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Last Updated: Friday, 1 July, 2005, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Viewpoints: Can G8 proposals help Africa?
The UK government is promoting a set of proposals to help Africa out of the poverty trap at this year's summit of the eight richest nations - the G8.

The recommendations which Prime Minister Tony Blair is backing come out of a report produced by the Commission for Africa, which he established.

The commission recommended: 100% debt cancellation for the poorest nations, the doubling of aid to Africa, the removal of barriers to trade with African nations, and improved governance.

We asked eight commentators whether such steps point to the right way forward for Africa. Click on the links below to find out what they said.

Anna Tibaijuka, Tanzanian on Commission for Africa

Andrew Mwenda, Monitor newspaper, Uganda

Sam Danse, Ghana country programme director for Oxfam

Stuart Hodkinson, UK Red Pepper magazine

Moeletsi Mbeki, South African Institute of International Affairs

Robert Whelan, UK think tank Civitas

Trevor Ngwane, campaigner, South Africa

Herman Cohen, US ex-asst secretary of state for Africa

Anna Tibaijuka is a Tanzanian commissioner on the Commission for Africa and a senior UN diplomat

We are very happy that Prime Minister Tony Blair is putting these things on the agenda.

Aid, trade and debt relief have to take place in the context of good governance - in Africa, but also internationally. It is very important to have, for example, mechanisms for brokering responsible small arms trading, returning stolen assets from Africa, and also in terms of companies investing responsibly in Africa instead of just looting the natural wealth of Africa.

Corruption is something that must be fought, both within and outside Africa. It takes two to tango!

For me, I am not against conditionalities [requirements including trade liberalisation attached to the assistance]. They are a good thing if you presuppose partnership. They become a problem when they are one-sided. Under good governance and able leadership, African nations will also present their own conditionalities.

The report calls for an enabling environment, where the African economies are allowed to build their own domestic capacity. It's a huge report and some of these soundbites are not necessarily coming out. But it's a very good starting point.

I am hopeful our recommendations will be adopted - I am not a prisoner of pessimism, we have to keep marching on, because we are talking about lives.

Andrew Mwenda is political editor of the Monitor newspaper in Uganda

Tony Blair has the wrong prognosis of the African problem. It is not true that African governments lack the resources to generate revenue in the form of taxes to pay for health, education and infrastructure.

An example: Donors through foreign aid contribute up to 50% of Uganda's budget. Both because of tax evasion and because of the large number of sectors exempted from tax, the Ugandan government receives only about half of the revenue it could. The rich, powerful and politically well-connected do not pay taxes!

Taxation is a politically explosive issue. Why would any government antagonise its own allies in the name of tax collection when Mr Tony Blair and Mr Gordon Brown are willing to give them the money?

In addition, African governments are also not responsive to the needs of their own, indigenous private enterprise. There are plenty of people in Africa trying to make money. But the governments are more responsive to the requirements of the international donor community.

What Mr Blair is doing is one of the biggest disservices to the African continent. In his own naivety, he will achieve short-term humanitarian objectives, but only at the cost of making African governments accountable to their own people.

What could he do? By pegging debt relief on export performance, then we could force these countries to perform better. What Mr Blair is doing is giving these countries - these corrupt dictators - a blank cheque.

Sam Danse is the Ghana country programme director for Oxfam

If the debt relief was more unconditional and tied only to addressing corruption, I think it would go a long way to making an impact. If it continues to be hinged on free trade and privatisation, and all those neo-liberal policies, there is no way we can make it.

As far as developing countries are concerned, for them to try to make a lasting impact on poverty and suffering there's a need for them to be in the driving seat of their own development.

[Another problem is] these prescriptions are vague. Unless you are very clear about adopting pragmatic strategies, which involve a local person defining his own development agenda, and also able to question and understand the basis on which money is spent, there is no way we can make it.

If you look at the membership of the Commission for Africa, almost all of those who are driving this agenda are part of the elite. I would have liked to see a situation where there was a regional debate on the issues, involving civil society, and the poorest of the poor would be brought into the consultations.

Also, you question what exactly is realistic. If you look at the commitment that G8 members made some years ago to increase aid spending to 0.7% of GDP, how many countries have actually been able to commit to that? We need big levers to make sure the big countries like the US actually reach their commitment.

Stuart Hodkinson is deputy editor of the UK left-wing magazine Red Pepper

There are, in fact, two Commission for Africa reports here. There was the report that was produced for the journalists, and the public, and the headlines, and then there's the actual text of the report.

In a nutshell, the spin says the report is about more aid, trade justice and debt relief. It all sounds great. It stresses unconditional, unconditional, unconditional.

But the whole report is a giant conditionality pact. If you look at the small print it's all about setting out neo-liberal style free markets, with associated institutions that go with that. It's a sweeping reform agenda for the whole of the continent's economy.

They [the Commission for Africa] want to turn Africa into a giant free-trading zone within Africa, they want to encourage Africa to become far more interdependent in its own trading arrangements.

But they also want to create a situation whereby to build up the infrastructure necessary to facilitate internal trade they want to create all these public-private partnerships. African firms are not in a position to do that, which means it is going to be Western firms which benefit.

Moeletsi Mbeki is deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs, an entrepreneur, and brother of South African President Thabo Mbeki

The single most important factor here is improving governance. But I don't think the Commission for Africa's approach is going to yield results, because its main focus is on the dialogue between the Western and African governments, rather than on strengthening the people of Africa to be able to put pressure on the governments.

The donors - and this I think has been demonstrated over and over again - can put pressure on African governments to hold elections, and then the elections get held - and the elections get rigged.

Holding the election is just the beginning: the point is there have to be the institutions of democracy, and these are not government institutions. They are the NGOs, opposition parties, mass media, trade unions, church organisations, student organisations. They are what bring about good governance, not the good heart of the president.

In Africa's struggles for independence in the 1960s, there were lots of these popular organisations - but after independence, these were suppressed by the regimes that emerged.

Those are the building blocks of democracy, and that's what brings about good governance. The problem we are having in Africa, ironically, is that the huge amount of aid actually makes governments less accountable to the people.

Robert Whelan is director of the right-wing UK think tank Civitas

Everyone agrees, on the right and the left, that we should bring down barriers to trade. It is ridiculous to be giving money or lending money cheaply on the grounds they need to develop at the same time as keeping them out of world markets.

Doubling aid is nonsense - pie in the sky. Even politicians who are most sympathetic to these people's argument have absolutely no intent of doubling aid.

Good governance is critical. I don't think we should be prepared to accept any more assurances that good governance will be forthcoming if we give them more money. The money was given on that basis in the first place. It's all baloney, absolute baloney. The only way is to see good governance in place first.

This is not just a trade issue. We're talking about millions of people in Africa whose lives have been blighted by the most brutal dictatorships on the planet funded by Western money. Without Western money they couldn't exist.

We've got to treat these nations like any other. They've got to pay their debts, they've got to produce goods and services that people want to buy and sell, and they've got to get their house in order, establish law and order and a proper judiciary.

Trevor Ngwane is a prominent anti-privatisation campaigner from South Africa

This is the right gesture - but certainly it is not enough. What Tony Blair is offering Africa is a leaking bucket. Such policies create the very poverty which they are now trying to address.

So for example, on trade, most of the laws in place favour the richer nations. On agricultural subsidies, the whole regime favours the richer countries.

It's a good thing to write off debt - and that should be extended to all countries which have a history of colonialism or debts which are unpayable or odious - as long as there are no conditionalities which are there to promote privatisation and open up African economies to stronger competition. Part of debt relief has failed for exactly that reason - you give with one hand, and take away with the other.

Often you'll find there is enough wealth within a country, but it is monopolised by a few hands. Some countries would do very well if we just redistributed the wealth more equitably.

More importantly, we should look at changing the very fundamental policies which make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. Policies which put profits before the interests of the people. This cuts across all nations - including the G8 nations themselves. They are rich, but you'd be surprised how much inequality and poverty is in those countries too.

Herman Cohen was US assistant secretary of state for Africa under President George Bush senior, and is now affiliated with the US right-wing think tank, Council for a Community of Democracies

Making life better for Africans is really a job Africans have to do for themselves. But the external world can be of assistance.

Forgiving debt is extremely important, because so much of the revenue earned by African nations goes to service the debt - so this will help a great deal, especially if the use of the money is made conditional on expenditure on health, education, and other benefits.

I think the best way to generate revenue in order to take care of the needs of the poor is to have private investment, which creates employment, brings technology, and pays taxes. Foreign aid is never going to be able to provide enough material wealth compared to the private sector.

But there are areas in which the private sector will not invest - they will not build roads, for example, because they cannot make a profit from that. A big increase in foreign aid should be devoted to the infrastructure that the private sector will not do.

Do you agree or disagree with any of the views above? Can the proposals being discussed by the G8 help Africa? Please use the form to send us your comments.

There's an old saying that goes something like "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for life." Abolishing Third World debt will maybe provide temporary relief but if the poor are used to sitting under a tree waiting for the next food parcel then that is what they will continue to do. Loads of foreign aid has done little long term good in the past, whilst war, disease, HIV and corruption are rife here. The first world can make a better plan than this!
Peter Ferry, Johannesburg, South Africa

Agreeing with Andrew Mwenda could never have been any easier. It's only Africa that will develop Africa. Africa's slow growth in the last three decades coincided with the heavy flow of aid. Free aid has had zero effect on the continent and it doesn't take rocket science to realise that zero plus zero never gives a positive. A strong will (to help the people) must exist within African governments. If that will is not there, then Mr Tony Blair and company should enforce it as a prerequisite for aid. We will never develop on free aid no matter how many times it is doubled.
Christopher Olobo, Winchester, UK

The single biggest problem in Africa is governance, never mind poverty, debt or diseases. There cannot be economic progress without democracy. I think that the G8 should focus on issues of strengthening democratic institutions and organisations that campaign to make people aware of their rights. As a Zimbabwean, if given a choice between my country receiving $1bn in aid or changing the present government, I would chose the later.
Herbert Nyamakope, Dublin, Ireland

I think all these comments are undisputable and very well founded. I find particularly insightful Sam Danse's comments. Where are the Africans as the Western world charts out yet another development agenda for them? What do they want and how do they want it done? Whose agenda is being pushed? I have a huge problem with solutions that are hurriedly thrown together, however well intended. Nonetheless I do greatly appreciate Mr Blair's and Mr Geldof etc's efforts at bringing Africa back into the international community.
Esther Mwangi, UK

Where there is no perspective from the peoples of Africa - a thorough grassroots perspective - there is no legitimate assessment, only an imposition, of the right course to take to relive poverty. Governments cannot be trusted. Take the trouble to discover first what the peoples of Africa want.
Andrew Nuttall, Durham UK

Offering relief with strings attached to it will amount to nothing but neocolonialism.
Shimave, Nigeria

The Western world really needs to help Africa to fix their economies by themselves and allow free trades for African to be successful. The West also needs to let Africa off their debts - it's very easy to give a person a food to eat instead of teaching a person how to cook the food by him or by themselves. I give a lot of credit to PM Tony Blair for the work he is now doing for our lovely Africans.
Duot De Manyang Duot, Wangulei, Sudan

The theme should be "Make Corruption History". Without that as a starting point, nothing good can be achieved.
Peter Mattock, Dewsbury

The comments from your contributors fall into two very distinct camps: those who put people before money (left wing) and those who put money before people (right wing). Everyone agrees that poverty in Africa is a terrible thing, but I can't see any of the G8 nations being prepared to sacrifice their own capitalist agendas to help in any real way. They will give more aid tied up with unreasonable conditions and plenty of vote-winning spin. If making Africa strong and independent doesn't help the G8 nations (most of them find the prospect terrifying), then they will not allow it to happen.
Emily, Netherlands

I agree with Moeletsi Mbeki, that the focus should be much more on the African people and we should be much fairer on how we trade. It is so easy to give after we have taken enough. It is much more difficult to share equally, or to trade on terms that may be less good to us, but give them a fairer deal.
Annemiek Vromans, The Hague Holland

I think the action is noble, but more thought has to go into transforming the very institutions in these countries. It is essential to see that, that is where the problem lies. Innovativeness and creativity has to help so that debt relief is transformed positively towards health, education and other social issues. Let not what happened to the Tsunami victims in Banda Aceh, happen here.
Gouri Nambudripad, India

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