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Africa: Regional Leaders Join G-8 Summit, But Their Concerns Remain A Secondary Focus

The Middle East and security are expected to be the focus of this week's summit of the G-8 -- the group of the world's seven largest industrial democracies, plus Russia. But another leading topic will be Africa. A year ago, U.S. President George W. Bush traveled to the continent to promote trade and a plan to fight HIV/AIDS. This year, the leaders of six African nations will lunch with the G-8 leaders at their summit, which begins today in Sea Island, off the coast of the U.S. state of Georgia.

Washington, 8 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters yesterday in Sea Island, Georgia, that the summit will include a lunch where the Group of Eight (G-8) leaders will discuss Africa's economy with the heads of Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda.

When he was campaigning for the presidency in 2000, Bush chose not to focus on Africa, saying it was not in America's strategic interest. But since then he has been devoting more attention to the continent, working for increased trade and pledging financial aid to fight the AIDS epidemic there.

Rice said the Africa agenda will be "very active" at the summit, which begins today and lasts through 10 June, the day the G-8 leaders will sit down with their African counterparts.

HIV/AIDS will probably be the leading topic at the lunch, according to Brett Schaefer, an international economist at the Heritage Foundation, a private policy-research center in Washington. Schaefer told RFE/RL that the summit's focus on HIV/AIDS is likely going to be Uganda's success in reducing the incidence of the disease through a program called "ABC," which stands for "Abstinence, Be faithful, and use Condoms." According to U.S. figures, thanks to this program, prevalence of the infection dropped from around 15 percent of Uganda's population in the early 1990s to around 5 percent by 2001.

"There are two sides to this coin. You take a look at the country that has addressed this issue the best in Africa, and it's Uganda. They've done it through a largely national public-relations campaign called the ABC program. It's been very successful [in Uganda], and it's been unfortunately not widely replicated [in sub-Saharan Africa]. The president [Bush] himself has said that this is a program that needs to be suggested for other countries. And I think that that will be part of the United States overall program," Schaefer said.

Already the United States has pledged $15 billion over five years to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, and Schaefer said he expects the United States likely will press the other G-8 nations to make financial pledges of their own. Schaefer said it appears that all the G-8 nations and other wealthy countries are willing to match the spending pledge of the United States. But he stressed that solving Africa's HIV/AIDS problem is not only a matter of money, but of coordinating among the donor countries on the best ways to spend it.

"One of the flaws is not necessarily a flaw of resources, [but] a flaw of infrastructure. You don't have the clinics, you don't have the doctors, you don't have the equipment, you don't have the electricity. And so you have more fundamental problems in place than just getting drugs to those that are unfortunately infected," Schaefer said.

Once the G-8 members have a well-coordinated plan to spend the money, Schaefer said, he expects more foreign donations to fight the disease.
Schaefer said African countries -- whose economies are primarily agrarian -- are automatically at a disadvantage when trading with either the United States or the EU because the tariffs and subsidies make their own products more difficult to sell in these two large markets.

As for trade, Schaefer said that issue may actually be more difficult because of the protectionist trade policies of both the United States and the European Union. He said that to protect their farmers' profits, both the United States and the EU impose tariffs on imports of agricultural goods and subsidize farm prices.

Schaefer said African countries -- whose economies are primarily agrarian -- are automatically at a disadvantage when trading with either the United States or the EU because the tariffs and subsidies make their own products more difficult to sell in these two large markets. To make up for this, Schaefer said, both the EU and the United States have been trying to increase their aid to African countries. But aid, he said, is not as beneficial as trade.

The World Trade Organization (WTO), Schaefer noted, is trying to eliminate these policies, but he said even the most optimistic forecasts are that they will be phased out gradually over many years. Schaefer called this disappointing, because an end to the tariffs and subsidies would have an enormously beneficial effect not only on the economies of African nations, but of many other developing countries. "The main issue is really the WTO negotiations. Is the WTO going to indeed remove tariffs on agricultural goods, and also remove subsidies? That alone would be the single greatest boost to economic growth in the developing world," he said.

But Schaefer cautioned that not all African countries necessarily would benefit from an end to Western protectionism. He said there are many factors that can still enhance economic growth in Africa, from weather to the state of a country's infrastructure. Even some governments’ policies, he said, can stifle their own growth.

Schaefer said an extreme example is Zimbabwe, once a prosperous country in southern Africa. He said its president, Robert Mugabe, is a despot who is willing to "use food aid as a weapon" to maintain his power and to reward his supporters. Mugabe's focus on his own supremacy not only leads to human rights abuses, but also to a stagnant economy. Schaefer said no efforts by the G-8, the United States, or the EU can help countries like Zimbabwe as long as they are ruled by dictators.