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11.06.2005 General News

Kufuor to meet Bush in US


Accra, Statesman -- PRESIDENT John Agyekum Kufuor will visit Washington DC next week to meet US President George W Bush. The visit comes amid a heightened momentum on the part of rich nations to better respond to the development agenda of Africa. Yesterday, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush announced that aiding impoverished African nations will be a major priority for their governments. Helping Africa through debt relief and direct assistance is “a central commitment of my administration's foreign policy,'' Bush said after he and Blair met at the White House.

Foreign Minister Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo confirmed yesterday that President Kufuor and the presidents of Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Niger would hold a joint meeting with Bush at the White House on Monday. The Ghanaian entourage leaves Accra on Saturday.

While in Washington, President Kufuor is expected to meet the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Paul Applegarth, and the new President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, as well. Ghana is expecting her share of this year's $1 billion Millennium Challenge Account to be released soon. As further evidence of the zeitgeist to give priority to Africa, British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Washington, yesterday. An extensive aid package for African nations, including Ghana, topped the agenda of the Bush-Blair meeting. Pressed by his ally Britain to boost aid to Africa, President Bush announced plans to grant developing states total debt relief and provide another $674 million in US humanitarian assistance. This may see a country like Ghana, receiving not only 100 percent relief from her bilateral debts through the enhanced HIPC initiative, but also multilateral debts owed to institutions such as the World Bank.

The announcements came at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"America will continue to lead the world to meet our duty in helping the world's most vulnerable people," Bush told reporters at the White House after talks with Mr Blair.

Mr Bush said the two countries agreed "that highly indebted developing countries that are on the path to reform should not be burdened by mountains of debt."

"Our countries are developing a proposal for the G-8 that will eliminate 100 percent of that debt," the US president said.

Neither he nor Blair gave any details except to say the package included "additional resources" to minimise the impact of the forgiven debt on the World Bank and African Development bank.

As this year's chairman of the Group of Eight economic powers, Mr Blair is seeking US help for a $50 billion plan to double aid to Africa from developed nations, including programmes to forgive debts and battle poverty and disease. “I'm pleased at the progress we're making'' on negotiating a plan to aid Africa, Blair said yesterday.

Tuesday's talks were part of Blair's month-long diplomatic push to sign leaders of the G7 nations (disregarding Russia) up to a plan for doubling aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2015. That plan, sketched out by the UK-led Commission for Africa last month, also calls for Western nations to drop trade barriers discriminating against African goods and to relieve the debts of the world's poorest nations.

Speaking to The Statesman, Nana Akufo-Addo described the invitation of the five particular African heads of states to the White House as a strong signal from America in support of the democratic process on the continent. All five countries have recently undergone general elections.

“Monday's meeting in Washington is a strong statement of support from America to give impetus to the democratic process in Africa,” says he, explaining, “this is because all the leaders invited have recently won elections that were well organised, well accepted and credible.”

US officials have made it clear the White House doesn't want to double aid to Africa or forgive debts unless countries weed out corruption and reform their governments.

Nana Akufo-Addo sees Ghana as being “in a very vantage point in this regard.” President Bush told reporters last week that developed countries "are not going to want to give aid to countries that are corrupt, or don't hold true to democratic principles, such as rule of law and transparency and human rights and human decency."

Nana Akufo-Addo says of next Monday's meeting, “for us, it provides an opportunity to engage with the American government on the highest level on issues of utmost priority to us.”

Ghana's Foreign Minister says President Kufuor will be central to the Washington discussions.

With one eye on his party's opponents here in Ghana, the Foreign Ministers says, Ghana “is rightly seen by such discerning political leaders of enormous world stature like President Bush as a shining example for others to follow. President Kufuor's refreshingly warm embrace of both the principles and practices of good governance, sound economic policies, and unprecedented investment in social infrastructure, health and education, in spite of the country's financial constraints are all being felt and appreciated by the international community. And President Kufuor sees it as his duty to persuade the rich nations to vote their endorsement of Ghana's achievements with a far greater economic support.”

This meeting comes ahead of the crucial G8 meeting in Scotland and Bob Geldorf's series of Live 8 concerts, which aim to send the aid pressure on the G8 to a deafening crescendo.

According to Nana Akufo-Addo, Africa's peace and security matters, HIV-AIDS, economic development, free trade agreements “and the very contentious issue of United Nations reforms,” are among the wide range of issues to be discussed in the meeting.

Meanwhile, reports emanating from Washington say that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will make her first trip to Africa before the crucial UN summit in September.

Rice has given no hint as to which countries in Africa she might visit. The British, on the other hand, have been talking tough in their efforts to commit the other rich nation's to solving Africa's socio-economic plight. "This is not a time for timidity, nor is it a time to fear reaching too high," Blair's finance minister and sometime rival, Gordon Brown, said last week. Mr Brown recently held discussions with his counterparts from the oil-rich Arab countries to actively involve them in the 'Marshall Plan' project for Africa. Traditionally, Arab countries have been quiet on the overseas aid front. Whitehall and Washington

Sources in Whitehall and Washington hinted significant progress on the fate of Britain's ambitious G8 agenda for Africa had been made in Washington between Messrs Blair and Bush, and a deal was close. Another meeting, this time, of finance ministers from the leading industrialised nations at the weekend is also expected to yield positive results

The US has long supported 100% debt cancellation, but has now agreed in principle that extra cash must be provided by the G8 nations, the World Bank and the IMF to make up the lost interest payments due to the World Bank and owed by the African nations, unconfirmed reports suggest.

The deal would apply to as many as 20 African countries, but the precise criteria, including possible yardsticks on good governance, are being discussed with EU nations. A diplomatic source in Washington told The Statesman last night, Ghana is “sitting pretty.”

The British finance minister Gordon Brown was also expected to make some progress at a meeting of EU finance ministers yesterday.

Mr Blair and Mr Brown have long sought a radical package for the G8 summit next month at Gleneagles, near Edinburgh, but are finding the stakes on Africa rising by the day from Bob Geldof's Live 8 concerts and threats of a mass protest. Washington has been hostile to many of Britain's proposals on Africa. Brad Pitt, George Clooney

Debt campaigners in the US, including the rock star Bono, are increasingly optimistic of a breakthrough on 100% debt cancellation. They have enlisted the support of Brad Pitt, George Clooney and the evangelical Christian Pat Robertson in an attempt to create the kind of political pressure now being stoked by Geldof's Live 8 buildup in Britain.

They believe President Bush is serious about a second term "compassion agenda" for Africa, including additional cash to finance the World Bank's lost income. Previously, the US had said debt relief should be funded by diverting cash set aside for loans by the World Bank. Critics of the initial US proposal, including Britain, said it would mean qualifying African countries would see debt cancelled, but then suffer a reduction in aid.

The Bush-Blair meeting, the first face-to-face talks between the two leaders since Mr Blair was re-elected, also represents a litmus test of whether Mr Blair's backing for the Iraq war has truly created political capital on which he can draw.

No 10 stressed the real test would not be Tuesday's talks, but the final discussions at Gleneagles on July 6 and 7.

African Leaders

African leaders have been invited to previous G8 Summits in Genoa, Kananaskis, Evian and Sea Island. At the Kananaskis Summit in 2002, the G8 agreed an Africa Action Plan. President Kufuor was among six African presidents who participated in discussions at the G8 summit. The other five invited to the summit by President George Bush, then were Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.

At Gleneagles next month, the G8 summit is focusing on Africa because sub-Saharan Africa is the only region of the world that has got poorer in the last generation. Its share of world trade halved between 1980 and 2002. It makes up 13% of the world's population and 28% of world poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa bears the brunt of the world's AIDS epidemic. 13 million men, women and children are said to have died of AIDS, and 26 million are reportedly now living with the virus. Maternal and child mortality rates have increased, and a woman has a one in 13 chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth.

These challenges represent a compelling call for international cooperation to support the continent's efforts to achieve lasting progress.

In 2000, the international community set itself eight goals to achieve by 2015. The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) include targets on eradicating extreme poverty, combating HIV and AIDS and malaria, and ensuring that every child receives primary education. The UN Millennium Review Summit in 2005 will consider progress towards the MDGs.

Last week, South African President Thabo Mbeki said July's G8 summit "has the possibility to communicate a very strong, positive message about movement on the African continent away from poverty and development."