Janet Bush: After the crowds have gone, and the golfers return, the real work begins

The Economist
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The Independent Online

The bands - the rocking variety of yesterday's Live8 concerts and the white rubber sort embossed with "Make Poverty History 2005" - speak of a common will to shame the men in suits, convening behind the iron security curtain thrown around the Gleneagles Hotel, into giving just a little bit more away of their countries' breathtaking wealth to the world's poor.

We have reason to be proud of the leadership of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, whose crusade on Africa pre-dated by a margin the Iraq war and cannot be dismissed as a cynical ploy to win back the moral high ground. Their commitment is genuine and they have made a real difference. Something unthinkable even a few months ago happened last week: Nigeria, whose awful history of military misrule and venality has long made it almost untouchable, won an agreement in principle from the Paris Club of the world's most powerful creditors that will see them write off some $18bn of its debt, the largest ever debt-cancellation in the history of Africa.

Britain is Nigeria's largest creditor and the deal would never have been done without her dogged insistence. But Nigeria (for whom I act as an advisor) had to do the painstaking, painful groundwork: putting in place new anti-corruption laws and institutions, a tough economic programme scrutinised, but not owned, by the International Monetary Fund, and new mechanisms to track, account for and save oil revenues for investment in the long-term needs of the country.

There isn't a member of the small team of reformers in Nigeria who hasn't received death threats from those who, with improved governance, have seen their sources of easy money dry up. All are physically exhausted, and will need at some point to be replaced by a new generation of talented younger men and women prepared to work their socks off, often getting scant thanks from their compatriots, and for far less remuneration than they would attract if they abandoned Africa and worked in the private sector abroad.

Bringing about the kind of root and branch change that Africa needs if it is to start reversing the years of lost opportunities, conflict, and mismanagement is hard, boring, thankless, relentless work and it needs to go on many, many years after the euphoria of yesterday's Live8 events has died away. The wristbands and the rock music is the spin; the substance is hard, bloody graft, because it means real choices - the simple Robin Hood choice of taking money from the rich to give to the poor (and that includes from those Africans comfortable in their respective diasporas and unwilling to go home or even invest in their own countries).

For all the fanfare and hoop-la, the numbers being discussed at Gleneagles do not represent a pinprick in the wealth of these large industrialised economies - the extra $25bn a year in aid called for by the Commission for Africa represents less than 0.01 per cent of the combined economic wealth of the richest donors. And consider this: in 2003, our overseas aid represented 0.34 per cent of the total value of our economy - that's a bit better than most (the US equivalent figure is a shameful 0.15 per cent) but it is hardly a big deal.

Increased aid, while valuable, is a distraction from the real issue, which is how to create a level playing field on which developing countries can compete - and that is an issue not for Gleneagles, but for the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong in December and for the European Union as battle rages over the Common Agricultural Policy.

If the current negotiations with Waitrose are successful, the Rwenzori Coffee Company of Uganda will become the first ever wholly-owned African company whose goods are sold by a British supermarket. That fact took my breath away - why has it not happened before with a continent so blessed with natural resources? The managing director, Andrew Rugasira, asks why, as an African entrepreneur, he should be seen any differently from a thirtysomething white man with a burning desire to run a successful business and get rich.

He has a message for Bob Geldof: forget the concerts and campaign for UK supermarkets to dedicate 3 per cent of their shelf space to African products. Business and trade, not aid, is the real agenda that needs to be kept alive once Gleneagles is returned to its golfers.

Janet Bush is a director of Advocacy International Limited