British Prime Minister Tony Blair met US President George Bush yesterday in an attempt to merge their ideas on how to help save Africa from poverty and to provide aid to the continent. However, the meeting was not entirely smooth and a number of issues remain incomplete as Bush refused to agree completely with the proposals put forward by Blair.
Two of the most powerful leaders on the planet met yesterday in Washington DC as part of Blair’s series of diplomatic visits ahead of the G8 summit to gain the support of international leaders on the most urgent topics listed at the top of G8 agenda.
In the run up to the meeting Blair made it well-known that one of the priorities in his talks with the US premier was to find a path forwards in helping the desperate plight of the millions suffering in Africa.
Bush announced after the summit that the United States would give an extra US$674 million to humanitarian relief efforts in Africa.
The focus of the world’s richest nations has been shifting towards Africa over the past few months as the Make Poverty History campaign and other aid groups and charities has endlessly made clear the desperate situation in the continent.
Campaigners have requested that the world’s richest nations keep good their promise made more than 30 years ago to offer 0.7% of their GNP to relieve poverty.
Many are now pointing out that although America seems to be the most generous donor in the world in terms of the amount that is given, the nation is only giving 0.16% of its GNP – the lowest out of all the richest countries in the world. Only due to it vast wealth can it offer more than any other country in cash terms.
Oxfam has attacked the US administration saying that "as the lowest aid donor per capita in the G7, America is finding itself increasingly isolated. Today’s 'announcement' will do nothing to challenge that."
Oxfam continued, "While the world asks for aid to be doubled, all the US seems willing to do is shunt around existing funds."
The Make Poverty History Campaign has highlighted greatly the pledges made by the world’s richest nations at the 1970 UN Summit, which was repeated in 1992 – to issue 0.7% GNP to foreign aid. However, this 35 year gap has seen just 5 countries live up to this goal – Norway, Luxemburg, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. The USA failed to reach the target by £30 billion in 2003.
However, during his television interview, Blair said it was not a worry that the US was still far from the EU target of giving 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to international aid.
"I don't think we should get fixated on the percentage of GDP every year that goes to aid," he said.
Blair remained adamant in his mission and said that he had made "significant progress" during his meeting with Bush. "There are still issues we need to resolve but I am increasingly hopeful we will get there."
He had pledged to raise £13 billion by next month’s G8 meeting in Scotland, and despite the apparent hurdle before Blair, Bush praised his close ally for his efforts in promoting the distressing state in Africa.
The Prime Minister will travel next week to Moscow, Berlin and Paris to continue his campaign to bring leaders of the G-8 group of industrialised nations together on the issues he has made the centre-piece of Britain's yearlong chairmanship.
The leaders said they were working together on a plan to eliminate poor countries' debts, and Blair said he was hopeful a deal would emerge in time for the July summit in Gleneagles. Bush did however appear to move toward the British position that the money used to cancel debts must not come out of future aid.
In evidence of efforts to merge the visions of the two leaders together Blair said, "We're trying to create a framework in which we deal not just with one of the issues to do with Africa, but all of them together. In a situation where literally thousands of children die from preventable diseases every day, it's our duty to act, and we will."
Bush backed this up by indicating that they are both moving closer to some compromise, and Blair echoed much of what Bush had said for a Millennium Challenge Account program for Africa, which would link aid to good governance.
Blair said, "It is a two-way commitment. We require the African leadership also to be prepared to make the commitment on governance, against corruption, in favour of democracy, in favour of the rule of law. ... What we're not going to do is waste our countries' money."
In a separate television interview, broadcast later, Blair said the two countries were laying out the "technical details" of how to cancel the debt.
"If so, how is it funded, what are the terms on which it is done, and so on." He said London and Washington were "a significant way down the line" towards a debt deal. I don't want to put words in the (US) administration's mouth, but I think there is a willingness to deal with these issues."