Millennium Development Goals

7. Dark Continent? Poverty, AIDS and war: The everyday tsunami

Ann-Louise Colgan

...There are some people in the world's wealthy countries who forecast that 2005 will be a decisive year for Africa...

In 2005, a confluence of major international events will also spotlight Africa's poverty-related challenges, and will highlight the need for the world's richest countries to do more in support of Africa's efforts. In July, Britain will host the G-8 summit in Scotland. In September, a United Nations (UN) Special Summit will review progress on the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to reduce by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. In December, the World Trade Organization's (WTO) sixth ministerial conference in Hong Kong will reveal whether the Doha round of global trade talks have secured new deals to benefit the world's most impoverished countries.

Civil society campaigns in the U.S. and in the U.K. are also pushing 2005 as a special opportunity for rich country leaders to address poverty in Africa and other impoverished regions. They are optimistic about victories on debt cancellation, aid and trade this year.

It is important to note that these international meetings and campaigns are Northern-dominated and rarely include African input. Indeed, they can have the effect of drowning out African voices. Meanwhile, on the ground, African civil society campaigns and some African governments continue to demand real action on priority issues defined by Africans.

Then how should we measure the outcomes of these opportunities? For, while a new international focus on Africa is warranted, and while much more can and must be done to address the continent's challenges, the sad reality is that 2005 risks being another year of "compassionate showmanship" rather than a year of sea change. The poor track record of the U.S. and other rich countries when it comes to Africa requires us to watch carefully what transpires in 2005 and to be clear on how we will measure the success of their actions this year and beyond.

As genocide continues to unfold in Darfur, Sudan, the failure of the Bush administration and other rich country governments to stop another such crime against humanity in Africa may yet be the darkest stain on their record in 2005...

This Year's "Hot Topics" - Debt, Aid & Trade

This year's calendar of global events and negotiations indicates an international focus on three key issues of importance to Africa - debt, aid, and trade?and some progress is likely on each in 2005.

On debt, activism around the world in recent years has led to a growing realization on the part of rich countries that something must be done to address the debt crisis in the world's most impoverished countries. There has also been an increasing acknowledgment that the current debt relief framework?the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative?has failed to resolve this crisis. African countries continue to struggle under an unsustainable burden of debt, and are still required to spend some $15 billion in debt service payments to wealthy creditors each year. Most African countries must spend more on debt service payments that they can spend on health care and education combined...

There are still some differences between the U.S. and U.K. in these regards... Despite these disagreements, there are indications that an agreement can be expected in 2005 on some form of debt relief or cancellation for some sub-set of deeply impoverished countries.

Meanwhile, civil society groups and some governments in Africa and elsewhere in the global South continue to call for outright and unconditional debt cancellation, emphasizing that these debts are illegitimate and should not have to be repaid. They urge the Bush administration to apply the same standard it has in calling for the cancellation of Iraq's odious debt to the odious and illegitimate debts of African countries...

Even after debt cancellation, additional development assistance will still be required for African countries to be able to address the challenges of poverty and HIV/AIDS. 2005 is a benchmark year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of international development goals that seek to improve health, education and the environment across the world, with the overarching aim of reducing by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.

When the UN meets in September to review progress toward these goals, it will be clear that while some regions are on track, Africa remains the exception. In fact, an interim UN report has revealed that, at current pace, Africa won't reach these goals until 2169?and that will still only have reduced poverty there by half. The United Nations states that meeting the MDGs will require a doubling of annual development assistance from rich countries to impoverished countries throughout the world, to $135 billion in 2006, then rising to $195 billion by 2015. It describes this as "entirely affordable," particularly when the world's military budget is $900 billion a year...

...Not only are aid flows insufficient, the patterns in which they are directed increasingly reflect geo-strategic concerns rather than efforts to reduce poverty. An Oxfam report from December 2004 warns that the "war on terror" and related geo-strategic calculations are dictating where aid money is directed in a dynamic reminiscent of the Cold War. Over the past three years, flows of aid from the U.S. to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan were equal to aid to the rest of the world combined. Furthermore, when up to 70% of U.S. foreign aid is tied to an obligation to use that money to buy goods and services from the U.S., this immediately undermines development efforts in African countries...

HIV/AIDS & Genocide in Africa - International Failures

It is not yet clear to what extent African priorities of defeating HIV/AIDS and promoting peace and security will feature on the agenda of rich countries in 2005. But what is already quite clear is the abject failure of these countries to respond to such priorities in Africa with the urgency they require.

The latest annual AIDS epidemic update released in December 2004 reveals that sub-Saharan Africa is still by far the worst affected region in the world?home to up to 28 million people living with HIV/AIDS, or 64% of the global total. African women, particularly young African women, are disproportionately affected by this pandemic ( It is estimated that almost four times as many young women as young men now live with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa...

...Beyond the inadequate funding levels, the approach of U.S. policies on HIV/AIDS continues to contradict what are some of the most important ways to address this crisis in Africa. Rather than promoting access to cheaper, generic versions of essential HIV/AIDS medications, the Bush administration places a priority on its ties with the pharmaceutical lobby, and instead approves only the use of expensive name-brand drugs. These generally cost three times as much as the generic versions, thereby reaching only one-third of potential beneficiaries.

In addition, the Bush administration's embrace of the ideology of the religious right has led it to promote an abstinence-only approach to HIV prevention strategies at home and abroad. This perspective dangerously places a premium on ideology over science and flies in the face of what is known about the most effective ways to stem the spread of this disease in Africa and elsewhere. And abstinence-only prevention programs do little to support the needs of women, when many of those contracting HIV are staying faithful to one partner, and when effective prevention clearly hinges on women's sexual and reproductive rights.

Meanwhile, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has proven to be an effective mechanism for addressing this pandemic in some 127 countries, remains under-funded by the U.S. and other rich countries...


The year has begun with a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions in the Indian Ocean, and, as the world struggles to help the countries of South Asia respond to this crisis, there are fears that this may divert attention and resources from Africa's needs in the coming year.

What is perhaps more significant is how the rapid and massive resource mobilization for the tsunami victims stands in stark contrast to the minimal level of global attention and resources given to crises that are less visible but equally deadly in Africa. In the first two weeks after that natural disaster, international donors pledged more than $5 billion to tsunami relief?an amount almost equal to the total amount that the UN received for all humanitarian relief efforts globally last year. The global AIDS crisis, which costs about 3 million lives each year, received pledges of only $3.6 billion from all rich country governments for the whole of 2004.

If 2005 is to be a decisive year for Africa, the U.S. and other rich country governments must replace compassionate charades with serious action in support of Africa's most urgent priorities. They must cancel Africa's debts, greatly increase their funding to fight HIV/AIDS, fulfill their previous promises on trade-related reforms, and support multilateral efforts to promote peace & security in Africa, with the immediate priority of ending the genocide in Darfur.