; and providing free primary schooling.
Blair has said he is committed to placing Africa at the top of his agenda for Britain's presidency this year of the EU and the Group of Eight (G8) club of major industrialized countries. G8 leaders are to meet at Gleneagles in Scotland in July.
Political commentators have noted that Africa also provides Blair with an alternative election-year focus amid growing questions about his government's case for joining the invasion of Iraq (news - web sites). Additionally, the commission has provided Blair a means to assert leadership over issues on which his rival Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, has been vocal--and to do so without highlighting the rivalry. The exchequer is Britain's equivalent of a treasury department or finance ministry.
The commission's report long had been expected. Even as commentators touted the document as bold and ambitious, the newsletter Africa Confidential leaked it and described it as offering ''little new thinking on African development.''
Even so, veteran development practitioners and African policymakers said the commission's composition--nine of 17 members were Africans--and the report's resulting non-paternalistic tone set it apart from previous British plans to save Africa.
In broad terms, the document's calls for dramatic increases in aid echoed those of numerous reports in the past two decades. In January, a team of experts sponsored by the United Nations (news - web sites) also concluded that aid to poor countries should be doubled.
Like the U.N. team, the Blair commission said wealthy nations should set clear timetables to give 0.7 percent of their national income in aid, a step that has been taken by Britain, France, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, and Finland but not the United States, which gives the smallest percentage of any major donor.
Some leaders, including President George W. Bush (news - web sites), supported a 2002 declaration pledging to ''make concrete efforts'' toward the 0.7 percent target. Bush's new budget proposals would increase aid to near 0.2 percent of national income, up from 0.15 percent. The commitment includes no specific timetable or deadline.
International development agency ActionAid supported the Blair commission's proposed aid increases but wondered how and when the targets would be met, questions the Blair panel did not attempt to answer in its report.
Pushing Britain in particular to put its money where its mouth is, ActionAid launched its own report last month. ''The African Commission for Britain,'' which took its title from the name of the ActionAid panel that wrote it, called on Britain to set an example by ending policies that harmed Africa's prospects and by increasing its aid contributions regardless of whether or not it persuaded G8 and EU members to follow suit.
Many of the demands of the non-governmental organization's all-African panel ended up in the Blair commission report, too. Among examples: that Africa's debts be cancelled; that sales of British arms, bought by 10 of 14 African countries embroiled in conflict in 2003, be halted; and that the British government cooperate with Nigerian efforts to recover wealth looted by military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha before his death in 1998.
ActionAid said the Gleneagles talks in July would prove a test for Britain and the G8: would they come up with new money and commit to deadlines for meeting targets? Or would they not and thereby signal that yet another grand plan for Africa had been announced with fanfare but soon would fade into obscurity?
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