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Africa welcomes G8 aid, questions implementation

July 8, 2005

By Andrew Quinn

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Africa welcomed the Group of
Eight’s $25 billion boost in annual aid on Friday, but worried
the rich world’s latest promise may fizzle in the face of
Africa’s desperate needs.

“Intentions and actualisation are not the same thing,” said
Kenyan Finance Minister David Mwiraria. “We would like to see a
situation where there is money now.”

The Group of Eight (G8) ended its Gleneagles summit in
Scotland announcing members would more than double aid to
Africa by 2010 and promising to work to end the farm export
subsidies that undercut Africa’s own agricultural products.

The pledge capped a dramatic month of global goodwill for
Africa marked by the worldwide Live 8 rock concerts and
promises by G8 leaders that they will stay focused on the
world’s poorest continent — even after their own summit was
thrown into chaos by Thursday’s London bomb attacks.

Critics said the promise of new help remained vague, with
the aid increase years away and no deadline for the end to
agricultural export subsidies.

“The people have roared but the G8 has whispered. The
promise to deliver by 2010 is like waiting five years before
responding to the tsunami,” said Kumi Naidoo of the pressure
group Global Call to Action Against Poverty.

“Given the track record of G8 leaders of broken promises we
will also be closely monitoring their commitments.”

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the chairman of the
African Union, pronounced himself satisfied with the Gleneagles
deal for Africa, whose 800 million people are still plagued by
war, disease and dire poverty.

Saying the continent’s problems were being addressed
“realistically and acceptably,” Obasanjo said: “The meeting of
the G8 leaders and African leaders in Gleneagles is a great
success and we thank and congratulate Prime Minister Tony Blair
for the success achieved.”

But many African officials, activists and aid workers said
the proposals did not go far enough.

“What we need most is fair trade because our farmers cannot
compete with farmers in the West. The whole issue of trade
hinges on farm subsidies and the quicker this is resolved the
better,” said Zambian Deputy Finance Minister Felix Mutati.

DEMOCRATIC REWARD?

Africa’s leaders have sought to persuade Western nations
the continent is on the path to democracy and ending war,
despotism and corruption — all conditions for more assistance.

But the situation at home remains dire. More than 40
percent of Africans live on less than $1 a day, 200 million
Africans are threatened by serious food shortages and AIDS
kills more than 2 million Africans a year.

Many African officials hoped the G8 summit would be an even
bigger boost for Africa, including broader cancellation of debt
and a commitment to increase development assistance to 0.7
percent of GDP for each wealthy nation — both targets that
failed to gain widespread backing.

“There should have been a clear signal on debt
cancellation,” said political analyst Robert Kabushenga in
Uganda, which spends $200 million a year on debt repayments.

Still, many agreed the huge increase in direct aid to
Africa would help, particularly on funding crucial efforts to
fight the continent’s HIV/AIDS pandemic and to help finance
African peacekeeping forces to police local conflicts.

But skepticism remained, with some Africans doubting both
the West’s commitment to following through on its promises and
Africa’s own capacity to cope with huge new cash inflows.

“It’s not the quantity of aid that is important — what
counts is how it is used. Will it be used to feed people or to
line the pockets of civil servants?,” said South African
political analyst Moletsi Mbeki, whose brother South African
President Thabo Mbeki has been a key proponent of the G8
assistance plan.

Nigerian Williams Sassou, chatting with colleagues outside
a run-down office block in central Lagos, agreed.

“We hear about billions here, billions there, but the
masses are not feeling these billions. This won’t change
anything unless the masses can know where the money is going.”
(additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon in Lagos, Shapi
Shacinda in Lusaka, Peter Apps and Rebecca Harrison in
Johannesburg, David Mageria in Nairobi, Matt Green in Dakar)