In Davos, spotlight turns to Africa

Alan Cowell – International Herald Tribune

DAVOS, Switzerland: After decades languishing as the last item on the global agenda, seemingly helpless to stem its own decline, Africa is poised this year for what the rock-star Bono called “its moment” – a time when the world will be pressed to provide the money and the will to reverse a continent’s slide.
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To reinforce the point Thursday at the World Economic Forum in this Swiss resort, an American billionaire, a former American president, a British prime minister, two African presidents and Bono himself took to the stage to drum home the point to an assembly of more than 2,000 of the world’s rich and powerful people.
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If their entreaties had a loud subtext, though, it was that the Bush administration will come under mounting pressure this year to underpin an effort to give Africa a new boost. Washington, that is, will be called upon to maintain its commitment to spending billions of dollars to counter AIDS and foster development and to expand the portion of its wealth that it spends on the continent.
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“The United States needs to move further up the table” of aid donors, as listed by the proportion of their overall wealth that they contribute to development aid, Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, said at a news conference. Gates, who has just announced a $750 million gift to help poor children gain access to vaccines, was speaking shortly before he, Bono and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain joined Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and the former U.S. president Bill Clinton at a public session that ranked as one of the heavyweight events here…
…This year, Prime Minister Blair has pledged to use his chairmanship of the G-8 wealthy nations and Britain’s forthcoming presidency of the EU to begin what he called Thursday “a big, big push forward.”
Africa’s battle with AIDS, poverty and decline were “so shocking that it almost defies our imagination,” he said.
“If what was happening in Africa happened in any other part of the world there would be such a scandal and clamor,” he said. “Africa is the one continent that has been going back over the last 30 years.”
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The response, Blair said, would come through increased aid, efforts to end African conflicts and moves to end official corruption and tyranny.
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It would also come through enhanced campaigns against killer diseases such as AIDS and malaria.
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One British idea, called the International Finance Facility, is to tap an extra $50 billion in development aid around the world by raising money in advance on global financial markets.
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Those themes are familiar but Westerners are hoping that African leaders will take charge of their destiny after a history of colonialism and cold war division. In changing some of its institutions to deal with its own social and economic problems, Obasanjo said, African leaders had shown that “we want to help ourselves.” But, he said, the levels of aid to deal with deficiencies in food, jobs, schools and health care were not enough.
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“We are getting aid, but what are we getting it for? We are getting aid when we have flood, disaster. We are not getting the critical mass of funds to make development possible,” he said.
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Not only that, but with conflicts in Darfur, Congo, Ivory Coast and other places, Mbeki said, “the priority we have set ourselves is to say: obviously we have to address matters of peace and stability on the continent, make sure that we end all these conflicts, because without that we don’t have development.”
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The issue is as much how to raise new money as how to ensure it is spent effectively at a time when western governments are preoccupied with matters such as the war in Iraq, nuclear policy in Iran and with disasters such as the Asian tsunami that threaten to divert aid from Africa.
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Moreover, Clinton said, while America’s business and political elite were beginning to pay more attention to Africa, “we have never created an effective political constituency” in support of the continent’s development needs.
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“It is never a voting issue” that politicians see as likely to determine whether they win elections, Clinton said.
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At the conference, President Jacques Chirac of France suggested a series of international taxes to raise money to combat AIDS and promote development – including a levy on money transfers into countries like Switzerland with strict banking secrecy laws.
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But that idea – which won some support from the financier George Soros on Thursday – did not seem to meet with much approval on the podium.
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Clinton warned against “us getting diverted into that instead of keeping people alive.” The issue of America’s keeping promises that President George W. Bush has already made seems likely to recur.
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The United States “should not retreat under the weight of these crushing budget deficits,” Bono said.
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Against that, Senator Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, said America led the world in Tsunami relief efforts and provided 60 percent of the world’s emergency food supplies.
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“We are the world’s single biggest resource of aid,” he said.
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Talk of the Tsunami disaster inspired Obasanjo to say that he had thought “the milk of human kindness had been sucked from humanity” by the world’s weariness with giving.
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But the generosity of the global charitable response to the Asian disaster “gives me courage, gives me hope and makes me feel that we can still make it.”
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Bono offered one more reason why the world should help. Around 40 percent of Africa’s people are Muslim, he said, and some African states risked becoming labeled failed states as Afghanistan was under the Taliban regime.
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“Africa is not the frontline of the war against terrorism,” he said. “But it could be soon.”
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< < Back to Start of Article DAVOS, Switzerland: After decades languishing as the last item on the global agenda, seemingly helpless to stem its own decline, Africa is poised this year for what the rock-star Bono called "its moment" - a time when the world will be pressed to provide the money and the will to reverse a continent's slide. . To reinforce the point Thursday at the World Economic Forum in this Swiss resort, an American billionaire, a former American president, a British prime minister, two African presidents and Bono himself took to the stage to drum home the point to an assembly of more than 2,000 of the world's rich and powerful people. . If their entreaties had a loud subtext, though, it was that the Bush administration will come under mounting pressure this year to underpin an effort to give Africa a new boost. Washington, that is, will be called upon to maintain its commitment to spending billions of dollars to counter AIDS and foster development and to expand the portion of its wealth that it spends on the continent. . "The United States needs to move further up the table" of aid donors, as listed by the proportion of their overall wealth that they contribute to development aid, Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, said at a news conference. Gates, who has just announced a $750 million gift to help poor children gain access to vaccines, was speaking shortly before he, Bono and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain joined Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and the former U.S. president Bill Clinton at a public session that ranked as one of the heavyweight events here. . For as long as it has been in decline, of course, much of Africa has been the object of earnest debate and handwringing, even as other regions of the world once known for their poverty struggled to gain niches in the global economy. The themes of poverty and disease have changed little, except to worsen. . This year, Prime Minister Blair has pledged to use his chairmanship of the G-8 wealthy nations and Britain's forthcoming presidency of the EU to begin what he called Thursday "a big, big push forward." . Africa's battle with AIDS, poverty and decline were "so shocking that it almost defies our imagination," he said. . "If what was happening in Africa happened in any other part of the world there would be such a scandal and clamor," he said. "Africa is the one continent that has been going back over the last 30 years."... see the entire article at the link below. .
http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/01/27/news/africa.html

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