Despite the initial decision of U.S. planners not to put Africa on the G8 agenda, African countries may benefit the most from the summit held at Sea Island, John Kirton, director of the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto, told GlobalAtlanta last week.

Dr. Kirton, who follows G8 meetings closely, visited Georgia several times to study preparations for the summit and was in Savannah for the event.

He said that $2.5 billion funds were earmarked for African countries while only $100 million in new funds were to be set aside for Middle Eastern countries. Before the funds are available, however, they will have to be approved by each of the G8 governments.

The Africa funds include $1 billion for debt relief, $1 billion for peace support and $575 million for health, especially to combat polio and HIV/AIDs.

Dr. Kirton added that when the summit was being planned last year “the Middle East was to be the centerpiece of the summit while Africa was virtually absent as an agenda item and no African leaders were to be invited.”

By the time of the conference, however, he said that it was determined African initiatives should be included because of the commitment to dealing with African issues in the past two G8 meetings and because of the recommendation of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The leaders of Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda were then invited to meet with the G8 members on the last day of the summit.

A number of different African initiatives were developed, including the pledge of the G8 leaders to pay for and organize training for about 75,000 peacekeeping troops worldwide by 2010.

The troops are to be equipped and prepared to improve rapid deployment of peace support operations where they are needed, especially those led by the United Nations in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the end of the conference, Nigeria’s president, Olusegun Obasanjo, encouraged the G8 countries to be more involved in the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa are members of the NEPAD Steering Committee, which works with the G8 to reduce trade barriers and stimulate investment in Africa’s social and physical infrastructure.

The African representatives are among Africa’s strongest free trade advocates and their countries benefit from tariff-free export to the U.S. under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Dr. Kirton may be reached at 416-946-8953.