Published on Tuesday, July 5, 2005 by the Philadelphia Inquirer
Much Has Been Done, But...
Much more is needed. G-8 leaders must follow up on debt relief with a smart plan to aid Africa
by Desmond Tutu
This is a historic moment of opportunity for Africa. The continent has changed dramatically in the last decade and, with the right kind of support, can now take the lead in ending its history of poverty and conflict. Starting tomorrow, the leaders of the G-8 - the world's richest industrialized nations - meet in Gleneagles, Scotland. A key part of their agenda will be to agree on how to provide that support.
Why focus on Africa? When British Prime Minister Tony Blair launched the Commission for Africa last year, he called the continent "a scar on the conscience of the world" - unique in being the only region where people are poorer than they were 30 years ago. More than 40 million African children will never set foot inside a classroom. More than half the population live on less than a dollar a day. Poverty is being exacerbated by the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, lack of basic services, corruption and poor governance, violence, and a technology deficit.
Yet Africa is showing signs of hope that need to be grasped. The number of elected governments is growing; there are fewer civil wars. A number of countries have enviable growth rates. And perhaps most important, through the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), African governments are showing the kind of leadership necessary to take this progress further.
Rich countries must respect what NEPAD and other such groups have accomplished, and they must end the harm done by their own policies and practices - from trade-distorting agricultural subsidies to the stripping of resources.
Much has already been achieved. It is right to give thanks and credit where they are due. By establishing the Commission for Africa, which reported in March, and by making Africa one of the overriding themes of Britain's current presidency of the G-8, Tony Blair has put this subject at the top of the international agenda. President George W. Bush has rightly pointed out that U.S. aid to sub-Saharan Africa has been tripled following commitments at the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2002, and the European Union has pledged to double its development assistance to poor countries by 2010 which would mean an extra $20 billion a year for Africa.
Most recently, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow urged and won agreement from their G-8 partners for 100 percent debt relief for the $40 billion owed by the world's 18 poorest countries. Here, too, Blair and Bush deserve credit for setting the strategic framework, and I take heart from the enthusiastic response of Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, to this important initiative.
Nevertheless, as significant as this is, by itself it will not be enough. To realize the full benefit of debt relief, we need follow-through.
First, as recommended by the Commission for Africa, there should be an immediate increase in smarter and more streamlined aid of $25 billion annually, with a further comparable increase after five years depending on the near-term results. This is not a figure plucked out of the air. It is the minimum needed to confront the most urgent problems of hunger, disease and poverty, and to begin to encourage development based on access to education and technology, environmental sustainability, conflict prevention and resolution, and the fostering of entrepreneurship.
The Commission for Africa's report, which will form the basis of the G-8 discussion, tackles head-on issues such as poor governance and corruption, and makes clear that increased aid will have to go hand-in-hand with improvements in governance, transparency and accountability. In my own country of South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki felt obliged recently to dismiss Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who had been implicated in a financial corruption scam. This demonstrates how seriously President Mbeki takes the call for transparent and accountable government that will not tolerate corruption.
Second, we need to deepen the commitment to trade and development goals begun in the current World Trade Organization round of talks, so that tariff- and quota-free access to rich markets can be opened to agricultural and other products from the poorest countries.
Failed countries and regions are breeding grounds for disaffection and violence. We live in an interdependent world, and what happens in Africa will affect all of us. This opportunity must be seized, and the time is now.
Desmond Tutu is the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. He won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1984.
© 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer