In March, the US-Africa Trade Policy Working Group, a coalition of secular and faith-based non-governmental organizations based in Washington, D.C., prepared a statement calling on policy makers in powerful industrialized nations to adopt comprehensive and coherent policies to facilitate African development initiatives.
That statement, endorsed by 38 national organizations, called for systematic consultation with a broad cross-section of African societies to identify effective strategies for reducing poverty and facilitating broad-based, sustainable development in Africa. It also urged leaders to take coordinated action on multiple fronts: debt, aid, agriculture and food security, trade and investment, and conflict resolution.
In late June, the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States gathered in Denver for their annual economic summit, dubbed the "Summit of the Eight." At the conclusion of the meeting, the leaders issued a communique outlining their program of action for the next year. Thirteen of the document s ninety paragraphs were devoted to the elaboration of a new Partnership for Development in Africa.
The communique raised, but failed to address adequately, many of the key issues raised by the Trade Policy Working Group's statement:
Poverty reduction -- The leaders agreed to adopt a results- oriented approach to development policy, with the particular goal of combating extreme poverty. The Eight nations represented in Denver must demonstrate their commitment to this objective by bringing to future summits detailed, concrete assessments of the extent to which their initiatives have assisted African nations to reduce poverty. Such evaluations should examine the degree to which the fruits of economic growth are equitably distributed. Furthermore, the commitment to poverty reductions must be applied to all initiatives of the Eight, including trade and investment programs, and not simply development assistance.
Debt relief -- The Group of Seven (all of the Summit participants except Russia) issued an additional communique, entitled "Confronting Global Economic and Financial Challenges." This reiterated support for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, indicated that the Paris Club of creditor governments would participate more fully in the initiative, and called for the extinguishing of bilateral concessional debt. As welcome as these statements are, the leaders would have demonstrated more convincing commitment to debt reduction had they specifically agreed to provide additional resources for debt relief, to accelerate of the timetable for debt relief, and to adopt higher targets for bilateral debt reduction by members of the Paris Club. Furthermore, the communique does not propose any modification of the package of economic reforms which debtor nations must implement in order to be eligible for debt relief. In the past, such reforms have often spelled lower living standards for poor and marginalized households due to cuts in social investment, elimination of food price subsidies, currency devaluation, etc. The conditionalities of debt relief initiatives must not be allowed to thwart efforts to reduce poverty.
Aid -- Although the communique acknowledges an ongoing need for carefully targeted development assistance, the Eight made no commitment to increasing overall aid to Africa. A target figure (perhaps expressed as a percentage of GDP) would have been especially useful in encouraging the least generous donor nations (such as the United States) to increase their investment in human development in Africa. Alarmingly, the leaders decided to link development assistance to recipients success in carrying out necessary broad-based reforms. In spite of the communique's explicit recognition of the need to support democratic governance, respect for human rights, and sound public administration, it is likely that only specific economic policy changes will be considered to be necessary reforms. Indeed, US officials admitted that only a limited number of countries-- typically the more economically successful ones--were likely to meet this condition. Aid programs should instead be designed to foster the establishment of open, accountable, and participatory political processes capable of articulating economic and developmental policies with legitimacy and credibility. By making assistance conditional on the adoption of specific economic policies donor nations will promote external, rather than local, control of the economic agenda of the recipient nation.
Agriculture and food security -- The communique completely ignores agricultural development in Africa and mentions food security only as a potential target for development assistance. The Eight neglected an important opportunity to set targets for full implementation of the Marrakesh Decision which aims to mitigate the detrimental effects of the Uruguay Round on food security.
Trade and investment -- The leaders made commendable commitments to open their markets more fully to African products. Regrettably, they also endorsed the use of market access enhancements as carrots to motivate economic liberalization by African governments. African nations continue to operate at a disadvantage in the global market. Compelling them to abandon economic protection on the same schedule as powerful nations will perpetuate their disadvantaged status. Not all of the Summit participants shared the United States' enthusiasm for this approach, however. The European Union, in particular, noted that it has provided extensive preferential market access to African nations without demanding a quid pro quo.
Conflict resolution -- The Eight pledged to support African peacebuilding initiatives and to work through the United Nations to strengthen these efforts. The communique also includes a laudable commitment to securing a global ban on anti-personnel landmines. Unfortunately, the leaders were unable to report significant progress toward the fulfillment of the similar commitment they undertook last year in Lyon. The Eight passed up an important opportunity to offer an unambiguous endorsement of the Ottawa process, which is working toward the completion of a multilateral ban on landmines in December 1997. In the absence of such a clear commitment, protracted negotiations may delay an effective ban indefinitely.
Broad participation -- Summit leaders made a welcome commitment to deepen the dialogue with African partners, work for greater local ownership of development strategies and encourage the participation of non-governmental actors. However, by holding development assistance hostage to economic reform, the Eight more effectively stifle dialogue and preclude partnership. This pledge would have had more credibility had US officials, in particular, made any serious effort to consult with African NGOs prior to the Summit. Nonetheless, Africa advocates are looking forward to seeing more vigorous pursuit of this objective during the coming year. In order to permit proper evaluation of the progress toward this goal, the Eight should recount their contacts with African NGOs in detail when preparing the reports they are expected to submit prior to next year s summit.
For more information on the Summit of the Eight and previous economic summits, see the University of Totonto's G7 Information Centre Web Site: http://utl2.library.utoronto.ca/www/g7/index.html.