June 17, 2005
G-8 DEBT RELIEF PLAN: A 'GOOD FIRST STEP'
** "Breakthrough" offer to cancel debt "represents a decisive step in the fight against poverty."
** Poor nations "must do more against corruption" if debt relief is to be worthwhile.
** If they're "serious" about ending poverty, rich nations should scrap "protectionist policies."
'Historic' step forward-- Commentators mostly praised the G-8 decision to write off the debts of 18 of the world's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), terming the "landmark" agreement an important "first step" that will begin to lift the "immense burden" of debt that has "retarded" their economic progress. Canada's centrist Times Colonist said the G-8 decision "marks the beginning of a determined campaign to tackle poverty and under-development...particularly on the African continent." Noting that Africa suffers from war, disease and lack of modern technology, the government-owned Times of Zambia welcomed the G-8 promise, arguing that African countries have "no room to repay any debt" and that the continent "badly needs breathing space to move forward."
'Strict commitments required'-- Dailies asserted the debt relief initiative was also a "bitter admission" that rich nations had failed to eliminate poverty in developing countries despite decades of "well-meant" aid; by tying assistance to "good governance" the G-8 was also making it clear that future aid "will be subject to much closer scrutiny." Debt relief, Austria's centrist Die Presse emphasized, will help "only if the Third World states really invest the money" in fighting poverty and not on armaments. Skeptics argued the debt initiative will not do "a blind bit of good" unless accompanied by "profound" changes in debtor countries, too many of whose governments have been "steeped in corruption and plain theft." Though debt forgiveness will be tied to reforms, the conservative Australian scoffed, "we have heard all of that before and it has done nothing yet to stem the tide of...government by kleptocracy."
Trade, not aid-- Kenyan papers noted that theirs was one of the countries to hold the "dubious distinction" of being ineligible for debt relief because they were "doing well" economically. "While this may be a compliment," the independent Standard observed wryly, "it does not help much" since Kenyans "have to shoulder the burden of repaying this colossal amount of money" while it could be used for development. Britain's Guardian echoed other liberal journals in seeing a post-debt relief opportunity to "push on for the sort of big increases in aid" needed to tackle Africa's many pressing problems. Many outlets called on the G-8 to eliminate "the protectionist barriers which prevent the underdeveloped countries from progressing by their own means." As Tanzania's ruling party-owned Uhuru put it, "debt relief without reforming the world trade system which favors rich countries will be of little benefit to the poor countries." Germany's center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine concluded the WTO's Doha Round "would be the appropriate forum" to push market-opening measures.
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR: Steven Wangsness
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 54 reports from 28 countries June 10-16, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
BRITAIN: "Out Of Debt"
The conservative Times editorialized (6/14): "In Africa, debt should be seen not as an evil, but as a lubricant to growth. The capacity of small entrepreneurs to grow their businesses is held back not only by inability to enforce contracts, corrupt bureaucrats and bad roads, but by lack of access to affordable capital. Of the G-8, only Japan is putting entrepreneurship firmly in the frame."
Conservative columnist Bruce Anderson commented in the center-left Independent (6/13): "Fortunately, there is a new and crucial actor on the development stage who does take Africa seriously and who would never patronize its people or their politicians. Paul Wolfowitz is a neo-conservative. He believes in universal values. He will never accept that democracy and human rights are the preserve of fortunate people in rich countries. He is determined to use his presidency of the World Bank to ensure that they are made accessible to all mankind."
"The First Step Forward"
The left-of-center Guardian editorialized (6/13): "The best outcome from the weekend is that it gives campaigners hope that more can be achieved. Now that debt has--with caveats--been dealt with, the opportunity is there to push on for the sort of big increases in aid that are needed to tackle Africa's many pressing problems, such as malaria, HIV/Aids, clean water, and others, as well a potential agreement on climate change."
"That's Enough Debt Relief"
The conservative Daily Telegraph had this to say (6/13): "In order to benefit, the debtors have had to meet several World Bank criteria. No less important is the timing. The G-8 accord is the culmination of a project that was meant to coincide with the millennium. That, if anything, should convince future borrowers that it is a one-off deal. Let us hear no more of debt relief until the year 3000."
"A Friendly Difference Of Opinion Over Aid"
Amity Shlaes took this view in the independent Financial Times (6/13): "In short, the Blair-Bush alliance is not born out of mutual weakness but rather out of mutual strength. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are friends because they have something in common: they both believe in principle. Is that not the strongest kind of friendship?"
FRANCE: "A Burden Is Lifted"
Jean-Christophe Ploquin commented in Catholic La Croix (6/13): “The G-8 ministers have just announced an immediate lifting of the debt for 18 countries.... The agreement was based on a British-American proposal negotiated in Washington last week between Blair and Bush. Once again President Bush has shown his ability to take strong and highly publicized decisions regarding development. Two years ago he had announced massive aid for AIDS relief in Africa.... This new strategy for development places the fight against poverty, and not structural adjustments, at the center of development policies, forcing the countries involved to be committed to good governance.”
GERMANY: "Development Assistance At A Crossroads"
Washington correspondent Claus Tigges had this to say in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (6/14): "International development assistance is at a crossroads.... This waiving of debt is based on the bitter admission that they did not succeed in eliminating poverty and misery in this part of the world despite well-meant laborious development assistance over decades.... But Britain's PM Tony Blair and his chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown's efforts must be criticized mainly because they create the impression and foment hopes that poverty can be eliminated with additional billions from the state coffers of the wealthy nations.... The absurdity of this plan becomes totally clear when looking at the billions, which Europe, the United States, and Japan spend to subsidize their agriculture every year.... If the G-8 were really serious about its assistance for the poor countries, they would cut the subsidies for agriculture and would give poor farmers a chance. Giving up this transfer of billions in favor of the farmers would also result in a considerable tax relief for the taxpayers. The Doha Round of the WTO would be the appropriate forum to push the opening of the market of the industrialized nations. But whatever the amount of money written on the checks from the North for the South, it is up to the developing nations to win the fight against poverty.... Official development assistance cannot replace private capital.... A climate that attracts investors is absolutely necessary and leave market forces enough room to act. In this respect the World Bank can be an advisor, but in no case, should the money from Washington distract attention from the necessary reforms."
"Guilt And Debt"
Arne Perras argued in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (6/14): "Whenever the industrialized nations launch an initiative for the wanting people of the world, they cultivate their rituals and speak of a breakthrough, praise decisions as historic and invoke a new partnership between North and South. A similar development took place over the weekend.... So was this a good day for Africa?... We should be careful not to give the decision too much weight in the global fight against poverty. Of course it opens new opportunities...but it depends on the governing [African] elites whether the measures will have a lasting effect. They must give up old behavioral patterns and really want to fight poverty on their own. But in many African nations the ruling class feels responsible for its own and maybe for parts of society. But there is hardly anyone who controls them or reveals the misuse of their power..... Good governance is an important precondition for the relief of debt, but in this respect the G-8 decision is not consistent, for the list also rewards some questionable beneficiaries which hardly deserve a general cancellation of debt without stricter conditions.... Problems vary widely, and even South of the Sahara; there are better and worse governments. Those who reward them all to the same degree do not create a stimulus to respect human rights and to alleviate the suffering. That is why it would be good to dampen the euphoria over the debt cancellation. To celebrate it as historic decision is evidence of political naiveté rather than of a sharpened view on the realities in Africa. Indeed this cancellation of debt was the only thing on which the industrialized nations were able to agree in their policies towards Africa…. When it comes to developing a long-term strategy against poverty, the North fails. It is unable to introduce a fair trading system; it is unable to provide the necessary means in the fight against AIDS or malaria; and it is unable to make greater sacrifices for the suffering people. In the world of fully stored refrigerators the life of a African does not count much."
Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine argued (6/13): "Debt and the servicing of debt have weighted heavily on the affected countries. We can fully understand the relief they now feel. But will the funds that will now be released really be used as promised for education and health, and for development? Will corruption, which deprived former debt cancellation initiatives of their effect, be fought more vigorously? If the beneficiaries do not find a way against this corruption, not too much will be won. The labeling of debt cancellation as 'historic,' however, does not mean that doubts and questions don't remain. For instance, why countries which have caught our eyes because of 'bad governance' and do not meet their obligations, get greater attention than those countries that try to establish a sound public finance system."
Manfred Pantförder wrote in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (6/13): "'Historic' is a great word for a gesture of good will. The G-8 promise can create a breather for the addressees of the debt cancellation...but the waiving of debt is indeed a long-term project in which funds are restructured over years to come. If this state is to signal a turn in development assistance policy, then this assistance must be sustainable. And the affected countries must guarantee that the released funds are used to build up infrastructure, improve education and create jobs. If not, the relief will only be a drop in the bucket.... This debt relief will cost the industrialized nations money. But in the long run, the calculation could come true.... At issue is no less but overcoming a helper syndrome in the industrialized nations, which always only reacts to humanitarian disasters. Policy cannot be made with the bad conscience of the wealthy nations but with empathy and cool calculations. If the standard of living of the poorest people is raised, new economic partners will develop. But this requires weak states also with the opportunity to place their products on the markets."
"Moral Standards Of The Wealthy Nations"
Dagmar Dehmer judged in an editorial in centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin (6/13): "The industrialized nations have never been as generous as today.... Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, called upon his colleagues to show courage--and they demonstrated this courage. But when it comes to the selection of countries, a few questions must be raised.... There are arguments for not simply following the HIPC program when it comes to canceling debt. Kenya's planning minister has all reason to complain about the fact that his country has been ignored by the initiative, for Kenya deleted tuition for schools without debts being waived--with sweeping successes. The country achieved a democratic change of government and there is no doubt that it must do more against corruption. But there are good reasons to waive debt for such a country, in which 80 percent of the people are considered poor.... But Kenya has bad relations with the United States, not only because it has just released four terror suspects...but Kenya also supports the International Criminal Court, and steadfastly refuses to sign a bilateral treaty with the United States, which guarantees American nationals impunity when they are accused of war crimes. That is why the United States has threatened to completely cut its development assistance. It may be possible that the country now also has to pay a high price for its reliability when it comes to debt cancellation."
Peter Nonnenmacher concluded in left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau (6/13): "The agreement on debt cancellation...is not an event that will shake the world and help Africa to fully recover. But it is a remarkable breakthrough, a sign of a newly developing awareness in international politics. With this deal the British point to a new direction, to a new relationship between the wealthy and the poor nations. But the decision is no more but a first step...since the issue of a fair global trade order was not even addressed in London. Blair and Brown have placed the relations between rich and poor at the top of the agenda. This debate about standards and methods for the correct assistance for development countries will continue. This debt cancellation demonstrated that something can be set in motion with the necessary pressure."
"A Bit Of Hope For The Poorest"
Christian Lipicki had this to say in an editorial in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (6/13): "In spite of the praise for the London agreement, one thing should not be ignored: the debt cancellation may be historic, but it cannot eliminate but at best alleviate the misery of the poorest countries.... Debt is canceled only in those countries, which have a good governance and a binding concept to fight poverty. Thus far, these are only 18 countries. Others, which were also promised to waive debts, must still deliver this evidence. But there is one precondition for the poor to be better off: governments that do not line their own pockets."
ITALY: "Africa Enters Global Village"
Paolo Del Debbio commented in pro-government, leading center-right daily Il Giornale (6/14): "Can it be that G-8 members have really decided to assume the leadership that the United States took on following WWII? It’s too soon to tell. Certainly, this is a step in the right direction. It’s hard to imagine development in these countries if the ‘Big’ don’t take commit to it. There’s no alternative route: either the rich countries decide to put these countries in the condition to actively participate in development, or they will be destined to underdevelopment and civil wars.... That which counted as the inspiring logic for U.S. world leadership after 1945, counts even more today. Sixty years later, the G-8 can indicate the path to recreate a shared order based on institutions, commitments, customs and principles. That group contains the world’s wealth both in financial terms as well as in historical experience and democratic tradition. We must introduce these countries to the world circuit of economy and commercial exchange.... The G-8 would not be able to do anything without the United States’ full backing."
Sergio Romano concluded in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (6/12): "Blair hopes to capitalize on this great initiative. First of all, he wants to demonstrate that the Anglo-American partnership allows him to influence on the U.S.’ important decisions.... Naturally, it remains to be seen if this spectacular measure will obtain the desired effect. The cancellation of the debt of 18 countries launches a bad signal to other debtors and it authorizes them to think that certain commitments can be ignored. The development of a country depends primarily on other factors: the quality of its political class, the efficiency of its administration, the liberalization of world trade. Among the countries that will benefit from this debt relief are some that have improved their political system. But recent events in two of them (Bolivia and Ethiopia) demonstrate that their democracies are still frail.... They will be able to take advantage of this relief only if rich countries will accept to open their markets to Third World imports. If the debt cancellation isn’t accompanied by trade liberalization measures, we will take away with one hand that which we gave with the other."
Federico Rampini opined in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (6/12): "Since the main obstacle was George Bush, today Blair was finally compensated for his support to the United States in Iraq.... But is the decision taken by the economic ministers of the rich countries really an ‘historical moment’ as U.S. Treasury Secretary Snow defined it? Unfortunately, these operations are designed more for the effect on the domestic audience than for an impact on the economic and social reality of poor countries.... The debt ‘pardon’ is a completely virtual operation. It doesn’t write a check, nor does it make these countries more appealing to international investors."
"Poor Countries, Bush Is Generous With Other People’s Money"
Bruno Marolo wrote from Washington in pro-democratic Left Party (DS) daily L’Unità (6/11): "George Bush’s government has announced its willingness to aid poor countries that will adopt democratic governments and establish their development on market economy. In other words, the only ones to receive aid will be the regimes that support U.S. foreign policy and that will leave a free hand to U.S. corporations to exploit their resources."
RUSSIA: "A Symbolic Gesture"
Valeriy Virkunen said in reformist Novyye Izvestiya (6/14): "G-8 finance ministers met in London to make a decision on forgiving 18 poor countries' billions of dollars in debts. Later this year Russia, too, will 'forgive' debtor nations the credits it offered them on a bilateral basis, according to Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin. Experts say this is more like a symbolic gesture: it is an honor to act at one with the rich. Besides, the poor nations can’t pay up, anyway."
"Britain Is The Chief Motivating Force"
Konstantin Frumkin remarked in reformist Izvestiya (6/14): "It is noteworthy that Britain is the chief motivating force behind the debt relief idea. Western experts point put that Tony Blair wants to repair the damage the Iraq war did to his country’s prestige in the Third World."
AUSTRIA: "Not Just Money"
Heidi Schneid observed in centrist Die Presse (6/13): "The debt relief which the eight largest industrial nations decided on is a step in the right direction--but only if the Third World states really invest the money they are now saving on interest payments in the fight against poverty and not, as so often before, in armament programs; and only if the prosperous countries initiate actions that go beyond just renouncing the debts that in most cases they have long written off anyway, such as active development aid, with educational, health care and agricultural initiatives. To do so would not just alleviate the hardship among the population, but also create perspective. This way, debt relief would be more than a marketing strategy of the G-8."
BELGIUM: "PR Stunt"
U.S. affairs writer Lieve Dierckx wrote in independent financial daily De Tijd (6/13): “If the richest countries are serious about the development of the poorest countries on this planet they should each year make more money available for development cooperation. The G-8 would really make a great gesture if they finally honored their 30-year-old pledge to devote 0.7 percent of their GDP to development cooperation. That is nothing--if compared to what is spent on defense each year. The richest countries in the world--the United States and the European Union in the first place--would render a much greater service to the developing countries if they reduced or abolished their agricultural subsidies. In that case farmers in developing countries would be in a position to compete with their American and European counterparts and boost the GDPs at home. With those extra incomes those countries’ authorities would be able to finance development projects for their local populations--so that they become less dependent on international financial institutions. For the G-8, last weekend’s decision should only be the start of a larger program. If not, the ‘historic’ agreement will appear to be nothing more than a nice PR stunt.”
HUNGARY: "Credit And Trustworthiness"
Liberal Magyar Hirlap editorialized (6/14): "We have witnessed revolutionary changes in the course of recent years. During the cold war years support (in the form of credit or aid) was a political gesture. Both the West and the Soviet bloc countries were transferring aid to their respected allies, and while the money was given for loyalty none wanted to dig deeper as far as its [further] utilization was concerned. Nowadays there are conditions for monetary aid, be it good governance or fighting corruption."
NORWAY: "Debts And Development"
The newspaper of record Aftenposten commented (6/13): "The debt-relief plan is truly historic, because it means that the creditor nations now also indirectly admit that their politics in the Third World has contributed to the hopeless situation. Before the meeting, Great Britain had made a noteworthy and bold initiative, which is now being crowned with great success. But the British did not manage to get the other countries in on all their propositions, e.g., that European countries should double their aid to development by 2010, erase all debts, and remove trade blocs that make it very hard for the poorer countries to move into Western markets. A lot of countries did not want to be part of these initiatives just like that. But the debt-relief plan has made a breech in the opposition, which it will take a lot to stop.... President Bush, however, has set one condition--that the countries straighten their governments and tidy up in their corruption. Here he is on the same message as UN General Secretary Kofi Annan. Debt relief means a new start for the poorest countries. But if they do not do anything themselves, they will be left standing in the exact same spot."
SPAIN: "A Historic Agreement Against World Poverty"
Independent El Mundo remarked (Internet version, 6/13): "The finance ministers of the G-8 reached a historic agreement to write off 100 percent of the debt of the world's poorest 18 countries.... Twenty more will be able to join this initiative when they meet the strict commitments required in the areas of good governance and combating corruption. Thus the money which they previously used to pay the debt can be used for health care, education and infrastructure. The IMF with its own funds, the USA, Germany and Great Britain will be the ones who pay for the bulk of the aid. The agreement is particularly significant for Tony Blair because it was a golden opportunity to show his more...Labor side. As the organizing country, the UK determines the priorities of the summit, which this year will be climate change and Africa. The agreement sought by Blair is for the rich countries, as well as writing off the debt, to increase the amount they earmark for development aid and to eliminate the protectionist barriers which prevent the underdeveloped countries from progressing by their own means. The agreement reached yesterday represents a decisive step in the fight against poverty. It is true that, as the NGOs are quick to say, it is not enough, but in this case the complaint should have been deferred to celebrate the fact that, as almost never happens, the rhetoric of the rich countries has been reflected in concrete decisions."
Centrist La Vanguardia noted (6/13): "There will be those who will see in Blair's effort an attempt to atone for his decision to go to war in Iraq, for which he has paid a great fall in his popularity rate. But it is undeniable that, without his determination, the agreement would not have been possible. Now it is necessary to check the real effect of this debt cancellation...on the chosen countries, most of them African. But what is significant is that rich countries have decided to take a step that they had refused to take for years. The agreement is not only a debt cancellation, it also considers granting more resources. And donors intend that these funds be used for education, health, and infrastructure. Thus, in this agreement the message is twofold: getting into debt does not lack consequences, and donors must manage resources so that they are used for attaining the expected objectives."
Left-of-center El Pais noted (6/13): "[Debt write-offs]...may, in fact, be bad signals which directly or indirectly favor bad practices, such as corruption which has worsened the economic and social situation of these countries."
TURKEY: "The G-8 Summit"
Meliksah Utku wrote in the pro-government/Islamist-oriented Yeni Safak (6/14): "Tony Blair, in his capacity as [G-8] host, took the initiative to eliminate 40 billion dollars of foreign debt for a number of developing countries. But the G-8 finance ministers failed to reach a consensus on the issue, despite the fact that the IMF and the World Bank have already eliminated their portion of the debt.... One of the objections to the elimination of debt is that debt reduction should go hand in hand with more 'ethical spending' by the developing countries. Developed nations argue that poor countries suffer from a lack of ethics when it comes to spending, so debt forgiveness will only enable them to spend more irresponsibly and unethically. In fact, the U.S. has already connected the debt forgiveness proposal to a series of social, economic, and political reforms in those countries.... This approach has been criticized as more evidence of the hypocrisy of developed countries. The UK-based movement 'Make Poverty History,' which includes Muslims and other NGOs, argues that Western nations are using ethical issues as a political tool. The group clearly rejects any suggestion of a link between poverty and corruption in these countries. The G-8 summit will be very interesting to watch.”
JORDAN: "Conditions Attached"
The elite, English-language Jordan Times editorialized (Internet version, 6/13): "The decision...to write off $40 billion of all multilateral debt owed by 18 poorest nations is the right step on the way to eradicating global poverty. British Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted to go beyond such economic support to these countries, but he was opposed by none other than his closest ally, U.S. President George Bush. Washington is on record as being opposed to the process of extending aid in the form of loans, then having the loans written off. The U.S. is also concerned about corruption and lack of transparency in many poor countries; these two ills, in the end, do nothing but nullify the effect any economic support would have on the people, making a few rich and keeping the masses impoverished, probably even worse off, what with the immorality money brings to the leading few. That is why this time around the G-8 wanted the debt relief to be invested in health, education and infrastructure in the poorest countries. While this caveat is sound, many other areas where the money could be well-invested may be named. The poorest nations, as well as the developing countries across the globe, are languishing in their backwardness and underdevelopment because of gender discrimination, HIV/AIDS epidemics, trafficking in persons, including children and women, lack of independent judiciary and absence of a functional democracy.... Absent such basic human rights and a democratic atmosphere in which they can be sanctioned, such generous aid may not have the desired effect. The G-8 should, therefore, have insisted on basic reforms as a condition for benefiting from their generous debt relief."
QATAR: "Debt Relief Deal Is A Bold, Timely Step"
The semi-official, English-language Gulf Times had this to say (Internet version, 6/12): "The landmark debt relief deal reached at the G-8 foreign ministers’ meeting...has come as a big solace to 18 of the world’s poorest countries.... A major step in the direction of global poverty alleviation, the move has freed up much-needed revenue for development in the impoverished countries, home to about 70 million people, who traditionally face famine and other disasters associated with poor nations. While making the relief available, the G-8 nations...have made it clear that they expected the money would go towards health, education and infrastructure development. It was no doubt a bold and timely decision which will go a long way in helping the development process currently underway in the beneficiary countries.... Much of the credit for the historic agreement goes to UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown for his initiative as well as perseverance that saw the meeting reach such a crucial deal.... Another welcome feature of the deal is that up to 20 other countries could be eligible for relief if they meet targets for good governance and tackling corruption.... Africa, which has a total external debt of $300bn, is home to some of the poorest nations on earth. While it will not be fair to put all the blame for their lot on the people and their leaders of the poor nations, they can neither be completely absolved of their responsibility from messing up the already bad situation. These nations have now been given a much needed fillip to spur their development agenda. It is hoped they put the money to good use."
SAUDI ARABIA: "Suspicious Of African Aid"
The pro-government, English-language Saudi Gazette had this to say (Internet version, 6/13): "In a world corroded by cynicism the news that the G-8 countries have agreed to the immediate cancellation of the debts of 18 of the most highly indebted countries...has been met with suspicion.... Nine more countries are to qualify within 18 months, which takes the total to $55 billion. This may seem like a lot but is still only a fraction of the $300 billion owed by the African continent as a whole.... Ethiopia's Finance Minister Sofian Ahmed said his country's debt cancellation was very encouraging, assuming there were no strings attached. It is a statement that very much catches the essence of the dilemma faced both by donors and recipients of aid. No one should doubt that future international aid donations will be subject to much closer scrutiny and much tighter audit procedures. This is as it should be. The G-8 countries may constitute a rich man's club but this is a relative concept and many of the nations concerned face looming crises of their own especially in areas such as pensions and social welfare benefits. In the G-8 countries concerned these decisions have ultimately to be sanctioned by the electorate and there are many people who believe that aid is a process whereby poor people in rich countries give money to rich people in poor countries. This should not be allowed to obscure the fact that effectively for the first time in history a serious step forward has been taken in dealing with some of the injustices of the international economic system. There may still be a long way to go but at least the journey has begun."
UAE: "The Tough Catch"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Gulf Today commented (Internet version, 6/14): "Africa is relieved by the decision by the G-8 countries to write off $40 billion of debts.... The amount is little compared with the actual needs of these countries, but the decision, no doubt, will make considerable difference to the anti-poverty programs there. The catch in this offer is the condition that the governments must prove worthy of receiving the concession by committing to good governance and transparency. This is a tough deal for many African countries--a test many governments would rather avoid.... This removes external debt burdens as an excuse for the internal systemic and sociopolitical problems of debtor countries.... There’s no more blaming the debilitation of indebtedness for these countries’ lack of development. This week’s Doha summit of the G-77 group of developing nations will now have all the more reason to focus on getting to the root not of the problem but the solution: trade, not aid. Debt had brought too many countries to their knees. Debt relief helps them back on their feet, but will not be enough to ease the global tragedy of economic imbalance.... Enlightened aid policies and debt management should provide an impetus for positive change among all those polities, and not play to the advantage of only the ruthless."
"Heralding A New Era Of Indebtedness"
The expatriate-oriented, English-language Gulf News editorialized (Internet version, 6/13): "The G-8’s balanced approach to waive the debts of poor nations should be commended. The decision...might be somewhat overdue but is to be greatly welcomed.... The Group of Eight (G-8) have lifted an immense burden of interest and capital repayments that has for decades retarded economic progress in places which desperately need growth. The tough decision to limit the debt forgiveness to countries that have made significant progress on economic and political reforms might seem hard-hearted but makes good sense. Many countries that failed to qualify under this new measure have, at best, been profligate with their natural resources, but, more often, have been steeped in corruption and plain theft. The G-8's balanced approach heralds a new era for nations that have put in place the structures that should allow the people themselves to benefit from the dispensation."
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
AUSTRALIA: "Lifting the load of debt off Africa"
Tim Colebatch remarked in the liberal Age of Melbourne (Internet version, 6/14): "I have never understood the mentality of people who feel instinctive hatred towards those trying to make the world a better place.... You saw it in the sullen response some gave to Saturday's historic agreement in London to effectively write off more than 50 billion dollars of debt owed by mainly African governments.... If we really want to fight corruption, the answer is not to walk away but to get in there and help change the political climate by using aid to drive change.... The priority given to tackling corruption is evident from the choice of countries to benefit. These are not the poorest of Africa's poor, far from it: these are the relative success stories, countries that are less corrupt than most and have a record of sustained growth.... Something is going right. Let's be glad, and salute those who made it happen."
"A helping hand for Africa"
The liberal Sydney Morning Herald concluded (Internet version, 6/14): "The British government has got its wish: the world's eight wealthiest countries will pay off the poorest countries' debts to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.... The United States has agreed only grudgingly to the plan. The U.S. sees Africa as Europe's business: there is not much mileage in generosity to the region for a U.S. president. Washington is also wary of giving aid to countries where corruption reigns and foreign billions can end up lining dictators' pockets. It has a point, though the plan does attempt to address the problem. Australia, meanwhile, gives aid to Africa low priority.... There is a strong case for Australia to increase the amount, but the best help this country can give is to press ahead with the Doha round of trade talks."
"What Africa Owes To Itself"
The national conservative Australian editorialized (Internet version, 6/13): "There are two predictable outcomes of the decision by finance ministers from the G-8 group of nations to wipe out more than $50 billion in African debt. It will not stop the allegations that rich nations are oppressing poor ones, and it will not end poverty in Africa.... Given that any new loans to the world's poorest nations by the World Bank are now simply churned back as interest, the circuit must definitely be broken. But a hard-headed attitude tells us the debt relief will not do ordinary Africans a blind bit of good unless it is accompanied by profound political, economic and cultural change. It is up to Africans, not affluent Westerners, to address that change.... Debt relief alone will not go to the heart of the problem. It will encourage corrupt governments to go on as before and discourage public and private investors. While the new round of relief will be tied to economic and political reform, with respect, we have heard all of that before and it has done nothing yet to stem the tide of what can only be called government by kleptocracy. Given the depth of Africa's plight, will rich countries really have the nerve to turn off the tap if the reforms do not happen?"
CHINA (HONG KONG SAR): "Debt Relief Momentum Must Be Maintained"
The independent English-language South China Morning Post editorialized (6/13): "The landmark debt-relief deal struck by the world's richest nations on Saturday has rightly been acclaimed as an important breakthrough in the attempt to tackle poverty.... The impact of the agreement should not, however, be overstated. It does not cover many of the poorest nations. And the money involved is only a fraction of Africa's total U.S.$300 billion in overseas debt.... Reaching an agreement on fairer trade policies for developing nations will be just as difficult--but worthwhile. The scrapping of U.S. and European subsidies for agricultural exports would have a much greater impact on Africa than the debt relief deal. On Saturday, the finance ministers pledged, in broad terms, to reach a timetable for the eradication of these subsidies. But this will meet with fierce resistance from U.S. and European farmers. A lot of hard bargaining lies ahead. The debt-relief deal shows that progress is possible. The momentum should now be maintained at next month's G-8 meeting. Hopefully, the stage will be set for a historic trade deal in December at the World Trade Organization gathering in Hong Kong."
THAILAND: "Debt Relief For Africa Is Good First Step"
The independent, English-language Nation editorialized (6/17): “The new generation of African leaders must be encouraged to invest the debt savings in development and poverty reduction and the G-8 relief package comes with strict targets for better governance and curbs on corruption. These 'conditionalities' are necessary but they have also raised valid concerns that this relief package simply solidifies the economic dominance of the West and its development 'agents'--the World Bank and the IMF--over Africa. If the West is sincere this time about easing Africa’s problems it must put the continent’s interests above its own agenda. It also needs to show it has a true understanding of Africa’s problems.... The history of the relationship between Africa and the West has never been one based on an equal footing, and can probably be best summed up as a one-way movement of the riches of one part of the world to another. Debt relief must be provided because without it African countries will never have a chance to develop their abundant natural resources and become self-sufficient. But the terms must be flexible. Such genuine generosity is a small price to pay to keep Africa from slipping deeper into poverty, disease and more violent chaos.”
GHANA: "Why The G-8 Must Go Beyond Lip Service"
The small-circulation, pro-ruling (NPP) party Accra Daily Mail took this view (6/13): "In Ghana, we are proudly ahead in many areas of good governance and so our president being invited to the White House comes as no surprise to us. Equally not surprising is the invitation he has received once more to be a guest of the big boys at the G-8 Summit in Scotland. Though we feel proud of these invitations, we must also put on record our anxieties. Reform and democracy are not for the faint-hearted. For a young democracy like Ghana, they can be downright dangerous. For example, this year the Ghanaian government embarked on major reforms in the petroleum sector leading to massive increases in the prices of petroleum products. Immediately, the massive goodwill the government used to enjoy plummeted sharply and even as we write, the government is beset by street demonstrations. Though the government has bravely tamed the micro side of the economy, huge poverty indicators still exist and that’s the next basket of bogeys the government has to exorcise before there can be any meaningful impact of democracy and good governance on the lives of people. That’s where the G-8 must come in, if they are sincere. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown come across as very sincere in their desire to be of help--immense help. Let’s see this seeming sincerity translated into positive action now! In Ghana, we deserve nothing less."
KENYA: "We Must Re-Examine Aid As A Means To Development"
The KANU party-owned Kenya Times observed (6/14): "The kind of comments emanating from some British officials and the grudging support of...President George has shown towards Blair’s strenuous campaign gives cause for apprehension that we may not gain much from the forthcoming G-8 meeting. The general feeling is that though the country has not done well on fulfilling conditionality criteria, among them fighting corruption and issues linked to governance. But that does not mean that we have not done well over all for example in areas such as control of government budget deficit and reform in the education sector Kenya has done quite well. While a sizable number of development partners resumed aid to Kenya which had been suspended for several years, we have a few that are uneasy about aid resumption on basis of the rising corruption on a grand scale.... Our economy which three years ago was in such dire straits has shown symptoms of recovery. Donors withholding bilateral assistance aid at this moment in time are therefore acting in a way inimical to our best interest. Economic collapse in Kenya would lead to social convulsions and political upheavals. And being a regional economic hub, the impact is likely to be felt far and wide."
"Debt Waiver A Misnomer"
The independent, left-of-center Nation commented (6/14): "The other side, though, is the argument that, in comparative terms, Kenya is doing better than many African states. That is to say, Kenya is not a basket case and, therefore, does not deserve a waiver under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) scheme. Predictably, our leaders are now engaged in a chorus of recrimination, totally oblivious of their own role in the debacle. Many are shouting the country’s good record at debt servicing as a reason for debt forgiveness, as others claim the G-8 are out to economically strangle the country.... But the bigger picture is that the country should work towards self-sufficiency and avoid the path of donor dependence, which then later forces us to behave in such a beggarly manner.”
"Debt Relief No Solution To Africa’s Woes"
James Shikwati, director of the Inter Region Economic Network and Coordinator of the African Resource Bank, opined in the independent, left-of-center Nation (6/14): "Rich nations strategically teach poor nations to rely on aid for reasons unknown to the aid recipients. The daily struggles of African farmers whose crops are destroyed by pests, communities that go without water, and families that seek medicines as their children perish due to preventable diseases such as malaria go unnoticed.... African leaders are facing the toughest challenge, they have either to offer leadership or simply act as supervisors for wealthy nations’ interests.”
"G-8 Should Forgive Us Our Debts, Too"
The independent, populist Standard argued (6/13): "In the last few weeks, there has been heightened attention on the Group of Eight Most Industrialized Nations (G-8) summit to be held in July. The focal point of the interest has been an anticipated debt waiver to those African countries choking in debt. Consultations ahead of the summit have led to an agreement to cancel the debt of Eighty Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). This is a positive step.... Although Kenya is not classified within the bracket of HIPC, there were hopes and wishes that the country too could be forgiven the foreign debt on whose repayment it spends over 70 billion every year.... The argument used to deny Kenya this dubious distinction of being a member of HIPC is that the country is doing well and that there is hope that it will put its books of accounts in order. While this may be a compliment, it does not help much given the fact that Kenyans have to shoulder the burden of repaying this colossal amount of money while it could be using that money for development.”
NAMIBIA: "Namibia Lauds Debt Write-Off For Poor Nations"
The independent Namibian commented (6/14): “Namibians on all sides of the political divide, economic and political analysts as well as civil society have welcomed a decision by the Group of Eight rich nations to write off $40 billion in debts owed by 18 of the world’s poorest countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Many felt that it would go a long way in helping these countries focus on social needs such as health and education.”
"The Insufferable In Pursuit Of The Unattainable"
Daniel Steimann opined in the Namibia Economist (Internet version, 6/10): "Maybe [Blair and Bush]...are naive, or maybe I am naive, but I know for a fact that canceling our debt, or at least the debt of the Most Highly Indebted African nations, is not going to change anything on the continent the slightest bit. If we cancel the debt of countries like Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and several further up north, we are only doing those that abide by the rules, like South Africa, Botswana and us, the biggest injustice in the history of modern economics. We are also opening a Pandora's box of future misconduct and we are saying debt default is OK. What must the poor Argentineans, Mexicans and Russians think of this circus--the traveling Bush & Blair roadshow?"
TANZANIA: "Congratulations Rich Countries, But Help Still Needed"
The Kiswahili-language, ruling party-owned tabloid Uhuru argued (6/13): "There is no doubt that people around the world who love to see human development are happy about the decision by G-8 countries to cancel the debts of 18 of the poorest countries in the world by 100 percent. Tanzania is one of the countries that will benefit from the debt relief. One of the conditions that influenced this decision is the serious steps being undertaken by these poor countries to strengthen good governance and to fight corruption. Here in Tanzania, we take this opportunity to congratulate President Benjamin Mkapa and his government for the implementation of sound policies that have strengthened good governance and fought corruption. The current government has made successful efforts to stamp out tax evasion, thus enabling the government to increase tax revenues. It has also prudently used taxpayers’ and donors’ money--improving social services like education, health and the country’s infrastructure. The money that was to be used to service our foreign debt will now be channeled toward improving further the social services and the infrastructure in the country. But we should caution that debt relief alone will not bring miracles. We urge rich countries to continue helping us in our efforts to alleviate the abject poverty in our countries. At the same time, debt relief without reforming the world trade system which favors rich countries will be of little benefit to the poor countries. Nevertheless, debt relief is a step in the right direction."
UGANDA: "Foreign Aid Has Not Benefited Africa"
Andrew M. Mwenda commented in the independent, influential Monitor editorialized (Internet version, 6/12): " The current alliance between Africa's corrupt politicians and bureaucrats on the one hand and international aid donors on the other can only produce temporary relief to the continent's misery, but not a durable solution to its underlying causes. Yet Blair's calls for debt cancellation and increased foreign aid only helps consolidate this unproductive arrangement.... Tony Blair and his G-8 partners would do the continent a ton of good if they promoted such trade and investment relationships, rather than this claptrap of kindness and generosity through more aid, debt forgiveness and removal of agricultural subsidies.... Removing subsidies can only help Africa sell more of the same primary products with low value it has sold for the last 600 years, and remained poor. If Blair is to be helpful to Africa, he should promote business relationships like Rwenzori coffee's access to Britain's supermarkets. That will position Africa favorably in the value chain. Unfortunately, this wisdom is lacking, or being resisted in the influential centers of decision making both in Africa and the Western world."
The government-owned Times of Zambia commented (6/13): "Africa's inability to grow is as a result of many factors, like lack of modern technology. Where some is available, it is limping old, or completely outdated. In such a scenario, disease also ravages since there is not enough food or a health system worth talking about. As if the above are not enough problems for the Dark Continent, wars in Africa are the order of the day.... In these circumstances there is no room to repay any debt. However...democracies are emerging, giving hope to a continent that has suffered for so long. With new democracies, the continent is stabilizing and opening up to new investments. It is with this background that the move by the world's economically powerful countries, known as the G-8, to write off the debt for poor countries in Africa should be welcomed. The continent badly needs breathing space to move forward.... What the donors need to do is assist the affected countries devise programs that will benefit the very vulnerable of the continent's populations. There is urgent need to uplift collapsed social sectors.... But for their part, African governments need to show the way if the debt relief is to pay off. Measures are needed to bring to an end the myriad of senseless wars. An improvement in good governance, promoting a free and vibrant press, fighting corruption, promoting human rights, improving electoral systems and others will provide a fertile ground for new investments. There is so much wealth, so much potential, abundant resources, but all these have gone to waste because of the problems, some of them self-induced, such as wars. The debt relief will only be meaningful when the continent provides a conducive atmosphere. That is the greatest challenge for Africa and its peoples."
ZIMBABWE: "Africa's 'Dependency Syndrome'"
Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem had this to say in the independent weekly Zimbabwe Standard (Internet version, 6/13): "Even if [Blair] has now succeeded in getting Bush to use nearly the same language on debt cancellation this is where it stops. The devil, as they say, is in the details. The Bush people want debt cancellation to be paid for by the lending multilateral institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. This may mean that money pledged for relief of poverty will be diverted to debt cancellation. In plain language: no new monies on the table just a recycling of what is already available. In biblical terms it means robbing Peter to pay Paul. So where does this leave Blair and his big plans for Africa? Nowhere really. While he has put high premiums on persuading Americans, the truth is that other G-8 countries are not really singing their hymns from the same book. Germany, France and Japan have their own priorities and would not be lectured to by a British prime minister on his way out of No. 10 Downing Street."
CANADA: "Africa Needs More Than Gesture"
The centrist Times Colonist of Victoria commented (6/14): "The world's richest nations have agreed on a massive debt relief project for Third World countries.... The deal, which was brokered by Britain and the U.S., marks the beginning of a determined campaign to tackle poverty and under-development in Third World countries, particularly on the African continent.... Critics point out that the history of debt relief, like other forms of financial aid to Third World countries, has been at best chequered. Despite a series of increasingly generous assistance efforts, many African nations have actually become poorer, some dramatically so.... Before countries qualify for debt relief, they will have to meet a good governance test by tackling fraud and disorder at home, and by meeting legal obligations abroad.... There are two other measures Western leaders might consider. First, ensure that any hard cash on offer goes to local businesses and social services, rather than to government officials. What Africa desperately needs is an independent and financially secure business sector, and reliable public health and education programs. Second, let's stop crushing Third World economies with trade barriers designed to shut out their principal exports--agricultural commodities. Do Europe's walnut or corn producers really need a tariff to shelter them from competition by tiny, one-hectare plots in the horn of Africa? Are cotton farmers in the U.S. so inefficient they need a protective duty to keep out Cameroon's pitiful little crop? Unless this debt relief measure is to become just another gesture, albeit an expensive one, it must be accompanied by meaningful reform, both in the West and in the Third World. As befits the richer partner, however, we should lead the way."
"Debt Relief Can Break Cycle Of Poverty In Africa"
The left-of-center Edmonton Journal observed (6/14): "Thanks to a vicious circle of AIDS, high tariffs, weak government and interest payments on billions of dollars in debt, many of the poorest African countries are caught in a poverty trap they can't escape without help. Indeed, so vast and terrible is the trap, some probably wouldn't escape in the foreseeable future even with all the help we can imagine. But some would. Some will. And having climbed back on the road to development, they will set an example to the others and ultimately free up scarce aid dollars for other recipients. That's why the weekend's decision by G-8 nations to forgive an estimated $50 billion in debt to 18 nations...is one of the best pieces of news the world has had for some time.... The decision is only a small beginning, and only for countries meeting conditions about anti-corruption measures and pro-market economic reforms.... If you want to be critical, it is easy to do. Governments have spent a long time arranging the debt relief; they have excluded many needy nations not viewed as capable of spending the money effectively; they have yet to work out a new trade regime to let African nations become more self-reliant. But the new plan is a wonderful sign that the global attitude toward poverty and development is changing.... Poverty is a key part of the reason countries fall into a cycle of violence that affects people far beyond their borders. Debt relief, which Canada has rightly championed, is an excellent way to fight it."
"Africa And The G-8"
The centrist Winnipeg Free Press commented (6/13): “When the world's industrial giants, the members of the Group of Eight, meet in Scotland on July 6 for their annual summit, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as host, gets to set the agenda for the international show. Dominating the agenda for the third summit in a row is Africa. Mr. Blair wants the G-8 to double the aid pledged to Africa over the next 10 years, which would mean about $25 billion a year.... Mr. Blair wants to forgive the foreign debt that is crushing African's poorest nations. So do Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Paul Martin. The disagreement is in how it would be done. Mr. Blair wants the World Bank to assume the debt and the International Monetary Fund to sell off its gold reserves to pay for it. Britain is not a gold producer. Canada and the U.S. are. Mr. Bush and Mr. Martin fear an IMF sell-off would cause the bottom to fall out of the gold market. They would end up paying twice, and paying handsomely each time. Mr. Blair was not treated any more shabbily in Washington than he is likely to be treated by Canada among others, in Scotland next month. Until the G-8 can coordinate one realistic plan for Africa, there will always be a spot for Africa on its agenda.”
BRAZIL: "A Plan For Africa"
Liberal Folha de S. Paulo editorialized (6/11): “Accused by his own voters of having involved the UK into the Iraqi war, Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to improve his biography by adopting the African cause. He wants to transform the British presidency of the G-8 into an opportunity for launching a true Marshall Plan for Africa. Blair’s plans are generous and ambitious. He wants to cancel the foreign debt of the poorest African nations and double the international aid to that continent, which would total remarkable USD 50 billion per year over the next decade. Obviously, the problem is to convince other potential donators, especially the U.S. ... Blair’s Marshall Plan is probably the best chance for Africa and should be approved by the rich nations. However, there are other means to help the Africans, as well as other developing nations. The most effective of them would be eliminating agricultural subsidies and non-tariff barriers. It would also be a chance for the U.S. to show that the liberal principles it toughly defends when denying assistance are nothing but simple empty rhetoric.”
BARBADOS: "Removing The Debt Burden"
The leading Nation editorialized (6/14): "It is very good news indeed for some 17 of the world's most highly indebted poor countries to have their debts to international financial institutions written off with immediate effect. In this hemisphere, Guyana is one of three countries--the others being Honduras and Nicaragua--to benefit from this 100 percent write-off by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.... While the entire group of finance ministers of the G-8 countries deserves to be commended for the decision after a long period of negotiations and representations from the debtor nations, Prime Minister Tony Blair's government and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, in particular, have consistenly demonstrated an enlightened approach to make the write-off deal a reality.... This development comes at a most challenging period for Guyana and other sugar-exporting countries of the Caribbean Community and the wider African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states that are faced with a proposed 42 percent cut in the price for their sugar on the European market, over a two-year period...which could cost an estimated annual loss in income of about US$45 million.... This situation underscores the reality that while debt relief, particularly when it is 100 percent written off, is quite desirable, far more practical and enlightening would be for the rich and powerful nations to be forthcoming in adjusting their subsidies and protectionist policies to facilitate better terms of trade in goods and services from the poor and developing states. There is also the shared concern, even among beneficiary countries, that other poor nations should not have to suffer reductions in aid because of the debt forgiveness identified by the G-8 group for the initial 17 highly indebted ones."
VENEZUELA: "Tony Blair"
Pro-government daily tabloid Diario VEA contended (6/15): “The Labor Party did not want to call for a referendum on the European Constitution because everyone bets on its defeat. Tony Blair has had to pay a high price for his support to Bush’s policy. Tony Blair did not take any 'third way' but he went onto the lap of the U.S. administration. Workers and the labor left have rebelled against Blair’s policy, against the war in Iraq, against Blair’s submissiveness to U.S. capital. No matter how Blair tries to create a smokescreen with his project of aid to Africa, the English know that the proposals are designed to serve the American interests. The ‘third way’ turned out to be a fraud.”
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