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Can the West Save Africa?

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Publication Date: October 2008

Publisher(s): Brookings Institution

Author(s): William Easterly

Topic: Government (Foreign relations)
International relations (International relief and humanitarian assistance)
Social conditions (Poverty and homelessness)

Keywords: Africa; development; foreign aid; global poverty

Type: Report

Coverage: Africa

Abstract:

The last few years have seen unprecedented attention to an attempt by Western governments to rapidly develop Africa. British Prime Minister Tony Blair called at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2005 for "a big, big push forward" in Africa to end poverty, financed by an increase in foreign aid. Tony Blair commissioned a Report on Africa, which released its findings in March 2005, likewise calling for a "big push." Gordon Brown and Tony Blair put the cause of ending poverty in Africa at the top of the agenda of the G-8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland in July 2005.

In the 2005 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, the G-8 agreed to double foreign aid to Africa, from $25 billion a year to $50 billion to finance the big push, as well as to forgive the African aid loans contracted during previous attempts at a "big push." Two years later, Germany again made Africa an important item on the agenda of the G-8 summit it hosted in Heiligendamm in June 2007. There, the G-8 again reiterated the promises made in 2005. Japan pledged to double its own aid to Africa in May 2008 over the next five years. Most recently, the G8 Summit in Japan in July 2008 agreed: "We are firmly committed to working to fulfill our commitments on Official Development Assistance made at Gleneagles, and reaffirmed at Heiligendamm, including . . . ODA to Africa by US$ 25 billion a year by 2010."

The goals of the Western effort are ambitious, not limited to promoting overall economic growth. A 2000 UN Summit agreed upon "Millennium Development Goals" (MDGs) for the year 2015 such as cutting poverty in half, reaching universal primary enrollment, sharply reducing mortality of infants and mothers, achieving gender equality, dramatically increasing access to clean water and other social indicators. Although this effort is worldwide, most of the MDG campaign focuses on Africa, where the shortfalls to the goals are the greatest.