But the widely trailed Africa Commission report, an initiative of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, faces a daunting task to gain acceptance from the G8 group of rich nations and win over sceptics who see it as nothing more than a talking shop.

 

"African poverty and stagnation is the greatest tragedy of our time," began a summary of the 464-page report by the commission, which includes Blair, his finance minister Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, several African leaders and Irish musician and campaigner Bob Geldof.

 

Its promoters liken the plethora of recommendations - on improving governance and ending wars in Africa, plus providing better aid, debt relief and trade rules from the West - to the post-second world war Marshall Plan for recovery in Europe.

 

"Let us today pledge to make 2005 the year our eyes opened to the full reality of Africa," Blair said, launching the plan.

 

Critics

 

African plan will work only if G8
nations agreed to fund it

Critics, however, say the report's lofty words will go the same way as previous Africa plans unless rich nation groups such as the G8 put their money where their mouths are.

 

"The recommendations are an ambitious but realistic agenda for debt, aid, trade and HIV and Aids," British agency ActionAid said. "The first real test will be whether it is acted upon at the G8 leaders' Gleneagles summit in July."

 

Some in Africa view the plan as a public relations vehicle for Blair, whose national and global reputation sank over Iraq.

 

"We've heard it all before" was the response from many Africans to Britain's new rescue plan, revealing doubts over whether well-meaning words will translate into action.

 

More reactions
   

"This whole effort is a slap in the face of Africa"

Pete Ondeng,
resource mobilisation group

"This whole effort is a slap in the face of Africa," said Pete Ondeng', head of a private body mobilising resources for a home-grown African economic plan, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), launched in 2001.

   

"What is coming out of the report is not surprising because there is nothing that you can tell me that hasn't been thought through before in terms of the problems," he said.

   

"Its implementation will depend more on how much they are willing to fulfill their promises," said Manenga Ndulo, an economics professor at the University of Zambia. "Previously we have had so many plans which have not been fulfilled."

   

"That the commissioners are well-intentioned men and women is beyond doubt," wrote Ugandan commentator Andrew Mwenda. "But it is an effort most likely to produce very little."