By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008
RUSUTSU, Japan, July 9 -- The United States and other members of the Group of Eight industrialized countries this week reiterated their commitment to doubling aid to Africa by 2010, seeking to assuage growing concern that they will miss the ambitious targets they set three years ago in Gleneagles, Scotland.
They promised to create a global partnership of governments and nonprofits to address the food crisis that threatens to wipe out recent gains on the continent. They instituted new "accountability" procedures to ensure that wealthy countries fulfill their promises of aid to Africa. And they issued a sharply worded statement questioning the legitimacy of the government of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
Much of the public focus of the summit was on global warming. On Tuesday, G-8 leaders pledged efforts for a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. On the same day, China, India, Brazil and other developing countries offered a competing plan, saying in a statement that not all countries could adopt such a target and that developed countries must bear the burden as the biggest polluters.
But how to address Africa's disease, poverty and political strife also ranked as an important theme at the gathering, which ended Wednesday. To emphasize these issues, the G-8 leaders had invited seven African heads of state and government to deliberate with them at the gathering, held at a Japanese resort.
Africa has been a particular interest for President Bush, and his aides pronounced themselves pleased by progress at the summit, particularly new initiatives to train health workers, address tropical disease and provide 100,000,000 mosquito nets to help prevent malaria. With U.S. prodding, the G-8 also released reports detailing progress -- or lack of it -- that African countries have made in meeting health and anti-corruption goals.
"The lesson of this summit is that the emphasis is on implementation and on delivery," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "The emphasis is on turning words into action and making them far more concrete than ever they have been in the past."
Before leaving Japan for Washington, Bush also hailed "progress on alleviating sickness in Africa." He told reporters that "we had a comprehensive agenda on helping those who are being affected by disease live healthy lives."
But many nonprofit and advocacy groups that sent people to observe the summit were more critical. Many expressed alarm over recent studies showing that the G-8 will probably miss its overall development goals unless it dramatically steps up efforts. The United States is not viewed as in danger of missing its target, but many activists think it is not doing enough relative to its wealth and size.
There were also signs that the U.S. demand of accountability on aid assistance is rubbing some allies the wrong way. Fabrice Ferrier, who works for a nongovernmental group in France, said there is a belief the United States sometimes wants to measure only those areas in which it measures up well. Others saw the final G-8 language on accountability as relatively modest.
Kel Currah of World Vision International, a Christian relief and development organization, applauded the U.S. initiative but said the bigger problem is that issues such as AIDS and food demand more money than the Group of Eight is willing to consider.
"Accountability is good," Currah said. But accountability for low aid numbers "is not going to achieve the desired impact we are all looking for. We need more money."
One senior U.S. official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, acknowledged resistance from some countries over accountability but said this year is only a start.
"You might say it doesn't sound like a lot, but we think we worked to really embed the idea of G-8 accountability," he said. He noted that the G-8 for the first time spelled out a five-year time frame for spending $60 billion to combat AIDS and other diseases in Africa; last year, it promised the money but was vague about how long it would take to spend it.
A more fundamental concern among activists and experts on Africa is whether the passion has disappeared from the G-8 effort on the continent.
Several said the collective effort on addressing the food crisis was tepid, compared to the problem: While G-8 leaders said this week they have committed $10 billion to addressing the issue, the cost is likely to be much greater, according to Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, a coalition of U.S. nonprofits focused on world poverty.
"The good news is that the World Bank is beginning to try to lead a process, but to some extent we are treating the food crisis as an expansion of business-as-usual, as opposed to really leading a new effort," Worthington said in a telephone interview from Washington.
One problem is expectations. Almost anything the G-8 does these days will pale compared with what was done at Gleneagles, where the industrialized countries committed themselves to dramatically increase assistance to Africa, said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"In retrospect, the targets they agreed to at Gleneagles appear to have been a stretch," he said in a telephone interview. "Several of the member governments simply are not going to meet their targets. The commitments were unrealistic with good intentions."
But, he said, concluding that there has been a serious failure misses "the bigger story -- which is the core of African governments are doing pretty well."