Sunday, 14 October 2007

G8 firm on Africa development aid

By Hugh Williamson in Addis Ababa

Published: October 4 2007 02:37 | Last updated: October 4 2007 02:37

German chancellor Angela Merkel will tell the African Union in Ethiopia on Thursday that the G8 group of rich nations is committed to meeting its aid pledges to the continent. This will include an increase in development assistance by $25bn by 2010, German officials said.

Speaking on the first leg of a five-day trip to Africa that also includes South Africa and Liberia, the German chancellor will try to counter scepticism among some African governments that the G8 has in the past too frequently broken such promises.

Germany has promoted Africa’s development as part of its G8 presidency this year but critics argue that promises at the summit in June in Heiligendamm, northern Germany, went little further than similar pledges – such as the $25bn aid goal – made at the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005. Since then Western aid spending on Africa has stagnated.

In separate talks in Addis Ababa with Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, the chancellor will raise human rights concerns over the violent crackdown on opposition supporters following elections in 2005.

The sensitivity of the issue was highlighted on Tuesday when the US House of Representatives backed a bill that would force Ethiopia to improve its record on democracy and human rights or risk losing substantial US aid.

Under Angela Merkel’s leadership, the G8 at Heiligendamm
• repeated a pledge from 2005 to increase aid to Africa by $25bn but refused to give a timetable, despite pressure from African countries

• offered to work towards giving $60bn for Aids and other diseases in Africa and elsewhere, without specifying deadlines or funding promises

• committed to “fostering investment and sustainable economic growth” in Africa via for instance micro-finance support and oil industry transparency initiative

• promoted “peace and security” in Africa via support for the African Union and conflict prevention.

• Pledges to be reviewed at G8 summit in Japan next year.

Sources: German government
Diplomats said Ms Merkel would use her visit to South Africa on Friday to urge president Thabo Mbeki to intervene in a dispute over Robert Mugabe’s possible participation at a European Union-Africa summit in December. Germany saw as unhelpful the comments last month by Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, when he threatened to boycott the summit if Mr Mugabe attends.

An advisor said that Ms Merkel: “is convinced the summit must go ahead” in order to reinforce the EU’s relations with Africa at a time of major advances by China on the continent. The chancellor will ask Mr Mbeki, to work on a diplomatic solution to the dispute over the Zimbabwe president’s summit role.

The first major Africa visit by Ms Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schröder came after five years in office. Ms Merkel – who came to power in 2005 – wants to use the visit to add to her international reputation but also highlight Germany’s long-term and changing strategic interest in Africa.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, German development minister told the Financial Times: “The message [of the trip] is to make clear that Germany remains interested in Africa after Heiligendamm - we are interested in a sustainable partnership”.

Stefan Mair, Africa expert at Berlin’s SWP foreign affairs think-tank, says there is growing common ground between Germany’s approach to Africa, and those of Britain and France, countries with deeper historical and geo-political interests in the continent.

Berlin’s approach is still more based on an ethical commitment to supporting the world’s least developed continent via development projects, but the last five years have seen a “lessening of the differences”, he says.

External trends likely to be addressed by Ms Merkel – including concerns over terrorism, uncontrolled migration, energy security and climate change - have played a role in this shift, as has Berlin’s reach for more power on the world stage via a UN Security Council seat. “Germany cannot succeed without Africa’s political support in this process”, Mr Mair says.

A senior member of Ms Merkel’s government, who declined to be named, welcomed this change. “Africa has traditionally featured in Germany when catastrophes occur – unlike in Britain and France, where the continent is an ever-present [in foreign policy]”.

Despite differences over Zimbabwe, Ms Merkel has bonded quickly with Mr Brown on Africa - for instance working together on a new health aid initiative - but she is more circumspect towards Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, her aide argues, following the mixed messages emerging from his first few months in power.

The French president has promised to make Africa both a French foreign policy priority and an emblem of change from the era of his predecessor Jacques Chirac, but analysts question whether things are that different, noting that Mr Sarkozy’s first stop in Africa as president was to see Omar Bongo, the autocratic ruler of Gabon for the last 40 years.

Business leaders travelling with the chancellor hope the trip will advance Germany’s economic interests, which lag those of Britain and France. German trade with Africa grew by 18 per cent last year to a record €33bn, but this still only represents about two per cent of German trade worldwide. Several German carmakers produce vehicles in South Africa, while Germany imports around 15 per cent of its oil needs from Africa, mostly from Libya.

Additional reporting by Ben Hall in Paris.

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