- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

At the Group of Seven (G7) meeting today, Britain will be calling for a Marshall Plan-like rescue of Africa. The United States and other industrialized G7 countries will, as usual, be expected to pony up the cash. While some of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ideas for Africa are compelling, the industrialized world must keep in mind that only Africa can save Africa.

The recent African Union (AU) summit highlights some of the glaring shortcomings of governance. The summit produced a lofty-sounding communique that is far removed from the everyday troubles of most Africans. Unfortunately, that empty rhetoric also reflects a lack of progress on many of the continent’s escalating problems.

AU leaders did not find common strategies to battle health epidemics, stop civil wars, foster the spread of democracy or counter corruption. The leaders did manage, however, to sign a non-aggression and common-defense pact. In Africa — where raging conflicts are almost exclusively between factions within countries, not between countries — such a pact misses the point. Those conflicts, and health and economic crises, were caused by governments’ marginalization of certain groups for ethnic, religious or political reasons — whether the case be in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone or Rwanda. It also seems entirely unlikely that any foreign nation will be launching an attack on an African country. After signing the pact, nearly 40 heads of state left so hastily that an expected closing ceremony was cancelled.

African leaders should have focused on one of their most ruinous domestic aggressors: corrupt politicians. According to an AU report released in August, Africa loses about $148 billion a year (or 25 percent of its gross domestic product) to fraud. Even U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted Africa’s lack of progress on meeting its Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets that leaders agreed to in 2000 for reducing poverty, combating diseases and providing education. Africa “continues to suffer from the tragic consequences of deadly conflict and poor governance,” Mr. Annan said at the summit.

Of course, Mr. Annan also called for more aid and a debt write-off. Mr. Blair has made similar pleas. Their proposals only make sense if a debt write-off is linked with greater democracy, good governance and more innovative thinking. Clearly, if debt forgiveness is necessary, it is because aid has not been effective in lifting countries out of poverty. If aid is not delivered more effectively, by offering more grants rather than loans, as the Bush administration has proposed, another write-off will be necessary in years to come.

The African Union has made some noteworthy strides, including its peacekeeping operation in Liberia and its willingness to try to restore some stability to Sudan. The report revealing the $148 billion in graft represents a step toward transparency.

But G7 members must be careful today to work toward empowering Africans to help themselves, rather than sink the continent deeper into debt and dependency.

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