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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 08:00 GMT
Past plans cast shadow on Africa report
By Orla Ryan
By BBC News website business reporter

Somalian girl
High hopes surround the Commission for Africa's report
When the Commission for Africa unveils its report, it will be treading a well-worn path.

It is 25 years since former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt called for action to help the developing world.

The Brandt report appeared to catch the public imagination - translated into two dozen languages, it sold nearly a million copies.

But despite its endorsement by the United Nations and discussion at the G7 summit and an economic summit of world leaders - aid levels fell and few of Brandt's suggestions were ever acted on.

Wasted opportunities?

Mr Brandt spent two years on the report, officially called the North-South report. Its central thrust was that it would benefit the north to address poverty in the south.

Willy Brandt in Leipzig
The former German Chancellor Willy Brandt - out of office, he became a champion for aid

The report called for more and better-deployed aid, suggesting that developed countries should be giving aid equivalent to 1% of their GDP to poor nations by 2000.

In fact, since then, aid to poor nations has actually fallen from 0.35% of GDP to 0.21% of GDP.

A wide ranging look at development, the report called for an emergency relief programme, restructuring of the global economy and ongoing global negotiations on the issues it raised.

Some argue that Brandt was the right report at the wrong time - published at the cusp of a new era, one which saw both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher come to power and one in which aid flows fell.

"The vision was really ahead of its time," says James Quilligan, an adviser to the Brandt Commission. "It was at the end of the Keynesian era...the whole economic culture has [since] been redefined."

Since then, he says, the debate on development has shifted from talk of global change to a discussion on trade, aid and debt relief.

Pearson cry

But Brandt was not the first rallying call for greater aid flows to go ignored.

In 1968, World Bank President Robert McNamara asked former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B.Pearson to look at the achievements of 20 years of development funding and what should happen next.

Top 10 recipients of aid in Africa, 2002*
Mozambique: 2,058
Ethiopia: 1,307
Egypt: 1.286
Tanzania: 1,233
Ivory Coast: 1,069
DRC: 807
South Africa: 657
Ghana: 653
Zambia: 641
Uganda: 638
*Figures in US dollars million. Source: OECD

It concluded that aid had played a role in the economic development of less-developed countries and set specific aid targets.

By 1975, it said, total aid should amount to 1% of GNP while official aid should touch 0.7% of GNP. Again, the targets went unmet.

The report - foreshadowing the trade campaigns of later years - warned it would be futile to nullify the effects of increased aid by inconsiderate trade policies.

Cold War winds

The Pearson report was commissioned at a time when aid - which had its roots in post-colonial times - was being rapidly politicised during the Cold War.

The developed world has a moral duty to assist Africa
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The 1980s witnessed the rise of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPS) which offered aid in return for reform.

These programmes became a lightning rod for frustration at the West's apparent desire to dictate policy to the developed world.

Partly as a result of this criticism, SAPs are no longer just about balancing the books but also about reducing poverty, Edward Brett, a senior research fellow in the Development Studies Institute at the London School of Economics, points out.

This also means more aid is needed - to maintain provision of services such as health and education while the deficit is being cut.

Mounting scepticism

The Commission for Africa will publish its report into a different world than previous reports and it is by no means clear whether this will make its task - of persuading governments to increase aid - easier.

There is now greater public awareness of the issues highlighted by Brandt and Pearson than there was previously.

Unlike Brandt, Tony Blair is a serving politician, a fact which could limit him from making radical suggestions but may strengthen his hand when it comes to implementation.

Decades of aid flows to Africa have however increased scepticism about its effectiveness. Some argue that over-reliance on aid allows recipient governments to shirk reform of domestic revenue systems.

While money is needed, by itself it is not enough.

"There are still plenty of governments of crooks and criminals. Do we give them five times as much aid and allow them to put it into their own bank accounts?" says John Roberts, the Overseas' Development Institute's director of the Economic and Statistics Analysis Unit.

The sense of urgency remains.

The ODI's John Roberts says aid works "very, very badly", but that isn't a reason for not doing it - but a reason to find ways of improving it.

The issue is - partly at least - whether the people holding the purse strings will buy into the latest report.

"If people buy into the moral, it could mean a major increase in the aid available," Mr Roberts says.

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