Africa seeks seat at G8-G20

2010-06-25 19:29

Toronto - Every year they come back, a small hand-picked group of African leaders, invited to represent their troubled continent at the G8 summit of the world's most powerful nations.

Every year they hold brief talks, get their photographs taken with their G8 colleagues on the manicured lawns of a picturesque conference venue and leave with promises of billions of dollars in aid - much of it never paid.

On the face of it, Friday's "African Outreach" meeting at the Toronto G8 meeting should follow the pattern, but this year African campaigners are hoping to secure a firmer platform from which to make themselves heard.

"We'd like to see the African Union chairman make a clear demand that they should have permanent representation at the G20," said Soren Ambrose, an aid expert and Kenya-based representative of the agency ActionAid.

The G20, which includes the established G8 powerhouses and the biggest economies of the developing world, is gradually taking the place of its more exclusive predecessor as the main global economic forum.

Of Africa's 53 countries only South Africa has a seat at the G20 table, and other leaders are invited to yearly G8 gatherings on an ad hoc basis according to the preferences of the host nation, in this case Canada.

This year presidents Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi, Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia got the call.

Unfulfilled promises

But, having no permanent G8 status, African officials are not so involved in the diplomatic legwork that goes on between summits and have only a few weeks or months to prepare their case before the big meeting, Ambrose argued.

This may be part of the reason why so many promises made at previous years' summits have only been partly fulfilled.

Campaigners lobbying leaders in Toronto cite official estimates that only between three and four fifths of the overseas development aid pledged at the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit has actually been paid.

This represents a shortfall of between eight and $20bn.

With governments in the developed world faced with mounting deficits in the wake of their own financial slowdown, campaigners are not hopeful of winning massive new offers of aid.

Instead they are pressing for existing promises to be fulfilled, and on specific issues such as an appeal for aid for mothers and children, to halt what Oxfam claims are 350 000 unnecessary deaths per year.

"While it's encouraging to see more African representation at these summits, it remains to be seen whether this will result in a new deal for Africa's mothers and children," said Zimbabwean World Vision campaigner Sue Mbaya.

The rich world summiteers will doubtless look at low-cost primary health options for mothers, but they also have their own concerns about Africa.

No handouts

Europe fears new security threats from its southern neighbour, like Somali pirates attacking shipping, Saharan rebels kidnapping Western travellers or Nigerian students boarding airliners with bombs down their pants.

On the eve of the Friday's summit in Toronto, EU President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters: "The EU Africa relationship is a priority for us, and we insist particularly on EU commitment to peace and security in Africa."

"We will continue to support African efforts with three concrete actions. Capacity building, co-operation to fight security threats and particularly terrorism and disarmament for small and light weapons," he said.

Meanwhile, Africa's most populous nation Nigeria insists the continent has not come to the summit cap-in-hand to beg for handouts, but to promote itself as an equal partner and as a destination for private sector investment.

"What is required is massive investment by the private sector within Nigeria and internationally," Jonathan told Canadian business leaders.

"This is not the time to sit back and await further development because you may lose the opportunity of being a pioneer investor."