Africa Confidential, July 2005AFRICAHolding Gleneagles to account
Africa Confidential post-G8 summit reportPrint this special report
Africa Confidential post-G8 summit report
Holding Gleneagles to account
British officials, aid agencies and African activists
are deeply divided over the outcome of the Group of Eight (G8)
summit in Gleneagles. Their campaign to hoist Africa fleetingly
to the top of the international agenda had worked impressively
but huge questions remain about whether that pressure can be sustained
in the summit's aftermath.
Expectations of a breakthrough on aid, debt and trade had been
rising all year and were sharply let down as the text of the final
communiqué was released on 8 July. In hard economic terms,
the biggest news of the summit was the $40 billion debt write-off
for 18 eligible countries that British Chancellor Gordon Brown
persuaded his fellow G8 finance ministers to sign a month earlier
on 11 June. So debt aside, persuading activists that the G8 had
started the big push for Africa was a tough call for the spinmeisters.
But the ensuing row is more than just a spat over government
spin, it goes to the heart of whether the demanded commitment
to Africa will be sustained. It will certainly weaken the position
of the 'embedded non-governmental organisations' who, like their
journalistic counterparts in the Iraq war, were allocated
protected positions behind government lines in return for blunting
their criticism of official policy. Oxfam, whose former Director
in Washington, Justin Forsyth, is now a policy advisor
in the Cabinet Office, has come under particular fire for soft-pedalling
on the Blair government.
Embarrassingly for the government, the Make Poverty History
coalition, which has driven much of the public campaigning for
Africa, was highly critical of the G8 result. 'While this aid
increase is a step forward, it is far from the historic deal that
millions around the world have been demanding.' It calculated
that of the promised increase in global aid to $129 bn. a year
by 2010 - a $50 bn. a year hike from current levels - only about
$15-$20 bn. was new money with the remainder merely being a repackaging
of existing pledges.
British officials argued that the aid pledges were tested and
analysed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) which confirmed that the Gleneagles deal will add about
$50 bn. to the $79 bn. currently spent on aid by the 22 biggest
donors in 2004. Of that $50 bn., Africa is to get $25 bn. - well
over double what it receives now. But the promised hike in aid
levels is to be implemented incrementally before reaching the
target in 2010.
It's unclear how much of this pledged increase in aid will
be consumed by the financing of the debt write-off deal. In principle,
the $40 bn. deal negotiated by Gordon Brown with the other G7
finance ministers should be financed entirely separately from
other aid budgets. In practice this is unlikely: more than a
third of the rise in aid between 2001 and 2003 was due to debt
relief, and this proportion will grow further to cover the costs
of the write-off of debts once owed by Iraq. And just a week
after the Gleneagles summit, several of the smaller creditor countries
- outside of the G8 - raised doubts about their commitment to
the debt relief plan unless new conditions were imposed on debtor
When South African activist and leading member of Make
Poverty History, Kumi Naidoo, claimed: '...the people roared
and the G8 whispered,' the pop star campaigner Bob Geldof
sprung to the Blair government's defence in Gleneagles: 'When
did ten million more people alive become a whisper... it is a
disgrace to suggest anything other than that!' Four days later
in parliament, Prime Minister Blair repaid the favour, praising
Geldof and Bono for their 'remarkable and brilliantly-led
campaign' and insisted the summit had secured new money. 'The
EU and Japanese commitments are additional and Canada
and the US are agreeing to double their aid.'
Others remained unconvinced. Charles Abugre, a Ghanaian
activist who heads Christian Aid's policy unit lamented: 'It is
a vastly disappointing result. Millions of campaigners all over
the world have been led to the top of the mountain, shown the
view and now we are being frog-marched down again.' War on Want's
John Hilary echoed that analysis: 'On debt it is a tenth
of what we were asking. On aid it is just a fifth. On trade it
has gone totally backwards.'
Secretary for International Development, Hilary Benn,
in full triumphalist mode told a public meeting in Parliament
that he regarded the outcome as 'magnificent' and found criticism
of 'the G8's failure... quite offensive.' Benn appeared frustrated.
Although African activists criticised the G8 results, African
politicians were more enthusiastic. Nigeria's President
Olusegun Obasanjo fulsomely praised Blair's efforts and
the 'great success' of the summit. Indeed, Downing Street's relations
with President Obasanjo are well ahead of those he enjoys with
either the Foreign Office or even the International Development
Department. It was Downing Street pressure that drove the negotiations
for Nigeria's $18 bn. debt write-off deal with official creditors
in the Paris Club in June which has hugely helped Obasanjo at
home. The Blair-Obasanjo collaboration and the wider G8-Africa
relations raise more awkward questions in African about accountability
That substantive aid renders recipient governments more accountable
to foreign donors than their own people is a commonly made criticism
by the anti-aid advocates. Few - on either side of the aid argument
- would deny the problem. There were no overt references in the
Commission for Africa report or in the G8 discussions to the need
for 'democratic citizenship'; and no references to the rights
of citizens to make a claim on power, to challenge mismanagement
and corruption, and of the need for political organisation.
Instead diplo-speak rules. The seemingly neutral term 'good
governance' is the code word. But its focuses on the symptoms,
not the causes of the crises or the way politics work in Africa
and how citizens' pressure can be increased on governments to
rule more in the public interest. Sadly most of the research that
is being done on these issues is being kept under cover. A more
open discussion of the issues would help; as would a sustained
commitment by aid-giving countries to co-ordinate their policies
to make less harmful demands on governmental institutions on Africa.
Previous G8 agreements on aid harmonisation are yet to be implemented.
More public honesty would help too. Why did Britain invite
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to Gleneagles?
In June, Meles defended the shooting dead of more than 30 unarmed
demonstrators by his security forces and the arrest of 4,000 more
linked to protests against rigging in the national elections in
May. After Gleneagles, Hillary Benn vigourously defended Tanzania's
preparation of its state water company for privatisation as both
a voluntary and a successful decision. It was neither. Commercialisation
of Tanzania's water system was a condition of continued aid and
debt relief from the World Bank and Britain. The contract for
the commercialisation, awarded to Britain's Biwater, broke down
in May, and the Tanzanian government deported four Biwater executives
on 1 June.
This lack of plain speaking feeds into a wider scepticism about
Western aid efforts, and partly explains why the aid agencies
broke ranks with the government so quickly after the G8 communiqué.
Three days after the summit, Oxfam's policy advisor, Max Lawson,
distanced his organisation from government claims of new aid money:
'There is an incentive on the part of Number 10 Downing Street
and even Bob Geldof to portray these announcements as a huge deal...
we would be very concerned if people came away with the impression
that this was the case.'
Scepticism about US President George Bush's claims on
aid runs even higher. Bush's claims to have doubled aid (which
have been regularly referred to by Tony Blair) have been comprehensively
rubbished by a range of Washington think tanks.
Undaunted, Bush promised to double aid to Africa again (he
calculates it at $3.4 bn. in 2004) by 2010. Much of this money
will fall due after Bush is due to leave office in 2008, and some
is part of money already earmarked (but not disbursed) for the
US anti-HIV/AIDS programmes. The remainder is dependent on the
US administration's new aid delivery system Millennium Challenge
Account which, although set up four years ago, has just launched
its first project, in Madagascar. Bush promised to fund
the highly conditional MCA programme at a level of $5 bn. a year;
but in June the US House of Representatives agreed to release
just $1.75 bn. for 2006.
US economist Jeffrey Sachs derides the Bush government's
position, pointing out that it is the only G8 country (apart from
Russia) which refuses to endorse the target of allocating
0.7 per cent of national income to aid. He accuses the Bush administration
of having 'cobbled together some small programmes backed by big
spin.' The US's five-year anti-malaria campaign is to receive
less than one day's worth of Pentagon spending.
Worse still, a veteran Republican congressman, Jim Kolbe,
has raised questions about President Bush's commitment to finance
HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Kolbe says that Bush continues
to boast that he will contribute $15 bn. to global efforts against
HIV/AIDS - although he's scaled back his own request to Congress
for the first tranche of the money.
That augurs badly for one of the most hopeful pledges on the
G8 agenda: that it will get as 'close as possible' to providing
universal access HIV/AIDS treatment for anyone in Africa who needs
it by 2010. That bold statement is not accompanied by any costing
or detailed commitments from individual G8 members On current
projections of around 26 million people needing drugs which cost
about $500 a year in Africa, the drug budget alone would need
to be about $13 bn. To rehabilitate most countries' health systems
to make possible such mass dispensing would cost tens of billions
Not impossible sums in comparison to British and US spending
on the Iraq war but many rungs higher than provided for in the
roughly $15 bn. a year of extra aid secured for Africa at the
summit. Failure by Britain to win agreement for new forms of aid
financing raises further questions about the health proposals.
Instead a pilot programme for Gordon Brown's International Financing
Facility or development bonds scheme is to be launched to help
fund polio immunisation.
Two more hopeful signs from the G8 are for an added push to
increase the quality of aid by channelling it through multilateral
organisations such as the UN, World Bank and African Development
Bank; and more recognition that past conditions on aid have been
onerous and counterproductive and African states themselves must
control policy: 'It is up to developing countries themselves and
their governments to take the lead on development. They need to
decide, plan and sequence their economic policies to fit with
their own development strategies for which they should be accountable
to all their people,' the communiqué reads.
The least hopeful - and most fundamentally important - provisions
covered trade. The G8 failed to agree to end rich country cotton
and sugar subsidies as recommended by the African Commission.
This is despite the World Trade Organisation having ruled several
times that US cotton subsidies and European Union sugar subsidies
are illegal under its membership rules. Neither did the G8 follow
the other Commission recommendation that all trade distorting
mechanisms operated by rich countries should expire by 2010.
Bizarrely, the G8's decision to agree to set a date some time
in the indeterminate future on ending rich country protectionist
practices was heralded as a breakthrough. It was nothing of the
sort and WTO officials tellingly contrasted the artificial optimism
of the G8 trade non-announcement with the mood of negotiators
at the WTO ahead of the next round of ministerial talks in Hong
Kong in December.
Talks on the first draft of an agricultural deal are already
running chronically behind schedule: on the ground obstructionism
in Geneva contrasted sharply with smiling promises from veteran
spinmeisters Presidents Bush and Jacques Chirac
were determined to get a deal on farm tariffs that would be good
for Africa. After Gleneagles, Prime Minister Blair's next target
is to ensure that substantial reform on farm trade and market
access for Africa is secured in Hong Kong. This time the criteria
for success will be clear cut and far less susceptible to spin.
The G8 and world government
Amid the fog of G8 summitry and spin, accurate analysis is
a scarce commodity. A good start might be in the politics of
the G8 itself. It is both the closest entity to a world government
and also self-appointed (by the original core members in 1975
- Britain, France, Germany, and the United
States) and so almost completely unaccountable. That is the
central problem in assessing the importance of the G8 summit communiqué:
what do the 35 pages of pledges and statements on aid, debt and
climate mean if no one can hold the G8 to account?
Some officials said it was up to civil society - in Africa
and in the G8 countries themselves - to hold the G8 leaders to
their summit promises. Others argued that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's insistence that all G8 leaders personally
sign the communiqué emphasised the political weight of
the document. However no formal monitoring process has been established:
despite the calls in the Africa Commission report for an institution
to specifically track and assess the implementation of aid, debt
and trade pledges. Although Britain's Department of International
Development is running its own monitoring of the G8 decisions,
there are no plans for formal involvement in that by independent
The G8 has no institutional structure of its own, no secretariat
and no multilateral capacity to track implementation and outcomes.
Formally, it is not even a group of eight but a group of seven
plus Russia, which did not, and was not expected to, subscribe
to the more extravagant pledges on Africa made by the others.
This is significant because Russia chairs the G8 next year and
wants to move the agenda away from Africa to energy security.
There are three other ex-officio members of the group: the heads
of the European Commission, the World Bank and the IMF respectively
but not the Secretary General of the United Nations who is invited
to attend only specifically designated sessions.
In answer to criticism that the G8 is a rich, white man's club,
Britain invited five developing nations - Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa - to attend
discussions on climate change on the first day of the summit.
Seven African leaders attended the discussions on Africa on the
second day. But the G8 is not about to become the G13. Inviting
the leaders of the world's two most populous countries, China
and India, to discussions on climate change made tactical sense
as did the African invitations.
Both sides have reservations about expansion. The rich countries
prefer to discuss economic and security matters by themselves.
China's President Hu Jintao and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh don't want to lose their status as developing
country leaders for a bystander's position at the rich country
table. Both India and South Africa are much keener on seats on
an expanded UN Security Council.
The reality is that, whatever nations attend the G8 summit
discussions, the final communiqué is drafted by the core
members' sherpas, usually several weeks before the summit. Drafts
circulate with the most contentious and specific passages in square
brackets. The measure of success for the G8 host country is how
much of the text in the square brackets remains in the later drafts.
So much centres on presentation with civil servants asked to
produce ever more impressive tables of statistics spelling out
the success of the host country's existing projects and initiatives
- and projections for their future success.
A week before the summit the leading British G8 sherpa, Permanent
Secretary in the Foreign Office Sir Michael Jay, briefed
journalists in Whitehall with a fairly accurate assessment of
the content: there was hope the aid figures would meet the $50
billion target for Africa by 2010; the $40 bn. debt deal would
be consolidated with room for expansion for qualifying countries;
there would be progress on the climate change dialogue; but the
ending of cotton and sugar subsidies by the end of this year (as
recommended in Africa Commission report) was regarded as too ambitious.