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African and G7 nations must learn from the success and failures of their past partnership.

Jamie Drummond
By Jamie Drummond

Co-founder, Strategist for the SDGs and Jubilee 2000 “Drop the Debt

Posted on Friday, 14 June 2019 12:17

The logo of the upcoming August 2019 G7 Summit in Biarritz is seen during the Interior ministers of G7 nations meeting in Paris, France, April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

When official representatives of African and G7 countries meet this week in Paris top of the to do list must be to revitalise the most important partnership on the planet: between the citizens of Africa’s booming countries, and their counterparts across European and other G7 countries.

There will be seven times as many African youth as European youth by 2050. Rational global policymaking would see a perfect fit in this partnership for decades to come, with this youth boom coinciding with Europe’s relative ageing population.

What might once have been presented as a development challenge for Africa, is now a present and future political opportunity – and challenge – for Europe and the G7. Europe must lead the investment drive, but will need all the help it can get from G7 partners to invest at the scale needed.

Only through cooperation can we seize opportunities afforded by new technology, and tackle transnational threats like climate change, global organised crime, and poverty eradication.

Lessons from previous Africa-G7 partnerships

Given the stakes, it is good this is not the first time the G7 and Africa have partnered. From the late 1990s, G7 sherpas worked through key issues like unpayable old cold war-era debts, communicable diseases and the Millennium Development Goals.

Especially between the G7 of 2002 in Kananaskis in Canada and through to Hokkaido in Japan in 2008, a partnership was formed which agreed and implemented some historic programs. And some which fared less well.

It is important to understand the process. Throughout these years, the deputies of world leaders – a species of public servant known in diplomatic circles as ‘sherpas’ – negotiated the texts that formed the basis of global agreements on the great issues of the time.

In these times of strained multilateralism it is vital to grasp how these diplomatic processes works, so they can be democratised, dramatized and shared. Only then will we help get citizens and the private sector more engaged in the vital challenges of our time.

Key successes from that past period were around debt, infectious diseases like AIDS and malaria, transparency in the extractives sector, and overall increased aid quality and quantity.

There have also been numerous efforts to improve investment and trade flows, and targeted regional efforts to focus on ending the cycle of hunger and drought in the Horn of Africa and central Africa, from peacekeeping to preserving the Congolese rainforest.

Some of these have fallen by the wayside. Others, such as debt relief, fighting AIDS, or aid quantity and quality concerns, enjoyed their hey day at the height of the G7-Africa track that saw real results from 2005 until the financial crisis.

Wanted: Committed leaders

The model was initially set by Canada. Jean Chretien put Africa at the top of the agenda during the year his country held the G8 presidency. He appointed Bob Fowler as his personal representative.

K.Y. Amoako had a ringside seat as the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa at the time: “Bob was an accomplished ambassador, intelligent and collaborative, very devoted to working with Africa as a partner. But he also had the distinction of being Chretien’s sherpa to coordinate G8 activities in general. So in that way, Chretien sent a clear message. Because Fowler had two portfolios, that put Africa front and center for Canada’s G8 presidency. That commitment showed through.”

  • Other countries showed similar levels of commitment, including the UK, where Baroness Valerie Amos filled the role and in the USA where Africa sherpas Jendayi Fraser and Bobby Pittman enjoyed close working relations with National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and President Bush.

On the Africa side, leaders like Thabo Mbeki, Meles Zenawi, Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and Abdoulaye Wade all wanted Africa to ensure ownership over its development agenda.

  • Their combined efforts helped produce the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, or NEPAD, as a new model for African countries to engage with donor countries.

So even as the G8 countries devoted more attention and resources to Africa, they had counterparts in Africa who were more willing to work with the West and, ultimately, drove the approach.

Much of this process culminated in the 2005 G8 in Gleneagles hosted by Tony Blair where measures agreed included:

  • a total multilateral debt cancellation for key countries, so long as citizens could scrutinise debt relief funds
  • and a doubling of aid and measures around trade, transparency and improving the investment climate.

According to ONE’s DATA Report, which tracked these promises through to 2010, the G7 kept its promise to drop the debt and scored 6/10 on its promise to increase aid quantity and quality.

Pressure had already seen it rise from $15bn to $25b, and it then increased it from $25bn in 2005 to $42bn by 2010.

Key to sustained increases were clear timebound goals between 2005 and 2010. Blair’s alliance with Bush over Africa certainly helped, but so did “activists on the inside”, as Bono called characters like Jendayi Fraser, Bobby Pittman, Myles wickstead and Shriti Vadera.

  • Between 2000 and 2015, AIDS-related deaths dropped by nearly 33%; Tuberculosis deaths globally dropped by 22%; and deaths from malaria fell by 50% globally, and helped tens of millions more children enter school for the first time.
  • Along with strengthened African investments and commodity revenues the partnership helped fuel a decade of decent growth for African economies.

The growth was not perfect – too few have been lifted out of extreme poverty and most African leaders have not keep promises to their own people to invest 15% of the budget in health, for example.

  • Perhaps the biggest failure of this period was that the resource revenues from the commodity boom were not well invested.
  • The G7-Arica partnership tried to avoid this through the extractive industries transparency initiative, but with too few successes. That struggle, like many others, continues.

The continuity challenge

As Bobby Pittman, Bush Africa Sherpa in 2007 puts it: “In the period during which I worked closely with many G7/8 countries and leaders, I saw the lack of continuity as a big problem…..once that action was taken, it was hard to sustain the commitment because the priorities and personnel rotate along with the presidency.”

  • Long term development leaders like Claire Short and Gayle Smith have often critiqued “initiativitis” – the tendency of some politicians at moments like G7s to announce a new “deliverable” – but with no serious plans for follow through.
  • African leaders have long had enough of their continent going in and out of fashion on the global agendas.
  • Tony Blair, to his credit, was well aware of how this cycle plays out, and that’s one reason he created the Africa Commission, and supported the creation of Kofi Annan-led Africa Progress Panel in the aftermath – as a way to broaden the dialogue, maintain accountability and try to keep the conversation going.

Unfortunately the Sherpa track was closed down after 2008 – perhaps surprisingly given the election of an American president with an African father. A key explanation was of course the global financial crisis.

The financial crash drove more attention towards the G20 as a forum for action and relevance, as traditional donors and lead economies reeled and felt a need to partner more broadly to restore economic and financial stability.

More recently we saw Angela Merkel use Germany’s presidency of the G20 to launch the Compact with Africa (CwA), easily the biggest G7/8/20 initiative on Africa in more a decade.

  • Its aim was to partner to improve investment climates for G20 investment in Africa, and strengthen domestic resource mobilisation.

It faces more extreme versions of the same challenges identified with the G7 in terms of continuity, and unless we see strong, stated positions from upcoming host countries to keeping the CwA front and centre, it will wither away at the G20 level.

Going forward the lessons for the future of an effective G7-Africa track seem clear.

  1. Leaders on the G7 side must appoint Africa sherpas who have genuine direct access to the head of state, and a brief not to see “Africa” as a charitable burden, but an historic opportunity.
  2. As host countries rotate, there needs to be a defined process or commitment among the G7 to keep Africa at the forefront of the agenda rather than ratcheting up or down efforts every few years.
  3. Commitments need to be clear, measurable and with time-bound commitments and independent monitoring mechanisms. independent monitoring mechanisms.
  4. Humility is key – as is making partnership a reality. This means not only genuinely hearing and what the partners say, but also respecting that the G7, while powerful, sits alongside other moments in the political calendar – AU , EU, UN, G20, BRICS gatherings, and more – and must have a strategic continuity program with these other moments and their respective hosts to keep key issues moving forward.

Opportunities for the present Africa – G7 partnership

To President Macron’s immense credit, one proposal before the G7 and Africa Sherpas this year is a “gender equality partnership”. The proposal recommends a “bouquet legislatif” of best practise laws to promote equality.

In parallel Macron aims to secure increased financial commitments on women and girls health, education and digital and economic inclusion.

  • These proposals are very promising but based on past experience need clear time-bound targets on how many will be digitally included, how much will be invested per woman living in extreme poverty, and by when.

The hardest shared goal for the G7-Africa team is around finding jobs for the extra 22m African youth entering the workforce each year.

Here Macron must be credited with hearing the concern of African civil society groups, and echoing the AU’s 2018 theme of anti corruption, hearing concerns about a potential new African debt crisis and putting public finance and debt transparency firmly on the Biarritz agenda.

He should also call for more support for African Follow the Money networks – “youth ground truth” teams tooled up with mobile technology who want to ensure leaders keep their promises and enforce open public budgets and contracts.

  • Quality investment will flow towards the immense economic opportunity of Africas youth boom only if investors believe governance is improving.

The challenge of job creation is compounded by the need to shift into renewable energy and sustainable growth paths to counter climate change.

  • Macron’s “One Planet Lab” is helpfully partnering with the private sector to encourage investments into sustainable infrastructure.
  • At his G7 Macron has a wonderful opportunity to show how African development and a global green jobs agenda can go hand in hand, through a new “One Planet – One People” partnership. He could have a key continuity agenda on this with the UK G7 in 2021, bypassing the awkward moment of Trumps G7 in 2020 – especially if the UK hosts the Climate Summit in 2020.

President Macron and the coalition of the willing across African and G7 nations should be applauded for giving a true new partnership an urgent new agenda.

The Biarritz G7 must deliver, and be held accountable, in its own right – but must also share the potential for partnership at the UN General Assembly a few weeks later in New York.

There Macron, African and other leaders attending will be asked to make their new partnership a key backbone of the “decade of delivery” required ahead to achieve the 2030 goals. They should say yes.

That could help ensure that Biarritz is a real breakthrough for a reborn Africa – G7 partnership, and not just another passing initiative.

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