Africans must not rely on the so-called millennium goals

Published on Pambazuka, by Cameron Duodu, Sept. 23, 2010.

Instead of falling for the rhetoric around the UN development goals, Cameron Duodu argues that Africa should gauge the true commitment of rich countries to ending poverty on the continent by looking to the past. In this area, the G8 has been sorely lacking, he says.

In the next few days, many sweet words will once again be issued from the UN about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa, given the special summit being held in New York … // 

… For instance, figures were at times badly stated in today’s money and had not taken account of how inflation had eaten into them since they were pledged five years ago. The ‘most important pledge of all the G8’s promises,’ Sachs wrote, was ‘the Gleneagles one which stated that by 2010, they would increase the yearly development assistance to the world’s poor, by $50bn, relative to 2004. Half of the increase, or $25bn per year, would go to Africa, the G8 said.’

But the G8, says Sachs, ‘fell far short of this goal, especially with respect to Africa… Aid to Africa rose by $10bn-$15bn per year, rather than $25bn. The properly measured shortfall is even greater, because the promises that were made in 2005 should be adjusted for inflation. Re-stating those commitments in real terms…aid to Africa should have risen by around $30bn. In effect, the G8 fulfilled only half of its promise to Africa – roughly $15bn in increased aid rather than $30bn.’

You see why I am surprised at the optimism with which Sachs views the possibilities opened by the UN summit on the MDGs? People’s future behaviour is usually predicated upon their past behaviour. If, in spite of the hopes aroused by the G8 at Gleneagles to, in the words of one of the campaigning groups, ‘make poverty history’, only 50 per cent of aid pledged to Africa materialised, why should anyone take what the G8 say at the New York summit seriously?

One of the more penetrating observations made by Sachs in his accounting of G8 pledges of aid and delivery, was his detection of the fact that ‘much’ of the overall G8 increase in aid ‘went to Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of the US-led war effort, rather than to Africa’.

(However, in case anyone is tempted to believe that any country that wants increased aid would be best advised to invite the US to invade it, the true situation should be known: much of the ‘aid’ to Iraq and Afghanistan usually goes into the pockets of American companies which carry out contract work for the US military. The rest mainly consists of arms to the client governments of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is wrongly classified as ‘aid’, because, in Iraq, for instance, seven years after the Americans landed there, electricity has not been generally restored and health facilities and schools bombed to the ground remain in that state.)

Expanding on his charge that the G8 manipulate aid figures, Sachs describes what is in effect a sleight of hand by the G8 (though he fails to call the practice by its correct name). He writes:

‘Since the G8 was off track in its aid commitments for many years, I long wondered what the G8 would say in 2010, when the commitments actually fell due. In fact, the G8 displayed two approaches. First, in an “accountability report”, the G8 stated the 2005 commitments in current dollars rather, than in inflation-adjusted dollars, in order to minimise the size of the reported shortfall.

‘Second, the G8…simply did not mention the unmet commitments at all. In other words, the G8 accountability principle became: if the G8 fails to meet an important target, stop mentioning the target – a cynical stance, especially at a summit (Canada 2010) heralded for “accountability.”’

Sachs adds: ‘The G8 did not fail because of the current financial crisis. Even before the crisis, the G8 countries were not taking serious steps to meet their pledges to Africa.’ Giving praise where praise is due, Sachs points out that this year, despite a ‘massive budget crisis, the UK government has heroically honoured its aid commitments, showing that other countries could have done so if they had tried.’

What this situations tells every government in Africa is that they must understand, even more clearly than before, that we in Africa are our own saviours and that we should stop spending money on stupid things, such as purchasing luxury aircraft for presidential flights, while our children are dying from curable diseases, or from sheer malnutrition.

I noticed that recently precious money was expended in Ghana to hold a conference to ‘brand Ghana’. Even as the conference was taking place, a correspondent who visited Ghana five years ago went back to see the progress that had been made since his last visit. He chose to visit a little girl who was born exactly five years ago … (full long text).

Link (updated later): See also South Africa and the MDGs: Talking left, walking right, on Pambazuka (formerly on IPS), by Patrick Bond, Sept. 23, 2010. /67185

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