The summit of the poor," which is taking place in Katibougou, Mali, has urged the world's richest countries, currently meeting as the G8 in Japan, to keep their promises regarding aid to Africa, according to news reaching here. As the Mali meeting, popularly known as the poor people's summit, entered its first day Monday, speaker after speaker took as wipe at the G8 leadership, notably criticizing the world's nations of making grand "announcements" in a bid to "clear their conscience."
"Gentlemen of the G8, please respect your commitments," Bernard Ouedraogo, who hails from Burkina Faso, said in remarks that reflected the general sentiment of the hundreds of participants meeting until Wednesday in this town near Bamako, in what is seen as a alternative to the "summit of rich."
"I do not want to go into the figures, but remember the development aid that was promised by these leaders, where is it? Has it materialized? Therefore, it was empty promise! An empty promise!" said the Ouagadougou-based poor people's activist.
When the time came for Tahirou Bah, secretary general of the Bamako-based Non-governmental organization "Movement of the Voiceless," to speak, he took to the podium largely echoing Ouedraogo's remarks: "I refuse to understand how democratically elected leaders can fail to abide by their commitments."
"It seems as if the announcements are just made for the purpose of having a good conscience, that's all. But this situation cannot last. We are going straight into the wall. There will be a revolution, the poor people will engineer a revolution," he said.
The leaders of South Africa, Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria,S enegal, Tanzania, who have been invited to the G8 meeting together with Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union commission, have all spoken on the need "to honor promises made during previous summits, before making new ones."
But organizers of the world's poor people summit have so far showed little enthusiasm and outright pessimism on whether the G8 summit will come out with tangible benefits for Africa. "We expect nothing from this meeting. They can do nothing, they do not want to do anything for the continent," Nouhoun Keita, one of the spokesmen of the meeting, told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.
"They are incapable of generosity. They are incapable of looking the reality in the face, and it is very unfortunate. It is now up to the southern countries, the civil societies, the world's peasants to take their responsibilities," said Barry Aminata Toure, one of the organizers of the Katibougou summit.
"They have been criticizing Mugabe. Yes, yes, Mugabe is not a good model of democracy. But for us, the presidents of the G8 countries are the Mugabes of hunger, injustice, and capitalism," said Moctar Diallo, a summit attendant from Senegal.
On Monday, the G8 leaders were subjected to strong pressure from African countries to keep their promises on aid. In particular, African countries are asking the world's richest countries to reaffirm the commitments that were made at their summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.
During the summit, which was hosted by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the G8 leaders had agreed to double their annual aid to Africa by 2010 compared to its 2004 level, estimated at 25 billion dollars.
So far, less than a quarter of 25 billion dollars promised in additional aid has actually been released to the world's poorest continent, according to official figures.
Faced with the growing barrage of criticism against the rich countries, there, nevertheless, were voices emerging at the poor people's summit also pointing an accusing finger at the responsibility of African leaders.
"We should not expect anything from the rich countries. It is primarily up to us to ensure the development of our countries. This requires us to first of all resolve to fight against corruption. It also requires good management of public wealth," said Oumar Diakite, who is representing Cote d'Ivoire at the summit.
Referring to the political crisis in Zimbabwe, Cote d'Ivoire and elsewhere around the impoverished continent, the Abidjan-based activist said: "Yes, it is true that we must fight against global warming, soaring oil prices, the food crisis, but we must above all fight against bad leadership in Africa."