LONDON--As the delegates begin to arrive for the G8 conference, Britain’s media are fixated on the hundred or so foul-mouthed anarchists arrested in Edinburgh. But a far more important event in terms of African development happened yesterday although it was largely ignored by an increasingly entertainment-orientated media--the meeting and preparation of the final declaration produced by the African Union at their summit in Libya.
While appealing for the continent's debts to be wiped out, and calling for fairer terms of trade with the West, the AU spoke earnestly of their desire for better governance and transparency. While corruption is still rife in most African economies, the call was given weight by summit host and Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, who demanded of other African leaders that they "stop begging" for Western charity.
The final declaration, due out this afternoon is likely to urge the G8 to forgive all $350bn of African debt, not just the $40bn planned. The statement will also see a call for Africa to be given two permanent seats on the UN Security Council.
There is no chance that all African debt will be relieved, given that US, at the least, will not reward Governments that simply wasted funds, or spent them on armed suppression. And until the African Union takes a stand on Zimbabwe, as it has on Sudan, there is no chance of it being treated as a grown-up organization and given even one seat on the Security Council.
AU chairman and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told the delegates of the 53 African nations the continent was moving from a past of military coups to a future of good governance. Mr Obasanjo has his critics, but he is one of the few African leaders who seems to understand that African leaders have to do their part. He will be attending the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, and is set to argue that "massive" financial help from the West and debt relief for Africa will be supported with better governance. "This is not the time for a lot of talk but more of a time for serious and concerted action," he told the gathering in the town of Sirte, Libya.
Mr Obasanjo's speech contrasted sharply with Gaddafi’s, who said Africa should refuse all conditional aid and some offers of help from former colonial powers. In a truly remarkable speech that barely received any applause from other African leaders, the Libyan leader said: "We are not beggars at the doorsteps of the rich. If you give a poor man money, you don't ask him to change his clothes or the way he prays."
Supporting the self-sufficient Gaddafi, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan added that most countries would prefer to trade themselves out of poverty rather than live on handouts. He demanded the end to restrictive western trade quotas, subsidies and tariffs so that the countries of Africa could compete more fairly.
Meanwhile, speaking to the French press, British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, echoed comments from President George Bush that the EU should abandon farm subsidies, since this would do far more for Africa than aid. The only apparent response from French President Jacques Chirac, allegedly overheard by a writer for Le Liberation newspaper, and reported in the British press today, was that British cooking was awful and the Brits were untrustworthy. It is perhaps unfortunate that Paris and London are fighting it out to host the 2012 Olympics; the rancor is barely beneath the surface. But at least it shifts the debate away from aid towards trade, which is the ultimate engine of growth.
And as I write, a conference of international business leaders and six African presidents is getting under way in London, charged with drawing up an action plan for development in Africa to present to the G8 summit. Perhaps the French ‘non’ to subsidy removal will finally be the embarrassment to Chirac it should have been for the past decade.
Roger Bate is a resident fellow at AEI.