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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: The G8 and Africa: From Okinawa to Heiligendamm by Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari

TO argue that Africa has not been a priority of the G8 meetings and summits is understating the obvious, not least when we look at the intentions and statements that have been emanating from this informal organisation since the 2000 Summit in Okinawa, Japan.

The Okinawa summit remains a vital reference point: firstly, because it was the first time that African heads of state were invited to the G8 Summit in order to make the case for Africa.

This was pertinent because Presidents Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo and Abdel-Assiz Bouteflika made the case for debt cancellation in line with the Sirte Declaration of 1999 as a key aspect of a "Marshall Plan for Africa."

These were accepted in the form of NEPAD at the 2002 G8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada.

It is also worth noting that subsequent to Kananaskis, Tony Blair announced that he would be the advocate of NEPAD, having correctly stated at a Labour Party conference in 2001: "The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world.

But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it.

And if we don't, it will become deeper and angrier."

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it signalled and laid the groundwork for what became a consistent concern and engagement with the fate of the African continent, notably debt cancellation and development aid.

In light of this ongoing engagement with Africa, Germany assumed at the start of the year the presidency of the G8 with a clear agenda, which is one of continuity with regard to the place of Africa in the world.

To give more substance and weight to the G8 German presidency, political rock-stars and other prominent personalities - of course on the margins, in the company of Anti-globalisation protesters - will crowd the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm from the 6-8 June 2007 for the G8 Heads of States and government Summit.

Indications are that the German presidency, (just like the pro-Africa G8 British presidency of 2005 in Gleneagles) will carry a positive message of hope and confidence for the people of the African continent.

This is crucial to regain the momentum lost last year when Africa was relegated to the margins of the G8 summit in St Petersburg, Russia.

Thus, the cardinal aid issue will once again be on the agenda to underline the 'nanny attitude' that the G8 has taken with regard to Africa.

As a footnote, not that we should have as citizens a problem with the 'nanny attitude' since the reality is that Africa cannot take care of itself, even when it can; be it in the form of statements or initiative on the part of South Africa to use its March 2007 Presidency of the United Nations Security Council to argue the case for urgent action in Darfur, condemning the genocide or dealing with the worsening human rights situation in Zimbabwe etc.

But of particular interest here is - in addition to the usual demands for good governance and democracy - is the call for Africa to exercise more sovereignty with regard to the management of its natural resources.

Additionally, we need to accentuate the critique of China at the recent Potsdam G8 Finance Ministers meeting which fingered China as locking Africa in a new vicious cycle of debt with carrots (rather sticks) in the form of low-interests loans.

In essence, the link here is inevitably drawn between China's conquest of Africa's natural resources in exchange for much needed cash in some of the resource-rich, but cash-strapped African states.

In that regard, the G8 Finance ministers meeting called (having China in mind) for responsible investments in Africa.

Without diluting the gravity of the message or exonerating China on the merit of this critique, such a call is curious and even hypocritical.

It is particularly hypocritical, analytically that is, when we consider that much of Africa's underdevelopment occurred at the hands of Western colonialism and imperialism.

However, this does not suggest that China's economic development should occur at the expense of Africa's development, even if it seems the case at present.

Secondly, it is curious because the members of the G8 are far from meeting their own commitments in terms of increasing development aid as a percentage of GDP by the year 2010.

The G8 ignores in the process, the temptation that exist for African countries to go for low-interest loans from China in exchange for a mortgage of their natural resources.

But the G8 as an informal organisation is not crucial per se, apart from its directive declarations and statements since it has no secretariat or any capacity to enforce or follow up on the declarations of the member states.

This in itself does point to another problem: despite the fact that Africa's developmental challenge has been a crucial axe of the G8 since Okinawa, many of the good intentions that have flown from this discussions have not yet been concretised in terms of discernable outcomes on the ground on the part of the member states.

To date, ever since increasing developmental aid was made a building block to exit Africa from the morass of poverty, only the United Kingdom and Japan have made significant strides in meeting their aid commitments.

In a nutshell, the members of the G8 are far from meeting their commitments in terms of doubling development aid to Africa by the year 2010.

As a consequence, the G8 based on its members' inability to stick to their commitments is likely to suffer from a credibility crisis.

Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari is a PhD fellow in Political Science at the University of Paris Panthéon Sorbonne, France.

This article was first published by The Namibian ( on June 1, 2007

Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

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