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Talk is cheap

Pledges alone won't save Africa

Issue: "Fixing Islam," June 16, 2007

At the G8 summit the glitterati were aglitter as President George Bush met with rocker and poverty relief gurus Bono and Bob Geldof. "Hanging out with good company, aren't I?" Bush said before retiring inside the Kempinski Grand Hotel at the start of the summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, June 6.

Back at the World Bank in Washington the glitter is gone and the bank's chief economist for Africa is worried. "The record so far indicates that apart from debt reduction, African countries haven't realized the benefits promised at the G8 summit three years ago," said economist John Page. Page knows the numbers behind the glitz of campaigns like Live8, the debt reduction and poverty relief concert tour spawned by Geldof and Bono ahead of the 2005 G8 summit in England.

In the first year following the campaign, aid flows to Africa actually have dropped-from $35.8 billion in 2005 to $35.1 billion in 2006, according to Page. But that is a misleading number because it includes a separate debt relief campaign for Iraq. What's clear, despite the hard-sell of stars like Bono-whose name has become so synonymous with Africa that editors at Vanity Fair gave him the entire July issue to devote to the topic-is that instead of aid to Africa rising, it actually is falling for the first time in a decade.

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Live8's publicity bonanza-so great it even reunited Pink Floyd for a brief time-was meant to embarrass world leaders into pledging to cancel the debt of poor nations and provide them an additional $50 billion in aid by 2010. But Africans know better than anyone that pledges come cheap. Only two of eight leaders of the world's wealthiest nations have kept their promise: Tony Blair and George Bush. The countries that huff the loudest over U.S. domination in global affairs-notably France, Germany, and Russia-don't seem to mind when it comes to helping the world's poor.


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