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CANADA 2002 Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

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Paul Knox PAUL

Hostage to the events of the week

It's a matter of interpretation

G8 a virtual affair

Silly season at the G8

A bizarre ambassador for African aid

The Irish in U.S. altruism

The wonderful world of globo-wonkery: It's all in the acronyms

It's the money, dummy

And this guy's on our side

It's the money, dummy

By PAUL KNOX, Globe and Mail Update

'Flora of Kananaskis," reads one of the headings on the Web site that the federal government has worked up for people interested in this month's Group of Eight summit.

It describes the "large variety of wild flowers" to be found around the Rocky Mountain lodge where industrial-world leaders will gather on June 26. The calypso orchid, the yellow mountain avens and the yellow hedysarum, "a favourite food of grizzly bears," are among the treasures cited, along with Alberta's official flower, the wild rose.

Ottawa's Webmasters should add a few more photos. Start with dead cornstalks, their ears withered and inedible. Add water-lily roots and boiled pumpkin leaves, now being fed to children to stave off hunger in southern Africa, where between 10 million and 20 million people are in danger of starving to death by the end of this year.

For good measure, why not post the article by biologist Helen Epstein published last month in The New York Review of Books? It described the macabre correlation in southern Africa between AIDS and migrant labour. It told of HIV-positive women in Mozambique, their husbands dead of the "century sickness" after years of working in South Africa's gold mines, their remaining strength consumed by the battle to claim their widow's pensions.

Helping Africa is a major item on the Kananaskis agenda, along with the global economy and terrorism. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien will ask his counterparts to look seriously at something called the New Partnership for African Development, a collection of proposals from African leaders for reordering the relationship between the poorest continent and the rest of the world.

Dreary talk of "good governance" and "trade, not aid" will float through the treetops. Mr. Chrétien preaches a gospel of private investment lured by freer trade. But subsidies and tariff barriers on farm products and textiles shut African products out of the world's richest markets. Europe stubbornly protects its stolid petit-bourgeoisie, and the agricultural bill signed into law last month by President George W. Bush was stuffed like a bratwurst with farm-state freebies.

Those children in Malawi, meanwhile, are going to die tomorrow, or next week, or next month. AIDS will continue its gruesome march, sweeping away able bodies and brains. In the short term, Africa will not be helped by desperate offers of tax holidays for light-bulb assembly plants, or multiyear partnerships with extensive consultations among a broad range of stakeholders for adding a percentage point or two to the continent's global market share.

It makes you want to sneak past the Mounties scattered through the woods and grab these G8 guys by their polo shirts and shout, "It's the money, dummy!" (Just kidding, Inspector.) Sure, Africa needs a better deal on trade and it needs it yesterday. But protectionism is alive and thriving and, with the U.S. in its biannual electoral mode, it ain't going away.

Africa needs food, and help growing food. It needs medicine and better health care. It needs more help with education and more help with the infrastructure it needs to get its products to market. Mr. Chrétien's promise of $500-million over three years is too vague and too small. How about a special pledge of 0.1 per cent of the gross domestic product of the (mostly booming) G8 economies? In Canada, that would amount to roughly $800-million, perhaps one-eighth of that higher-than-expected budget surplus Ottawa is projecting this year.

Do it right, do it smart, do it with all the necessary safeguards. But do it. This year.

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