TOPICS : Divisions deepen over route to Africa

Sanjay Suri

Britain has declared that the development of Africa will be a priority at the G8 summit, but little agreement is in sight over the preferred aid route. British officials say that support for the International Finance Facility (IFF) proposed by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is rising. But there is no sign that the US will abandon or amend the aid programme under its Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) to adopt the IFF. The IFF seeks to frontload long-term donor commitments into providing the money in time for the Millennium Development Goals rather than later. Under the IFF money would be raised for the development of Africa from private investors through the sale of bonds on the capital markets. Binding aid commitments would provide security for the bonds. In effect governments would be borrowing from their future lending or grants in development aid. The money raised would be used for Africa, and the governments would use their annual aid budgets in later years to repay the capital value of the bonds.

The Treasury in London says investment in aid can more than recover this money. It says the IFF could increase development aid from the maximum of $16 billion a year committed by donor nations at the UN conference on financing for development in Monterrey in Mexico in 2002. Not least, it says the IFF is a way to ‘’lock’’ donors into promises made at the conference. The relatively low budget for official development aid by Italy and Germany among the G8 members could, however, limit the effectiveness of the IFF. The countries not on board the IFF initiative include the US, Canada and Japan among the G7 (the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan). Nobody expects Russia, whose recent inclusion turns G7 into G8 to be a major donor for Africa.

The US has taken a politically different approach to aid. Its MCA is more grant-based, but tied to commitments from receiving nations towards ‘’good governance, rooting out corruption, upholding human rights, and adherence to the rule of law.’’ The MCA stresses aid that promotes health and education, and economic policies that foster enterprise and entrepreneurship. That means among other things more open markets, while good governance means in effect support for the US-led war on terror. The MCA is also less Africa-centric.

President Bush announced in 2002 that the US will increase its core assistance to developing countries by 50 per cent over the next three years, resulting in a $5 billion annual increase over 2002 levels by financial year 2006. The US aid programme ties in closely with its political and economic interests, and there is no sign it is letting go of its plans ahead of the G8 summit. The different approaches have added up to another transatlantic divide, though divisions remain also within Europe. The official positions seem to be hardening around the present stand taken by different governments. The only debate that could bring a shift in positions is now expected at Gleneagles itself. —IPS