Leading article: A stepping stone on the long road to prosperity

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The Independent Online

No one ever suggested it would take just a year to solve the problems of Africa. But 12 months on from the Live8 concerts and the bold promises of the G8 nations at Gleneagles, it is reasonable to assess how much progress has been made.

Looking back, Live8 was not the cultural turning point its organisers claimed. Bob Geldof and Bono argue that the event was a success because it raised awareness of the plight of Africa. Up to a point. Africa was certainly mentioned a lot, but this cannot disguise the fact that, artistically, the concerts were not really about Africa at all. Performers from the continent were relegated to small stage in Cornwall. An impressive number of people around the world tuned in, but a question mark must hang over how much they actually learnt about this culturally rich continent by doing so.

The other claim by the organisers - that the huge publicity forced the leaders of the G8 into action - has more substance. The most significant pledges from Gleneagles were a debt write-off for 18 of the world's poorest countries and a hefty increase in aid. The campaigners of Live8 and the Make Poverty History coalition can certainly take some credit from this. Without the popular pressure they helped to generate, the leaders of the world's richest economies would almost certainly have delivered less. The benefits of this deal are already feeding through. Thanks to a combination of debt relief and aid, several African governments now have greater resources to spend on their own populations. Basic health care is now free in Zambia. New roads have been built for farmers in Ghana.

But again we must be careful not to overstate what was achieved. Much of the money pledged at Gleneagles was double-counted. Aid pledges were inflated by factoring in the losses from debt cancellation. And, most depressingly of all, there was no action whatsoever on liberalising trade. Plans to reform the Common Agricultural Policy remain in deadlock. The US and Japan also remain neuralgic about the idea of scrapping their domestic farm subsidies. The leaders of the G8 continue to evade the point that dismantling the tariff wall around the rich economies of the world would help Africa far more than any aid donations.

Live8 will also, ultimately, be judged on whether it provides the momentum for future progress. Here, much will depended on future political leadership. Tony Blair will chair a session of the forthcoming G8 summit in St Petersburg on implementing the Gleneagles promises. The Prime Minister will also announce today the formation of a "Gleneagles Monitoring Group" chaired by Kofi Annan. Mr Blair clearly sees helping Africa as part of his personal legacy. Gordon Brown, one of the architects of the debt cancellation deal, also has a strong personal interest in this area. Indeed, Africa is one of the few areas where Mr Brown and Mr Blair have been able to work together with a degree of harmony. It remains to be seen whether they will be judged by history as "the Lennon and McCartney of global development", as Bono once optimistically predicted.

The Gleneagles deal has delivered less than its cheerleaders predicted, but more than pessimists feared. One year on, it still has the potential to be become an important stepping stone on the road to African prosperity. But amid all this, we should not forget that much of Africa is changing without any obvious support from the rich nations of the world. There is respectable economic growth in South Africa and Nigeria. Liberia and Sierra Leone are emerging from civil war. Sometimes it is necessary to remind ourselves that Africa does not need to be "saved", but simply allowed to make the most of its formidable potential.

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