Taking stock of 2005 G8 promises

This announcement came at a time when activists and a number of large international NGOs had started questioning how far the world’s rich nations had gone in implementing the promises they undertook round about this time last year.

Called the Africa Progress Panel, the body is to be chaired by UN secretary general Kofi Annan and includes people like the self-appointed crusader of the make poverty history campaign rock star Bob Geldof and Microsoft supremo Bill Gates.

According to the British premier: “The Africa Progress Panel will encourage and measure progress, against the commitments made at Gleneagles towards achieving the Millennium Development goals, and will maintain the international political profile of Africa achieved in 2005.”

The panel will be expected to produce an annual report to be submitted to the G8, the UN and the Africa Partnership Forum.

However, the big question at the moment is what are the gains that have been realised since last July’s meeting in Scotland?

One of the biggest criticisms of the highly publicised road show that was the Make Poverty History campaign that more or less spearheaded the G8 ‘concessions’ was the involvement of a number of individuals whose commitment and ability to usher in a new era in global trade relations was questionable.

Britain, the United States and the other rich nations of the world benefit immensely from the global economy as it is and hence there is always an inherent scepticism when these people say they want to genuinely help the Third World.

As one cynic, suspicious of Blair and US President George W. Bush’s intentions, put it at the time of the Summit: “It’s like a case of the devil saying he will reform himself.”

People like Bob Geldof and fellow rocker Bono generally inspired little confidence among serious campaigners and one placard ‘ playing on the theme ‘Make Poverty History’ ‘ held aloft at Gleneagles read: “Make rock stars politicians and the earth history.”

The G8 made an undertaking to cancel 100 percent of the debt owed by many heavily indebted poor countries ‘ a ‘concession’ worth US$50 billion ‘ in addition to drastically improving access to health care, especially for HIV/AIDS patients and access to basic education.

To this end, at the end of March, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa was able to announce the good news that henceforth, basic healthcare would be free.

Burundi started offering free basic education in 2005 and since then, 300 000 previously disadvantaged children have been able to go to school.

There were also promises on trade reform, security and climate change ‘ all of these prerequisites for making poverty history and meeting the MDGs.

According to a recent report released by Oxfam, significant moves have been made towards debt cancellation and this has freed a lot of extra spending on health and education in the Third World.

However, Oxfam’s statistics indicate that the biggest chunks of debt write-offs went to Nigeria and Iraq, where the G8 have individual and collective strategic interests.

Read part of the report: “Oxfam is concerned that the growth in aid in key G8 nations is not enough to meet the promises made at Gleneagles. G8 nations have so far failed to overcome trade deadlocks that would allow poor nations to benefit from a globalised economy.

“The pace of climate change talks has increased, but not the action. And one year on there is still no international agreement on standards for arms transfers”

On a positive note, one million more HIV+ people have reportedly benefited by accessing ARVs, but on the downside, 500 000 women died during pregnancy or in child birth and an astonishing 11 million died from poverty, conflict and disease.

This is the equivalent of a woman dying every minute and a child every three seconds. Furthermore, there are still around six million HIV+ people without access to ARVs.

ActionAid, another NGO, has also released a report noting that if commitment to last year’s promises continues at present levels, the goals set will not be achieved and hence there is need for a way to make the G8 accountable for what it said it would do.

Kumi Naidoo of the Global Campaign Against Poverty has also slammed the G8’s commitment to its promises, noting that the decision to phase in aid increases by 2010 was like “waiting five years before responding to the tsunami”.

Eyebrows have also been raised about the delay in the decision on funding for new research into vaccines for diseases that largely affect the poor.

Another sticky point has been the issue of the US$50 billion with campaigners asking whether or not this is really “new” money or a case of the G8 hiding behind accounting technicalities.

Oxfam says 80 percent of the debt cancellation figure was in one-off cancellation and if these figures are taken out then “the underlying trend in aid by some G8 countries actually gives cause for serious concern”.

In lumping this figure together with other development payments, the developed world is “double counting” the money and second tranches of debt cancellation to Nigeria and Iraq in 2006 will also obscure the real figure this year, and challenge the G8 countries to show how they will defuse a “time bomb” when the debt repayment figures are not there in 2007.

“The danger is that this will mask a failure to increase the underlying volume of real aid in line with their Gleneagles commitments, allowing the G8 to take their foot off the accelerator.”

The Oxfam analysis of the figures finds that once debt repayments are taken out of the equation, the total increase in development assistance by the G8 countries is 8 percent.

The ActionAid report says: “At present, a mixture of backsliding, buck-passing and half measures by rich countries risk undoing much of the progress. One year on, the world’s richest countries are moving too slowly, or not moving at all, on most of their key commitments to tackle poverty. Unless they take urgent action now to meet their pledges on aid, trade and HIV and Aids, the prospect of progress towards ending poverty will be jeopardized.”

While the world’s 18 poorest countries have had their debts cancelled, campaigners say another 40 nations need a similar deal.

There have always been fears that any ‘concessions’ by the G8 invariably try and twist issues so that beneficiaries are forced to alter their economies and their politics to suit Western eco-political interests.

An example is Tanzania where international donors are threatening to cut funding unless the government reduces expenditure on the civil service at a time when 39 percent of the national budget comes from donors.

July 2006
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