Oxfam urges 'Marshall' aid for Africa: IMF policies 'suck continent dry'

International Monetary Fund policies in Africa are not working and the fund should rethink them or get out of the continent, the Oxfam director, David Bryer, said yesterday.

'There cannot be a role for the IMF if it is going to go on sucking Africa dry, as it is at the moment,' Mr Bryer said, pointing out that the fund had drained Africa of more than dollars 3bn ( pounds 1.9bn) since 1983.

He was launching an Oxfam report, Africa Make or Break, which calls for a 'Marshall Plan' to support recovery in Africa. The charity argues that a window of opportunity is opening in Eritrea, on the brink of independence after 30 years of war, and in Mozambique, where the United Nations is charged with monitoring a peace process to end a 15-year civil war. But there is a grave danger, Mr Bryer said, that international lack of concern will shut that window.

Ordinary people throughout sub-Saharan Africa continue to work to improve their living conditions but they are being 'constantly clobbered', he said, at the level of their own governments and at international level.

Those countries which have, under Western pressure since the end of the Cold War, liberalised their economies, are now the victims of IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programmes whose only fruits to date are very bitter indeed. The yardstick for judging the programmes must be their success or failure in restoring economic growth and alleviating poverty, Oxfam said, and 'the overwhelming weight of evidence suggests they have not performed well in either area'.

Investment levels have dropped in countries implementing the programmes, health, education and training services have been eroded and development of the infrastructure has been neglected.

Oxfam insists that 'market- based' solutions are not a panacea for eradicating poverty, especially when the poor are denied access to markets through lack of productive resources. It advocates a strategy putting emphasis on credit for marginal producers, 'targeted and temporary' protection against imports, promotion of regional trade, and improved public services.

More broadly, the charity calls for a reduction of Africa's crippling debt burden, increased aid, measures to improve Africa's trading prospects, and a stronger role for the UN.

Mr Bryer referred to the vast resources currently being made available to Russia as proof that the West can act if the will is there. But the comparison may tend to break as well as make his case. Aid to Russia is forthcoming for reasons of self-interest, but a Western interest in African prosperity appears to be harder for governments to discover.