Thomas Cargill
(Former Chatham House Expert)

World Cup fever has put a serious dent into any substantial media coverage of the G8 and G20 summits which take place this weekend in Canada. The G8 summit in the holiday district of Muskoka will be a rush job, with world leaders meeting for less than a day, to make it down to Toronto for the G20 the next day, co-hosted by South Korea. It's a sign of how fast the balance of power has shifted from G8 to G20.

This year the Canadian G8 hosts have produced an accountability report, an innovation that picks through the promises, pledges and aspirations made on development. Despite an aversion to making judgments on G8 delivery, the report contains telling recommendations regarding future commitments; principally that they should be clear, defined, time bound, results orientated and auditable.

Both G8 and G20 would do well to take this advice on Africa. Aid groups are again rolling out their campaigns to try to ensure Africa's developmental needs are met and past G8 pledges honoured. The message is the same, five years after the UK hosted the Gleneagles summit in 2005 and made major but vague pledges about increasing aid to Africa. It's likely that media coverage in Toronto will focus on humanitarian appeals to policy-makers. This has its place, but the fact that a major sporting event in South Africa has stolen the spotlight from the G8's Africa focus is symbolic of how fast Africa has changed since Canada hosted the summit in 2002. It's also indicative of how the G8 agenda has failed to keep up with changing realities.

A recent Chatham House report Our Common Strategic Interests: Africa's Role in the Post-G8 World, highlighted that the G8 has over the last decade done a good job in placing Africa back on the international agenda and working with reformist African Presidents to reverse decades of decline and neglect. Yet in recent years, discussions about Africa have served as a substitute to meaningful action.

While some African countries may be on the verge of economic take-off - with the emerging economies of the G20 as the principal beneficiaries - the G8 remains locked in an emotive and humanitarian conception of Africa that actively discourages private sector engagement. This lack of a strategic self interest in engaging with Africa is increasingly damaging to Western interests. Africa is the foundation of the global supply chain with 40% of global mineral reserves, strategically located between hemispheres and time zones, with a population of a billion people and over a quarter of UN member states (and therefore votes) gathered together.

Given the billions pumped into much of Africa in aid over past decades, mostly from G8 members, it would be ironic indeed if cash strapped Western economies now failed to grasp the benefits of the growth they have supported, allowing others to step into the breach

Further resources

Our Common Strategic Interests: Africa's Role in the Post-G8 World
Chatham House Report, Tom Cargill, June 2010

G20 Summit: Where is Europe?
Expert Comment, Paola Subacchi, June 2010