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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 22:55 GMT 23:55 UK
Q&A: What hope is G8 offering Africa?
After successive initiatives aimed at helping Africa, G8 leaders have offered a fresh plan for promoting the continent's prosperity. But will it work?

BBC News Online considers the hopes of an end to African poverty.

The Africa Action Plan? What's it all about?

The plan is, in a nutshell, the latest in a series of initiatives designed to harness Western help for promoting prosperity in Africa.

Haven't we heard that before somewhere?

Indeed. The last half of the 20th century saw a series of Africa support initiatives, such as the emergency aid programmes to alleviate the Ethiopian famine, or more subtle investment aimed at helping nations to help themselves.

Often, however, programmes have been cynically linked to political aims. For instance, empire building by Western nations and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Or they have floundered on failures within the African nations themselves. The continent's leadership roll includes a sizeable rogues' gallery, including despots such as Sani Abacha and Idi Amin.

Sometimes ignorance has played a role in seeing money poured down ill-sited boreholes. A thriving sector of non-governmental organisations has grown between the large gaps in governmental knowledge and capabilities.

And too often, many critics say, aid has been given in the form of loans, which must be repaid. Meaning financial problems are pushed back, and even exacerbated, rather than being cured.

Whatever, African poverty levels have continued to escalate.

So what's different about the African Action Plan?

Critically, the initiative sprang from African nations themselves.

After years of being censured over embezzlement, corruption and waste, African leaders last year bowed to Western pressure/called the West's bluff by signalling, in the so-called New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), their willingness to implement reforms.

In return, it was hoped Western nations would raise the plight of African up their political agenda.

The matter came to a head at this week's G8 summit, when leaders from the top industrialised nations were asked to commit to their side of the bargain.

The result was Thursday's action plan, "designed to encourage the imaginative effort that underlies the Nepad and to lay a solid foundation for future co-operation".

Sounds promising.

Indeed, most observers would say the plan, written in refreshingly plain and comprehensible terms, is full of sensible ideas.

Africa, a continent racked by long-standing disputes, will be encouraged, with Western help, to form its own peacekeeping force, the document says.

G8 nations will help drive the march of democracy in Africa, with support for human rights activities, and for measures promoting equality for women.

On health, the plan proposes the eradication of polio in Africa by 2005, and moves to support the supply of life-saving drugs.

And knowledge on biotechnology, and agricultural best practice, will be shared with the continent to boost its farming output and improve security of food supplies.

Nonetheless, the plan has received a cool welcome from many agencies.

Phil Twyford, a spokesman for Oxfam International, accused G8 leaders of spending "a year talking up this summit, but in the end they have turned their backs on Africa".

What's the problem?

The main concerns, as ever, surround money.

First, the G8 countries have not backed the plan's grand ideas with cash to match.

African leaders had hoped for $64bn. They received a pledge for "half or more" of an extra $12bn a year assistance pledged by 2006.

Secondly, G8 leaders have offered African nations only modest hope of trading their way to prosperity.

The nearer Thursday's plan gets to addressing the opening up of Western markets to African products, the woollier commitments become.

While the plan talks of quota free market access to goods from the poorest nations, it is in terms of "working towards the objective".

Liberalisation of food markets is mentioned in terms of "applying our Doha commitment to comprehensive negotiations on agriculture aimed at substantial improvements in market access".

Indeed, in times when the US has moved to protect its steel and farm sectors - allowing the European Union an excuse to divert attention from its own dismal record of agricultural protectionism - trade liberalisation as a theme has seemed overtaken by the need to preserve domestic interests in the face of economic slowdown.

So where do we go from here?

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who will play a key part in the plan's roll-out said its first test would come in two months' time at the World Summit for Sustainable Development, in South Africa.

While many pro-Africa - and anti-globalisation - campaigners will no doubt seize upon the plan's failings, Mr Annan offered it at least a hopeful start.

"If Africans really stick to the commitments they have made in Nepad to themselves, and to each other, and if the G8 really carry out the action plan they are announcing today, this summit might come to be seen as a turning-point in the history of Africa, and indeed of the world."


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