As President Barack Obama ends his first visit to the G-8 Summit as president and travels to Ghana, a country he has touted as a model for other African nations, aid to support development in the continent is once again in the spotlight.
In 2005, Africa took center stage as aid to the continent became a cause celebre.
From rock star Bono to movie idol Angelina Jolie, celebrities pushed the plight of the continent onto the front pages of newspapers and into living rooms around the world, and it worked.
Leaders from the eight wealthiest democracies, including Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, pledged to double their aid to the continent by 2010. The signing at the 2005 G-8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, was touted as a major step toward helping African countries escape poverty through development projects. Bono, who became the public face of the ONE campaign, a major player in the push for African aid, credited then-President George W. Bush for his commitment to Africa and pushed G-8 leaders to do more.
But, four years later, it seems the checks got lost in the mail.
According to Official Development Assistance (ODA) figures for 2008, G-8 nations delivered only one-third of the $21.5 billion in assistance they promised in 2005. The humanitarian group says the worst offenders are France and Italy. The host country for this year's G-8 Summit has given 3 percent of the $3.5 billion it pledged in 2005 and France has given 7 percent of its pledged $5.2 billion.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is the only leader to sign the 2005 pledge who still remains in office. Berlusconi, whose personal life has recently dominated headlines, has become known as Mr. 3 percent, after the amount of aid his country has delivered. Berlusconi's defense: Blame the economy.
"Unfortunately, there were some delays in dispatching that aid because of the crisis," he said this week.
Activists say that's not a valid excuse and more needs to be done.
"It's precisely this time that we need to support the African countries that are actually being hit very hard by the economic crisis," said Oliver Buston, Europe director of the ONE campaign.
Economic Crisis Not An Excuse?
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already gone on record with his dismay about the shortage of aid.
"The economic crisis cannot become an excuse to abandon commitments," he said last month. "It is even more reason to make them concrete."
Some summit attendees took an indirect stab at the G-8 leaders' past commitments.
Commending the group's latest pledge of $20 billion in farm aid to developing countries, Nigerian Agriculture Minister Abba Ruma said it must be "disbursed expeditiously. It is only then we will know that the G-8 is living up to its commitment and not just making a pledge and going to sleep."
In an apparent effort to shame countries not following through on their previous pledges, the G-8, for the first time, will publish the data of money pledged and money delivered to enhance accountability. But many say that will provide little comfort to those who have heard so many promises before.
The United Nations estimates the number of malnourished people in the world has risen in the past two years and is expected to top 1.02 billion this year. The global recession is expected to make 103 million more go hungry. The World Bank estimates that the gross domestic product of developing countries, except for China and India, will decline by 1.6 percent this year, with fragile African countries being the most at risk.
These dire statistics and Obama's first visit to Ghana as president has the potential to once again make aid to Africa a cause celebre.
As Bono wrote Friday in an op-ed in The New York Times: "The not-so-good news -- that countries like Italy and France are not meeting their Africa commitments -- makes the president's visit all the more essential. ... The president can facilitate the new, the fresh and the different. Many existing promises are expiring in 2010, some of old age and others of chronic neglect. New promises from usual and unusual partners, from the G-8 to the G-20, need to be made -- and this time kept."