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How Cameron can show leadership on aid at the G8 this summer

To emulate the Labour government's achievements at Gleneagles in 2005, the Prime Minister needs to make progress on transparency and tax.

David Cameron speaks while standing with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirlea
David Cameron speaks while standing with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at the United Nations. Photograph: Getty Images. P

Sometimes good news isn't boring. Since 2005, when hundreds of thousands of people marched on Edinburgh ahead of the G8 in support of the Make Poverty History campaign, child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa is down by 18 per cent and 21 million more children are in school. African leadership, with financial support from the G8 and other donors, has delivered a remarkable success story that far too few people know about.

The ONE campaign's new report Summit in Sight: The G8 and Africa from Gleneagles to Lough Erne shows that this progress has not happened by accident. African leadership has helped the region to grow by an average of 5 per cent GDP for the past eight years, increasing the resources that governments have to spend on health and education. It was also a deliberate decision by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to put African development issues at the top of the agenda for the Gleneagles summit in 2005 and to give it the political attention necessary to deliver a strong agreement. Eight years later there is an extra £7bn in development aid going to sub-Saharan Africa every year from G8 countries, and the agreement on debt relief has wiped out £22bn. Like all ventures, some of this aid fails but the vast majority improves the lives of some of the world's poorest people, for example by paying for 5.4 million more people to access anti HIV/AIDS treatment.

In the UK, this commitment to extra funding has continued under the coalition government and in this month's Budget, George Osborne can make good on the UK's promise to assign 0.7 per cent of national income to the aid budget from 2013. It would be the wrong time to abandon this promise and it is to the government's credit that the UK is continuing to lead by example within the G8.

While significant progress has been made, that is no reason for complacency. Hunger in Africa has barely decreased since 2005 and despite increases in GDP, inequality remains a severe challenge. African governments and citizens will be the primary drivers of change and the G8 should support that by agreeing an ambitious package on transparency and tax at Lough Erne this summer. It should make progress on giving citizens the information they need to hold their leaders to account and hasten the day when aid is no longer necessary. It should also follow through on its 2012 promise to work with African governments to lift 50 million people out of poverty through investments in agriculture.

This requires the G8 to start by getting its own house in order. David Cameron should secure a commitment from all countries to lift the veil of secrecy on company ownership by putting the names of the ultimate beneficial owners into public registries. This would crack down on shell companies, lifting the veil of secrecy that shrouds illicit financial flows out of Africa. Cameron should also get agreement for all oil, gas and mining companies listed in G8 countries to report the payments they make to governments around the world, on a project-by-project basis. Finally, to ensure this progress in transparency translates into accountability, and ultimately improves the lives of people living in poverty, urgently needed support should be found for supreme audit institutions, revenue authorities and anti-corruption champions.

These are not simple wins for any leader - the reforms challenge vested interests and the systemic causes of poverty that have kept power out of the hands of the many for too long. Cameron must invest time and political capital if he is to emulate the Labour government's achievements at Gleneagles. His "golden thread" theory of development is potentially transformative if translated into real policy progress on hard issues in June. The galvanising effect of the 2005 G8 commitments has helped deliver an extraordinary eight years of progress. Now this government must show they are up to the task.

Joe Powell is senior policy and advocacy manager at the ONE campaign