African countries set for aid package for education
Dino Mahtani, Financial Times (FT.Com), May 22
Twenty African countries could qualify for a British-led multi billion dollar aid package intended to boost education spending in the continent over the next decade.
The package should represent the first material sign of pledges for overall increases in aid donations promised to poor countries by G8 finance ministers last year in Gleneagles. Development activists and aid agencies have been warning that promises made last year have not been materialising fast enough to reverse poverty trends in developing countries.
Last month Britain pledged at least $15bn over the next 10 years to help poor countries achieve universal primary education by 2015, one of eight "millennium development goals" set out by the UN.
Speaking at an international conference on aid and development in Nigeria, Gordon Brown, UK finance minister, said he would lobby G8 ministers at a summit in St Petersburg next month to put down an additional $10bn for the education fund.
Britain has been at the vanguard of developed countries calling for increased aid flows to poor countries, spearheading last year's Africa Commission report on poverty reduction. Britain has also been one of the few developed countries calling for the end of expensive agricultural subsidies in developed countries.
"There is of course the question of whether we have the will and the determination to work with Africa to make sure that the promises that we have jointly made are jointly redeemed. We have a special responsibility to act and act this year," said Mr Brown.
The countries in question are expected to set out detailed plans how they would use the money by September, when the IMF and World Bank hold their annual meetings. Fifteen low income African countries have already said they will be ready, while the other countries have expressed interest.
Last year, G8 ministers promised to expand aid contributions to developing countries by as much as $50bn a year. One UK official said the education plan could be the first of many aid plans in the coming years, targeting other millennium development goals like reducing hunger and the spread of Aids and addressing other pledges such as investment in infrastructure.
Many of the countries that have been busy drawing up their plans for the education fund have also benefited from a debt write off from multilateral agencies. Such countries won relief by sticking to an IMF poverty relief programme.
While Britain's initiative aims to be as wide ranging as possible, some diplomats have questioned whether some of the aid could simply bolster regimes in some countries that have a more questionable record on governance and human rights.