Africans, Allies Call for New Rules on G-8 Pledges

Top industrialized countries have been in a generous mood when hosting African countries at recent annual summits, pledging billions of dollars for everything from AIDS drugs and tuberculosis treatment to training peacekeepers.

But the Africans and their allies say they haven't been keeping their promises.

Group of Eight nations opened their summit in northern Japan on Monday with a discussion with eight African leaders over the progress in aid increases to the continent — and how far the wealthy countries have fallen short.

On the agenda was a proposal to set up some kind of mechanism within the G-8 to measure progress in fulfilling pledges and hold them to their word, said leaders and aid groups.

"When the G-8 leaders make various commitments, it's important to have a monitoring system," said World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who joined the talks Monday. "I think countries need to deliver on their promises, and that was the tone that was generally set in the discussion."

The G-8 — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia — have been making a lot of well-publicized promises at their summits.

At the meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July 2005, the group laid out an ambitious plan to boost aid to Africa by $25 billion a year by 2010 — more than doubling aid to the continent compared to 2004.

Last year in Heiligendamm, Germany, the G-8 followed that up with a $60 billion pledge to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in Africa.

Critics say wealthy nations haven't followed the generous words with enough action.

ONE, an aid group founded by U2 frontman Bono, calculated that the G-8 had delivered only U$3 billion of the additional $25 billion for Africa and that development assistance for agriculture — increasingly important because of rising food prices — had fallen as a percentage of total aid from 1980 to 2004.

A ONE report said much more needed to be done. A plan to stop tuberculosis has been "significantly underfunded," it said, and 33 million African children still do not have access to school. Antiretroviral Therapy for HIV/AIDS sufferers was available to only 30 percent of Africans needing it — far short of the 80 percent goal.

Activists on Monday urged the G-8 to restate their 2005 targets in the communique to come out of the summit when it ends on Wednesday.

"They must not break this promise to the world and Africa," said Max Lawson of the aid group Oxfam. "For rich countries, this is peanuts. For Africa, this is life and death."

Charles Abani, regional director for Oxfam in Nigeria, said one problem was that countries recycle pledges, announcing aid in one area such as education, and then moving the same money to another area to meet new demands — meaning the total amount of money promised does not increase.

"This whole business of announcing and reannouncing the same sums of money in different configurations ... seems to be a habit now," he said, calling for a mechanism "to get us to a point where we can work out when people are recommitting the same money that they've committed time and time again."

Economic problems in wealthy nations have drained some enthusiasm for meeting African aid goals. Oxfam officials said that budgetary problems, for example, prompted France to cut its official development assistance by $66 million in 2007.

An official in Sarkozy's office, however, said Monday it was unfair to talk about broken French aid promises in the context of Gleneagles because donors still have two years to meet their goals and Paris was still crafting its coming budget.

However, he argued against reiterating the 2005 African aid pledge in this year's communique.

"We don't need to repeat it every year," said the official on condition of anonymity, citing protocol. "It hasn't been put into question."

Still, some G-8 countries were willing to set up a system to hold them to their promises.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among leaders who proposed that top Africa advisers in each G-8 country track promises and periodically compare notes with African countries on compliance, the Sarkozy aide said. Aid groups said Japan had floated a similar proposal for aid goals.

"The good thing about the discussion was that it became quite clear that the Africans want to take their fate more and more into their own hands," Merkel said. "But they also demand that we fulfil our promises and keep on helping them."