ESSEN, Germany :Proponents of debt relief and increasing aid to Africa had high hopes for this weekend’s Group of Seven meeting. The group’s final statement on 10 February made little mention of the continent, but the hopes remain.
Finance officials from the G-7 said they agreed to “develop together with African partners— an action plan that includes a joint reform strategy” aimed at promoting effective and transparent budget processes to ease the specter of years of corruption.
The group —Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — said it discussed financial governance in Africa and how it can be used “in channeling resources to their most productive use.”However, missing were concrete proposals for expanding the amount of aid and debt relief already agreed on by the G-8—the G-7 plus Russia—which was an aim laid out in policy speeches at last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Critics denounced what they said was a cursory mention of Africa’s plight. Gordon Brown, Britain’s Treasury chief and the likely successor to Prime Minister Tony Blair, had been expected to use the gathering to promote more action on the G-7’s promises of increasing aid for education in developing countries.“It is unacceptable for the G-7 to talk about responsibility in Africa whilst reneging on their own promises to increase aid,” said Max Lawson, a senior policy adviser for Oxfam International. “What is needed is more urgency and less excuses.”
“G-7 ministers did not focus on the immediate needs of extremely poor countries this weekend,” said Oliver Buston, the European director of Debt, AIDS and Trade in Africa, or DATA, which has worked with musicians Bono and Bob Geldof to provide help to Africa.“Without strong German leadership on aid to Africa, there is a real risk that Chancellor (Angela) Merkel’s promise to focus on Africa at the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm will deliver little for the poorest people on the planet,” he added.
Merkel pledged that Germany would keep Africa in focus when it took over the presidency of the G-8 last month. And German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck said that several African countries would be invited to an informal G-7 meeting in April in Potsdam. “African issues will play a significant role on our agenda,” he said.
Russian Finance Minister Alexi Kudrin told The Associated Press that his country, while not a G-7 member, has written off more than US$700 million in debt owed to it by poor nations, including African countries. “Often we write the money off, but people (in those countries) don’t see this money— they don’t feel the benefit to their country,” he said. “The effectiveness of such support must be reflected in concrete steps.”