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Africa Vies for G-8's Ear

June 27, 2002

Urgent though their agenda is, the leaders of five African nations are going to have a hard time keeping discussion focused on their continent's needs when they meet today in the Canadian Rockies with the leaders of the world's seven top industrial nations and Russia. Since last year's gathering of these rich nations--known as the Group of Eight--the Middle East has erupted in mayhem and terrorists have hammered the free world. There are indications that the United States wants the G-8 nations to concentrate on those topics. We encourage them to find time for Africa too.

Four of every 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $1 a day. Africa's share in world trade amounts to less than 2%. Illiteracy is widespread. Almost one-third of the population--about 200 million people--has no access to health services, and 25% of some countries' inhabitants are infected with HIV or have AIDS. Life expectancy is the lowest in the world and safe drinking water is scarce.

Last year's G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, triggered the creation of an "action plan" to help Africa. There's a good reason to find money for the plan this year: By recognizing that African nations must transform themselves and then play the key role in eradicating poverty, bolstering sustainable growth and spurring development, the plan makes sense.

Africa is the least democratic region in the world, with only nine of 53 countries extending basic political and civil liberties to citizens. Yet according to the World Bank, a number of repressive regimes like Cameroon, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea received significantly more aid money per capita than democratic states like Botswana, Mauritius and South Africa. The industrial world has grown weary of watching money used not for malnourished children with distended bellies but by corrupt leaders for chateaus in the South of France.

Under the new plan, only countries that achieve good governance, rule of law, economic growth and poverty reduction will receive more aid. Other rewards include market access and additional debt relief. The selection of recipients will be based on peer reviews by African countries.

Recognizing that democracy tends to flounder when people are being blown to bits, the plan also offers assistance in resolving the conflicts that cripple parts of the continent, along with money to remove land mines.

The G-8 nations need to look ahead. This self-help initiative would help Africa participate in the global economy before it becomes as big a preoccupation for the industrialized world as terrorism and the Middle East.

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