WHAT DID the leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrial countries do last week while they skulked behind massive police protection at Kananaskis, deep in the Canadian Rockies? The British government had been busily briefing that they would deliver the 'Marshall Plan for Africa' that Tony Blair promised at the disastrous G8 summit in Genoa last year.
Four African leaders, headed by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, were invited to Kananaskis. They presented Mbeki's 'New Plan for African Development' (NEPAD), under which African governments are supposed to adopt neo-liberal economic policies and shun corruption in exchange for more aid. Obviously no one had told George W Bush.
He was more concerned with lecturing Americans on healthy living and concealing the trail of evidence leading from various crooked tycoons to the White House. The so called 'Africa action plan' agreed by the G8 amounted to the promise of an extra £6 billion a year in aid for Africa by 2006. Phil Twyford of Oxfam commented, 'They're offering peanuts to Africa-and recycled peanuts at that.'
According to the Guardian, 'African leaders expressed deep disappointment that the plan did nothing to open Western markets, cancel debts of the poorest countries or provide the financial aid needed to meet the UN's targets for tackling global poverty by 2015.' The plight of Africa is indeed desperate.
Giovanni Arrighi sums it up in the latest issue of New Left Review: 'In 1975 the regional GNP per capita of sub-Saharan Africa stood at 17.6 percent of 'world' GNP. By 1999 it had dropped to 10.5 percent. Life expectancy at birth now stands at 49 years, and 34 percent of the region's population are classified as undernourished. African infant-mortality rates were 107 per 1,000 live births in 1999, compared to 69 for South Asia and 32 for Latin America. Nearly 9 percent of sub-Saharan 15 to 49 year olds are living with HIV/AIDS-a figure that soars above that of other regions.'
The suffering of Africa's peoples is so great that it's easy to think that it would be an absolutely vast task to overcome it. But this isn't true. The World Health Organisation set up a commission headed by the economist Jeffrey Sachs to devise a programme drastically to reduce preventable deaths in the poorest countries, which are heavily concentrated in Africa. The commission worked out what it would cost to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
These aim to cut infant and child mortality by two thirds, to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters, to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to begin to wipe out malaria and other major diseases by 2015. The Sachs commission reckoned that hitting these targets-which would save millions of lives a year-would cost the rich countries $27 billion annually by 2007, and $38 billion a year by 2015, compared to the $6 billion they spent on health aid in 2001.
The $27 billion sum equals about 0.1 percent of the income of the rich countries. Currently they spend $53 billion, or 0.2 percent of national income, on aid to the Third World.
In 1970 the United Nations set an international target for development aid of 0.7 percent of national income. Not only are the rulers of the rich countries mean, but they extract a high price for their stingy aid. Condoleezza Rice, the right wing ideologue who advises Bush on national security, demanded that African regimes practise 'good governance' in exchange for increased US aid.
Western governments use Third World corruption as an alibi that lets them off the hook for the poverty that reigns in most of the world.
This is pretty bare faced cheek when you think of the campaign contributions that corporate fraudsters like the bosses of Enron and WorldCom poured into the coffers of US politicians.
What really worries Bush and Blair isn't corruption or even dictatorship. If they cared about democracy they would be taking action against the referendum that Pakistan's military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, now admits his agents fiddled, or against the farcical assembly that confirmed their creature Hamid Karzai as president of Afghanistan.
'Good governance' for Bush and Blair means regimes that toe the Western line internationally and open their economies up to the global corporations. As for Mbeki and the other sponsors of New Plan for African Development, all that is left for them is to scrabble in the dust for the few coppers their masters contemptuously fling at them.
Let's hope that the workers and poor people of Africa will soon develop the confidence to sweep these wretches away, and challenge the system that has brought them so much poverty and suffering.