Published on Saturday, June 12, 2004 by OneWorld.net
Africa Activists Express Deep Disappointment Over G-8 Results
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Activist groups concerned about Africa expressed deep disappointment Thursday with what they called a failure of the leaders of the Group of Eight (G-8) richest nations to respond seriously to the ongoing crises that afflict the region. They were particularly downcast about the G-8's refusal to grant comprehensive debt relief to the continent's poorest nations, as had been promoted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the failure to commit major new funds to combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is killing roughly 6,000 Africans every day.
In addition, the G-8's call for the United Nations to take the lead in stabilizing the increasingly desperate situation of ethnic African groups in Darfur province in Sudan was denounced as a major abdication of responsibility, particularly in light of the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.
More than one million ethnic Africans have been displaced from their homes over the past year by government-backed raids by Arab militias, and the U.S. government recently predicted that at least 300,000 are likely to die of malnutrition, famine, or exposure in the near term. Relief groups that have tried to get emergency supplies to the victims have been frustrated by a number of obstacles imposed by Khartoum.
"What is needed is an urgent military intervention to stop the killing, enforce the cease-fire and provide security for the delivery of humanitarian assistance," said Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, who compared the current situation to the Rwandan genocide ten years ago. "If this were happening on European soil, the response would be very different."
The G-8, which this year met on Sea Island off the Georgia coast, concluded its annual summit Thursday, having addressed a number of global issues, including Iraq, nuclear proliferation, economic coordination, new reform initiatives in the Middle East, and counter-terrorism. Hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush, the other G-8 participants included the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia.
Despite the crowded agenda, the G-8 leaders devoted several hours to a discussion of Africa-related issues with five of their African counterparts, including the heads of government of Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda.
Rumors circulated earlier this week that the G-8 would endorse a proposal brought to the summit by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that would provide for a 100 percent write-off of tens of billions of dollars in debt owed by the world's poorest countries - most of them in Africa - to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other international financial institutions.
The Washington Post, among other publications, reported that the Bush himself was prepared to back the proposal in hopes that other G-8 governments would then be more inclined to go along with his call for a similar write-off of Iraq's bilateral debts. Development and Africa activists have been calling for much of the past decade for comprehensive debt relief for the world's poorest countries who currently pay more in debt service each year than they do on health and education.
But, in the end, the summiteers could not agree on either step. Instead, they simply called for an existing World Bank-IMF debt-relief program, called the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, to be extended through 2006.
Under HIPC, only about US$30 billion out of some $100 billion in multilateral debt have been forgiven for 27 of the countries deemed eligible for relief since HIPC was created in the latter part of the 1990s, and even the IMF and the Bank have admitted the program has fallen far short of its original goals.
"At this critical moment, when every minute another African child dies of AIDS, the global community needs 100 percent cancellation of multilateral debt without harmful conditions," said Marie Clarke, national coordinator of the Jubilee USA Network. "By failing to seize the opportunity, the G-8 has once again chosen baby steps over bold action."
Africa Action's Booker charged that HIPC has become a "shell game" and accused the Bush administration of practicing "an unacceptable double standard when it advocates for the cancellation of Iraq's odious debts, but refuses to apply the same terms to the illegitimate debts of African countries."
Hopes had also risen in advance of the Sea Island Summit that participants would commit substantially more funding to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - an agency created three years ago to provide coordination and fast-dispensing aid to developing-country programs with a proven track record. But funding by donor nations has so far been less than half of what public-health experts say they believe is needed to begin containing the disease.
Instead of announcing new commitments to the Global Fund, however, the G-8 leaders said they would create a Global HIV/AIDS Vaccine Initiative to coordinate scientific research into finding a vaccine for the disease. "The best way to meet these challenges is for scientists around the world to work together in a complementary way," the G-8 statement said.
But activists denounced the initiative as "cynical" given the depleted resources of the Global Fund and the continuing spread of the disease, the most devastating in recorded history. The fact that no new resources were pledged - even to the Vaccine Initiative - was seen as particularly disappointing.
The G-8 leaders also discussed a plan to train and equip some 50,000 African soldiers as regional peacekeepers over the coming five years at an estimated cost of about $110 million a year. The initiative is designed in part to coordinate existing training programs, particularly by the U.S., France, and Britain, although the Bush administration has hinted that it is prepared to expand its own training efforts substantially.
But, against the background of the Darfur crisis in Sudan, Booker was unimpressed. "Instead of talking out of their hats about training 50,000 peacekeepers, the G-8 leaders must act NOW to put boots on the ground in Sudan to halt genocide, as is required by the international Genocide Convention," he said.
Even the G-8's communiqué on Sudan was disappointing to activists who have been calling for intervention. Instead of describing the situation as the world's "worst humanitarian crisis," as the UN did several weeks ago, the world's most powerful leaders noted "continuing reports of gross violations of human rights, many with an ethnic dimension." It called on all parties to the conflict to respect the cease-fire worked out last month and on the Khartoum to disarm the Arab militias and other armed groups responsible for the abuses.
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