Jump to navigation

Africa Confidential, July 2005

Holding Gleneagles to account
Africa Confidential post-G8 summit report

Print 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 countries.

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 and politics.

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 more.

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 that they 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 organisations.

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.