Uplifting Africa from poverty isn't like releasing a helium balloon. Difficult tradeoffs must be made, and this week's meeting of a few African leaders at the G-8 summit is expected to set down a road map to making them.
The grand bargain at work is that the West will grant economic favors in return for better democracy and human rights in Africa. It's called the New Partnership for African Development and was initiated by African leaders themselves. The tough details lie in how to measure better government against the three rewards: open trade, more aid, and bigger debt write-offs.
The task is enormous. Four out of 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa live on about $1 a day. In 29 of the worst-off countries, almost everyone lives on under $2 a day. While the rest of the world moves ahead, Africa drifts backward, trapped by a dependence on low-value exports like food, along with billions in unpayable debt.
Western and African leaders have a vision, but they need a long-term commitment to more steadily boost the fortunes of the world's poorest people.
Take President Bush, for instance. While he's just promised $100 million for education in Africa, and $500 million to fight AIDS, he also faces demands from US peach-growers to block imports of South African canned peaches. Will he allow Americans to lose jobs to uplift Africans? Yes, if he believes in a market approach to progress for both Africa and the US.
Africa's leaders, too, must show that Western investments in Africa's future won't be lost. They can spend less on armies and more on health and education. They can curb graft and speak out against other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, that trample on democracy and human rights.
Small decisions now count under this grand bargain. Some will be made between countries, some continent-wide. Africans deserve some objective criteria to know when they're succeeding, and what to expect in return. It's the boldest experiment since the Marshall Plan to uplift an entire continent.