Africa gets only broken promises

July 17, 2008

Lee Wengraf reports on the G8 summit's response to the crisis in Africa--make the same promises it's broken before.

IN THE lead-up to the Group of Eight (G8) summit of world leaders in Japan earlier this month, George Bush delivered a speech on one of his supposed top priorities for the meeting: aid to Africa.

"We need people who not only make promises, but write checks, for the sake of human rights and human dignity, and for the sake of peace," Bush said at a White House press conference. "Accountability is really important when it comes to our work on the continent of Africa."

If only "accountability" applied to the Bush administration. The G8 governments have failed to act on their pledges to aid Africa made at their summit in 2005. So skepticism is in order about their pronouncements this time around, whether the renewed pledge from 2005 to double aid to poor nations or the new promise of $60 billion to help Africa fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

AT THE 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, leaders of eight of the most powerful nations of the world--the U.S., Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia--made a commitment to double aid to Africa by 2010, a total increase of $25 billion annually. That figure was intended to represent 0.7 percent of the G8 countries' Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Inside a slum in Sierra Leone, the country at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index
Inside a slum in Sierra Leone, the country at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index (Zuma)

To date, only $3 billion of that commitment--14 percent--has been met, and press reports indicate that overall aid to Africa has actually fallen. The U.S. gives approximately 0.16 percent of its GDP in aid.

The stark consequences were laid out in a 2007 report from Oxfam, which reported that the failure of advanced countries to meet aid goals will mean that 45 million more children will die between now and 2015.

This statistic is all the more damning given the worsening need since the Oxfam report was written. Poor countries around the world, but in Africa especially, are bearing the brunt of a global food crisis in which food prices have risen by more than 80 percent since the G8 met in Gleneagles.

According to "Africa's Development Report: Promises and Prospects," released in June, 100 million people are in dire need of food worldwide, with Africa accounting for 57 percent of the victims. Compiled by the Africa Progress Panel, chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the report states that G8 commitments will fall $40 billion short of their targets under current spending plans.

What else to read

Lena Weinstein's "The new scramble for Africa" in the International Socialist Review documents the plunder of the continent historically and the new drive to intervene.

Pambazuka News is a useful source of regular reports and commentary on Africa. The Africa Action Web site has information and statistics on the Africa's crisis and the West's broken promises of aid.

Frida Berrigan's article "The new military frontier: Africa" in Foreign Policy In Focus documents the U.S. government's new intervention in Africa, carried out in the name of the "war on terror."

Patrick Bond has written several books about African history and politics. Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation details how exploitative debt has helped keep sub-Saharan Africa mired in poverty. Fanon’s Warning shows how the New Partnership for Africa's Development counterposed sustainable growth to Africa's rapid integration into the world economy.

As global justice activist Walden Bello put it:

We have not only in Bush, Sarkozy, Brown, and Fukuda a group of discredited leaders with very low ratings at the polls in their own countries. We have, as well, a G8 that is, more than ever, lacking in legitimacy, as the typhoon unleashed by the project of globalization that it has promoted is wracking the globe in the form of the simultaneous crises of skyrocketing oil prices, rising food prices, global financial collapse and worsening climate change.

Although government officials still claim the U.S. is on target to meet its goal of $8.7 billion in development aid for sub-Saharan Africa by 2010, the U.S. was, in fact, one of the worst culprits in the fall-off of aid pledges to Africa after Gleneagles.

All told, U.S. aid to Africa has been cut by 40 percent since the 1990s. The U.S. spends around $100 billion a year for its occupation of Iraq, but only $680 million for the entire continent of Africa.

But military aid for Africa is a different story--this has increased to $130 million since 2001. In 2007, Bush announced the creation of a new Africa military command called AFRICOM off the West African coast, the most public of a ring of U.S. military bases operating or under construction across the continent and yet another front in the so-called "war on terror."

POVERTY IN Africa is dire. The last two decades have exposed the disaster caused by Western global financial institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank.

Decades of neoliberal policy dictating trade liberalization, deregulation and cuts in social programs undermined African industries and created rampant unemployment, while saddling poor nations with crippling levels of foreign debt. Even in South Africa, the leading industrialized nation on the continent, unemployment is at 40 percent; elsewhere, it is much higher.

In Japan, the G8 leaders paid lip service to the idea of debt relief, but current proposals will be a drop in the bucket.

Since 1980, Africa has paid back four times more than what was originally borrowed--a total of $255 billion. The All-Africa Council of Churches has called Africa's debt burden "a new form of slavery, as vicious as the slave trade." According to Africa Action, a U.S.-based NGO, the world's poorest countries continue to send $100 million in debt servicing each day to the U.S., other rich country governments and international financial institutions.

Plus, free-trade agreements force developing regions such as Africa to import Western goods, including food, which destroys the possibilities of "livelihood for many small producers," Oxfam concludes.

Now, the food crisis is sharpening all of the problems. A preliminary World Bank study released in early July estimated that up to 105 million more people could drop below the poverty line due to rising food prices--including 30 million in Africa. In Liberia, for example, the cost of food for a typical household jumped by 25 percent in January alone, increasing the poverty rate to over 70 percent from 64 percent.

As part of the drive to open markets to free trade, aid itself is a political tool that comes with strings attached. As Oxfam pointed out, the world's leading governments "use their muscle to push for greater liberalization and access to African markets while continuing to protect their own markets from competition from African exports."

Hunger isn't the only problem that Africa's poor face. The crisis in health care has reached epidemic proportions on a continent where over 40 percent of the population lacks access to safe water.

Average life expectancy at birth is 46 years. According to the World Health Organization, Africa has a shortage of 1.5 million health care workers, and 62 percent of Africans are without access to standard sanitation facilities, compared to 40 percent worldwide. There are nearly 25 million people with HIV/AIDS in Africa, roughly two-thirds of the global total. North America, by contrast, has 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS.

Wole Olaleye, a researcher with ActionAid International, said the danger of the G8 backtracking on its HIV/AIDS commitments is huge: "G8 funds have made a difference...However, the need remains enormous: three-quarters of people who need HIV/AIDS treatment are still not receiving it. Almost 90 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women are still unable to get drugs that could prevent the virus being passed on to their child."

A Congressional bill allocating $50 billion over five years for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria has stalled in the Senate.

Despite big profits from the boom in oil prices, barely a trickle of those funds finds its way to the vast majority of ordinary Africans.

Angola, for example, earned more than $30 billion in 2007 from oil exports, but according to the World Bank, 70 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and one in four children die before their fifth birthday. Likewise, in Nigeria, another major destination for oil industry giants such as Exxon and Shell, 20 percent of children die before the age of five.

Meanwhile, among the maze of oil pipelines, as one African activist put it, "There is now an unfolding ecological collapse of horrifying dimensions in which the land, air and water are increasingly unable to sustain human life, but the region's people have no place else to go."

In the wake of the G8 Summit, we can, once again, expect a trail of broken promises from the G8. The emphasis of the world's wealthiest leaders is on militarizing aid to Africa and funding wars across the globe--and that speaks volumes about their priorities and the need for a stronger global justice movement to demand help for Africa and elsewhere.

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