Thursday, 14 June 2007

A political soap opera

Volume 48 No 12

Dear Confidentialers,

Here in the city of light, the most dramatic news about last week's G8 summit in Heiligendamm was the release on the internet of a video showing France's new President Nicolas Sarkozy holding a press conference during the summit shortly after a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during which M. Sarkozy appears to have 'drunken something stronger than water', according to the Belgian newscaster. Sure enough the video shows Sarkozy swaying and smiling without his characteristic political fluency.

Oddly, the footage hasn't been screened on French TV although its much watched on websites here and the poor Belgian newscaster has been pressed to say he was sorry for any offence he may have given to the French state. In his defence he's happy to say he has a French mother. That such an incident at the G8 can demand so much attention tells us something about the real importance of such summitry. It has become more and more a political soap opera in which the communiqués are negotiated and agreed several weeks before the summit and then given the requisite spin at the meeting itself.

We have first-hand experience of this because a German friend sent a copy of the draft communiqué on Africa policy, some of which we have reproduced in this week's Africa Confidential. Almost all of the 'agreed' communiqué survived the summit. The German drafters had left blank the amount of money that the summiteers were prepared 'to commit' to funding the programme they agreed to at the 2005 Gleneagles summit which would grant access to anti-retroviral drugs to all in Africa who needed them by 2010.

The summiteers filled in the blanks. They agreed on $60 billion but didn't say how it would be raised nor did they detail each country's contribution or when the payments would be disbursed. In other words the promise was as hazy as when it was made in 2005.

Campaigners are outraged. The ubiquitous Bono called it 'bureau-babble' telling reporters: 'I might be a rock star but I can count.' Some of us were deeply sceptical of the 'promise' when it was first made at the heat of the Gleneagles summit. The harsh truth is that to pay for the drugs to fulfil that promise would cost at least $25 bn a year for the next five years at the current rates of HIV/AIDS infections. To finance the healthcare delivery systems, to prescribe the drugs and give the necessary medical support to the patients in Africa's 54 countries would easily cost another $25 bn a year. So one has to ask why was the pledge made when the officials who announced it knew there was no chance of it becoming reality?

Certainly, this latest G8 episode will fuel a growing cynicism about Western aid in Africa and lend weight to the arguments that much of the aid is more mythical than real. In terms of capital flows, about $150 bn is siphoned out of Africa each year through various capital flight mechanisms and tax dodges while aid is currently running at around $20 bn. And for the part of the aid that is real, the critics claim that much of it either doesn't work or creates a national dependence in the recipient country, which holds back real economic development.

We review some of those arguments this week in our analysis on transition from outgoing premier Tony Blair to Gordon Brown in British politics and its effects on Africa policy. There is likely to be a general review of foreign policy, of which aid to Africa will come under greater scrutiny although incoming Premier Brown remains one of its greater supporters.
He is also surrounded by some hard-headed economists who take an increasing interest in China's economic successes, which are - through the rapid growth of south-south trade - sharply raising Africa's growth figures. When African states walk from the annual meeting of the African Development Bank in Shanghai with $20 bn worth of deals to finance infrastructure over the next three year from China's Eximbank - more than the G8 can muster all together - some new thinking is required. Expect to see some reorientation of British aid but no reductions in the short term.

Also in this week's issue we carry a lengthy analysis of the political battles ahead of Nigeria's new President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua as he tries to reform the political system and take on the powerful state governors. Things are still moving slowly in Abuja but announcements of the new cabinet are expected imminently; the nominations will then be put to the National Assembly, which will then hold confirmation hearings. The new ministers are unlikely to start work before early August.

Still on the political watch we have compelling stories about opposition alliances and betrayals in both Kenya and Congo-Brazzaville - in both countries the status quo has been strengthened. And in Namibia, the previous status quo under Sam Nujoma may still try to stage a return.

Now it's back to the editorial coalface in readiness for next week's menu of reportage, analysis and insider information.

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