Global Policy Forum

G8 Leaders Rebuff Africa's Request


By Barrie McKenna

Globe and Mail
June 11, 2004

The leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized countries spent their final day on the posh beach resort of Sea Island, Ga., meeting with a delegation of African leaders looking for help in coping with the region's chief problems of war, disease and poverty. The African leaders made an emotional plea, not just for debt relief, but for sweeping debt cancellation. But this was rebuffed by the G8, which offered instead a two-year extension of the so-called "heavily indebted poor countries initiative,' or HIPC.

But activists and some African leaders immediately dismissed those efforts as grossly inadequate. "All African debt needs to have relief, otherwise whatever we do in other areas will amount to eroding from what we need to have in terms of a flow of resources to be able to move Africa forward," Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told reporters after the meeting.

The G8 (Canada, the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Russia) also called on the Sudanese government to immediately disarm the militias that are preying on refugees around Darfur. The G8's promise to extend HIPC for two years comes just six months before the program was slated to run out. Created in 1996, HIPC's goal was to wipe out $100-billion (U.S.) of debt for countries that could show they were managing their finances. The program is less than a third of the way to that goal. "We are committed to fully implementing the HIPC initiative and to supporting debt sustainability in the poorest countries through debt relief and grant financing," the G8 leaders said in a statement.

The leaders also offered a vague promise of "topping up where appropriate" HIPC, without specifying a sum, and offered to "consider measures that can further help the poorest countries address the sustainability of their debt." So far, 27 countries have qualified for the debt-relief program, 23 of them from Africa.

The G8 moves disappointed activists, who wanted a specific target for replenishing HIPC with new commitments of funds and a nod to eventual 100-per-cent debt reduction. Irungu Houghout, a policy adviser with Oxfam International, complained that the G8 leaders had spent "way too much attention on Iraq," leaving just a couple of hours for Africa as "an afterthought."

In a statement laying out their reform proposal for the Middle East, the G8 leaders said they would work with governments, business and grassroots groups in the Middle East and North Africa "to strengthen freedom, democracy and prosperity for all." But they added that "successful reform depends on the countries in the region, and change should not and cannot be imposed from outside."

The G8's sweeping democracy plan for the Middle East shows how quickly leaders can move when there is political will, said Jamie Drummond, executive director of DATA, an organization created by rock star Bono. "We've seen what they can do when they want to," he said.

Next year's G8 summit host will be British Prime Minister Tony Blair and it will be held at Scotland's luxurious Gleneagles Hotel. Billed as a Riviera in the Highlands when it was opened in 1924, the sprawling hotel catered to the high society and until 1982 it opened only in the summer months for the traditional grouse-shooting season.

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
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More Information on Poverty and Development in Africa


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