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Last Updated: Friday, 23 December 2005, 10:27 GMT
Africa's 'aid year': Was it worth it?
David Loyn
By David Loyn
BBC developing world correspondent

Boys in Nigeria
Africa is the only continent to become poorer over past decades
There has never been a year like it. Warmed by the words of Nelson Mandela - "sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation" - people campaigned in more than 80 countries to "make poverty history".

And for the first time the leaders of the richest countries of the world were listening.

Tony Blair's decision to put Africa alongside climate change as the policy priorities of Britain's leadership of the G8 guaranteed that.

He had already put government effort into the Commission for Africa, engaging the energy of Bob Geldof as well as African leaders to examine what had gone wrong in the only continent to become poorer in this last quarter of a century.

So was it all worth it?

The campaigning certainly helped. The momentum of Live 8 persuaded some reluctant leaders at the Gleneagles summit, most notably Japan and Germany, to agree to the final declaration.

Bob Geldof
Geldof was instrumental in organising the Live 8 concerts

Mr Blair's requirement that they should all sign publicly gave the deal even more weight.

As well as a commitment to double aid to $50bn (29bn), and extend the principle of debt relief, other parts of the deal could end up as even more valuable to Africa, most notably the commitment to universal free access to treatment for HIV/Aids, and measures to allow African countries to own their own economic strategies, rather than having them imposed from Washington.

And since then policy commitments in Europe mean that the aid increases promised will happen, although this has not been matched in a deliverable way in America.

President Bush's so-called "Millennium Challenge Account" has far too many conditions attached to it to make it accessible by the poorest countries.

'Gloomy figures'

The last time that campaigners made such a difference on an international development issue was when the G8 first agreed to a programme to cancel unpayable debts for some least-developed countries at the summit in Cologne in 1999.

Tony Blair's strategy has been to go for the low-hanging fruit, on aid and debt. On the tough questions like trade justice he hasn't really delivered
Steve Tebbitt
Make Poverty History

But the Jubilee debt campaign was on a single issue, with 2000 as a target date for action.

Making poverty history is clearly going to be harder than that, certainly by the UN's target date of 2015.

Gloomy figures emerged at the UN General Assembly meeting in September when the "Millennium Development Goals" were reviewed.

On present progress, it would be 2150 not 2015 before the target to halve the number of people living in poverty would be reached.

Looking back over the year, the head of the UN Millennium Campaign, Salil Shetty, said: "In aid, we have gone a long way. In debt, a small step has been taken. But in trade we are nowhere. There is still a long way to go.'

Downbeat

Improving trade for Africa would be the one thing which could make all the difference.

Protesters from Global Call to Action Against Poverty in Washington. File photo
Campaigners are calling for debts to be cancelled immediately

This is not just a north-south issue.

One of the key recommendations of the Africa Commission report was to lower barriers, and improve infrastructure for trade within Africa.

But campaigners were unhappy with progress at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong in December, where low expectations of a result in favour of poorer countries turned out to be justified.

Mr Shetty said that renewed emphasis should go into campaigning for this as the WTO tries to resolve the deadlock over the next few months, because changes in the trading regime will not have quick consequences.

"Big changes in the multilateral trading regime don't happen overnight. They take a long time. If we don't crack it this time we are not going to have another opportunity like this," he said.

The Make Poverty History campaign was similarly downbeat.

Spokesman Steve Tebbitt said: "Tony Blair's strategy has been to go for the low-hanging fruit, on aid and debt. On the tough questions like trade justice he hasn't really delivered."

'Marathon, not sprint'

But the key to keeping momentum in the campaign is not about Britain but the wider world.

2005 was an extraordinary year for the British focus on Africa, but elsewhere it is part of an ongoing campaign.

The spokesman for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, Kumi Naidoo, said: "We have always understood that this is going to be a marathon not a sprint."

The focus now is on compliance and delivery on promises made by the rich world, while ensuring that poor countries live up to their side of the bargain.

"We cannot accept any excuses for failure to move on gender equality, failure to improve governance, failure to eradicate corruption and so on. We will have a dual approach going forward," Mr Naidoo said.

"And there is momentum now for holding governments accountable. With developing country governments we will have to hold them accountable for things that are within their domain of control, and for rich country governments, for commitments, half-hearted they might have been in 2005, and to push them further.'


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