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Analytical Studies

Delivering Democratic Development for Africa

John Kirton, Director, G8 Research Group
Published in the Calgary Herald, June 30, 2002

At the conclusion of the historic Kananaskis Summit he hosted on June 26-27, 2002, Jean Chretien, on behalf of the assembled G8 and African leaders, released the impressively detailed and lengthy G8 Africa Action Plan. Well-meaning pundits in the wealthy, largely white "North" were predictably quick to dismiss it as lacking action, "woefully inadequate," offering not new but merely "warmed-over money" and "quite disappointing" at best. But the African leaders brought for the first time as full partners to Kananaskis declared it was just what they need to build democracy and development back home. Obasanjo of Nigeria said he was "satisfied." Wade of Senegal added that he was "optimistic" it would work. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced that the G8's Africa Action plan was a good one. Indeed, he went on to proclaim that because of it, the Kananaskis Summit marked a historic turning point, but only if it produced what it promised in the years to come.

This Africa Action Plan was the G8's response to the Africans' own New Plan for Africa's Development, or NEPAD, produced by the Africans themselves last fall. It marked the move from the old way of doing development, in which the rich north would say that it alone knew best and thus would tell the poor south what to do. This time, the democratic leaders of the most powerful countries said that they would take ownership of their own future, and invent their own plan that the north, although the G8 would be asked to support. It would put the principles of peace, order and good governance in first place, as the essential foundation on which lasting economic and social development would be based. To ensure principles were reliably translated into practice, they would create a process of "peer review" in which Africans would assess their fellow Africans to identify the countries and programs that worked, and thus where the new money should flow. To raise the necessary resources - an additional US$64 billion each year - they would not longer rely on northern governments to hand out international welfare cheques, but would start with their own money and mobilize the global marketplace and the foreign direct investment and export markets it brings. But in order to get a quick start, they needed their new G8 partners to confirm that they too shared the Africans' new philosophy and priorities, and were prepared to produce the additional debt relief and official development assistance needed to get a quick start.

Led first by Paul Martin and British chancellor of the Exchequor Gordon Brown, and then by John Manley and his G7 colleagues at their meeting at Halifax in mid June, agreement was reached that an additional US$1 billion was needed to top up the trust fund the relieve the debt of the world's poorest countries, and thus allow the entire highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative proceed. As most of these HIPC countries were African, those G8 countries with the longest and strongest ties to Africa, sought to produce a plan that would have a generous share of the new resources flow to those particular African countries they were closest to. Nonetheless, the G8 leaders at Kananaskis found it relatively easy to say "yes" to the needed one billion. The Africans thus got the money they needed, and the process of debt relief, begun at the G7 Summit in Toronto in June 1988, moved further towards a successful end.

The G8 had recognized at its summit last year in Genoa, Italy, that it needed to go beyond debt relief. It thus raised US$2 billion to devote to the human tragedy of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and thus save the lives of the Africans who had been so badly let down by the existing programs of the United Nations and the World Health Organization. To ensure that much of the new money did not disappear into the black hole of big international bureaucracy with its heavy overhead and generous tax-free salaries, the G8 created a new governance structure to deliver the money quickly to those who needed it, through the programs and to the purposes that the healthcare professionals knew would work. But even then the G8 knew that this was just a start, and that more money would flow once it could demonstrate that these dollars effectively did the job in Africa itself.

At Kananaskis, G8 and African leaders made history by coming together as equals within the G8 Summit, to plot the path ahead. The G8 itself made history by producing a US$6 billion package of new official development assistance for Africa - by far the largest ever assembled in G7/G8 history for any region of the poor "South." It did do by raising a pool of US$12 billion on the road to Kananaskis, so that the African leaders would know when they came to Kananaskis that the monies were already in place, just waiting to flow. At Kananaskis, the G8 agreed that the Africans could get more than half of it, but only if the they lived up to their new principles and if the legislatures in the G8 democracies agreed to follow where their presidents and prime ministers led. Critics complained that the US$6 billion pledge was an aggregate total and could be met by some G8 members doing more and others doing less, rather than each member paying exactly the same share. This was a legitimate worry for those concerned about passing the buck among countries up north. But to those concerned about Africa receiving the monies it needed, it was clear that the total was adequate, regardless of how much of it came from taxpayers in Niagara Falls, Ontario, rather than Niagara Falls, New York. Others complained that the money was not offered with ironclad guarantees, presumably in the form of a blank cheque or unmarked bills, to be spent on whatever the recipients wanted, from educating young girls to invading one's neighbours, to buying new Taj Mahal-like presidential jets. But by making the continued flow conditional on ongoing good performance, the African democratic pioneers would have a powerful argument in persuading other Africans to follow them, and in inspiring northern taxpayers to give even more.

With the money from official development assistance offered up front, the Action Plan moved to specify the purposes on which it would be spent. In first place came measures to end the conflict and accompanying genocide that had destroyed any hope for building democracy and development in too many African states. Then came good governance, according to global standards rather than only G8 ones, and in ways that gave women a full and equal place. With the democratic foundation constructed, there followed promises to help Africans trade and attract foreign direct investment, and to do so in ways that preserved Africa's abundant human and natural wealth. After chapters on debt relief and education came major statements on combating HIV/AIDs, agriculture and water. The passages on agriculture restored hope to those many starving Africans abandoned by the United Nations when its recent World Food Summit in Rome ended in failure amidst the tiresome but now obsolete rituals of the old North-South divide. The chapter on water highlighted its critical role as a public goal essential for life. Nowhere did it say, as some critics had feared it would, that the privatization of Africa's water systems was the primary new direction in which Africans should go.

The G8 also did much to respect Kofi Annan's wise reminder that promises made were only worth something if they were translated into promises kept. The G8 leaders gave their personal representatives for Africa a new mandate, and said they would review progress on their Africa Action Plan at their summit next year in France. Its host, President Jacques Chirac, declared he would focus that summit on African development as its centrepiece theme. But even those most willing to join Senegal's President Wade in optimistically giving the G8 and its Africa Action Plan the benefit of the doubt could well wonder why the G8 itself did not institute its own process of peer review to ensure that each member live up to the promises made. They could also wonder when France, so impressed with Canada's new model for summitry, will issue the invitation to the African leaders to come to the next summit as full partners to tell the G8 leaders if they have kept their word.

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