Recession pinches G8 Africa aid

by Mariko Yasumoto

Kyodo News

Africa shared top billing with climate change at last year’s Group of Eight summit, but the global financial crisis has since undermined developed nations’ efforts to meet the financial commitments they made to the continent.

Advocacy groups say assistance from the G8 is needed more than ever. Africa has been badly affected by the financial meltdown, with economies dragged down by high food and fuel prices, as well as declines in private capital and remittances from overseas.

The presence of the G8 — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia — in the area of development risks is declining at a time when Brazil, China and India are playing an increasingly prominent role in assisting Africa in terms of aid and technological support.

“Now is the time when the G8 should increase aid to poor nations” that have fallen victim to the economic crisis the developed nations caused, said Takumo Yamada, advocacy manager of nongovernmental organization Oxfam Japan.

“The already lackluster G8 framework will lose further ground in strength and dignity,” he warned.

Kae Yanagisawa, an Africa specialist at the state-backed Japan International Cooperation Agency, echoed Yamada’s view.

“It is the responsibility of rich countries to stabilize their economies and help Africa, as they are the ones that caused the global chaos,” Yanagisawa said.

This year’s summit will be held for three days from next Wednesday in the Italian city of L’Aquila.

The campaign to end world poverty and offer aid to Africa gained momentum last year, especially thanks to Japan, which hosted the G8 summit and the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development.

But the momentum did not last, as most of the major powers fell into recession last autumn and suffered a credit crunch in the wake of the fall of investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Since taking office last September, Prime Minister Taro Aso has implemented a set of economic measures in an attempt to boost Japan’s flagging economy. Until a week before the summit, he made little mention of aid to Africa nor demonstrated a commitment to reducing poverty.

However, he said Tuesday that Africa has been the region hardest hit by the crisis and that addressing poverty and famine on the continent “requires an urgent response.” Critics said this was merely an attempt to highlight his leadership prior to his debut on the international stage, and to dispel the view that his administration is already a lame duck.

Meanwhile, Italy, which as host of this year’s summit pledged to put Africa at the forefront of the G8 agenda, has actually cut back on its aid to the region.

Despite improvement in some areas of Africa’s development, the situation as a whole remains bleak and the number of people suffering from famine is clearly “picking up,” said Masaki Inaba, director of global health at the Tokyo-based Africa Japan Forum.

“Africa’s economic structure, which depends heavily on exports of primary commodities, has also kept it vulnerable to economic fluctuations,” Inaba said. “Remittances from migrant workers overseas have also dropped sharply because of the recession.”

Despite such a precarious situation, the groups say some G8 countries are not increasing their aid to the continent.

International antipoverty group ONE, which is led by Bono, the lead singer of rock band U2, criticized the G8 nations for the sluggish pace in fulfilling the commitments they made to Africa at the 2005 Gleneagles summit.

According to ONE, the G8 nations have only delivered one-third of the official development assistance they pledged to Africa by 2010.

The developed countries promised to increase annual aid to all developing nations by $50 billion by 2010, $25 billion of which was to be allocated to Africa.

ONE accuses Italy and France in particular of “performing poorly” in terms of their aid to Africa and claims they are responsible for 80 percent of the shortfall. On the other hand, the group has commended Britain and Germany for pushing hard to meet even more ambitious goals than those set out.

Canada, Japan and the U.S. are on track to meet the targets, but the goals were “relatively modest” in the first place, ONE said.

Separate from the Gleneagles pledge, Japan vowed at TICAD in May 2008 under then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to double its assistance to Africa by 2012 from the current $900 million.

Although Japan’s economy has yet to recover from the recession, Yanagisawa of JICA said Tokyo remains committed and will likely achieve the target. But she warned assistance to other developing countries outside Africa could decline as a result.

Aid groups also stress that what Africa really requires from the major economies is more private capital and trade, which would help the continent attain sustainable growth.

However, the recession has discouraged Japanese companies from investing in Africa while they grapple with decreasing revenues and mounting losses.

According to the government-affiliated Japan External Trade Organization, Japan’s direct investment in Africa, which has been on the rise during the past several years, is projected to log a hefty decline in the January-March quarter.

Critics are meanwhile concerned about increasing moves by China, India and other emerging nations to acquire farmland in developing countries in a bid to ensure their own food supplies.

In a recent report, researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute warned that such land acquisition could threaten “people’s livelihoods and ecological sustainability” in the nations.

Aid groups do not expect the G8 to exploit Africa’s poor countries in such a manner in exchange for offering aid.

“Africa and development are now the only issues in which the G8 can display leadership,” said Inaba of Africa Japan Forum.