The G8 Summit and the Protests
By Richard Abernethy
July 15 2005
The first week of July packed some extraordinary contrasts into a brief period. It ended, on 7/7, with the terrorist bomb attacks on London, with a mood of sorrow and outrage but also resilience and solidarity. Before the explosions, this had been a week of mingled celebration and protest - the G8 summit at Gleneagles, the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh, the Live8 concerts in London's Hyde Park and around the world, and the news (celebrated by many) that London had been chosen to host the Olympics in 2012.
The decisions taken at the G8, and the relation between the summit of "the eight most powerful men in the world" and the mass events that surrounded it, require careful consideration.
Blair and Brown had decided to put Africa and climate change at the top of the G8 agenda: they wanted a substantial increase in aid, debt relief and trade reform. They declared their support for the Make Poverty History and Live8 events - indeed, government ministers joined in the march. The main declared aim of the protests was to exert pressure on the G8 to do more, sooner. Afterwards there was a dispute within the coalition as to how much had been gained. The celebrities, Bob Geldof and Bono, declared a victory for people power: "The world spoke, and the politicians listened". The aid agencies criticised the amount promised as too little, and the timetable as too slow. There was a similar disagreement between African states: Nigeria praised the outcome, Zambia was critical. The ultra-left groups who skirmished with police were able to capture the attention of the media, but seemed unable to offer anything beyond disruption. Unions sought to raise global workers' rights; there was never much chance of getting this onto the G8 agenda, but at least it was raised within the campaign.
The G8 accomplished virtually nothing on climate change (due to the entrenched opposition of the Bush administration), and no more than a general commitment to trade reform in future. It did take real decisions to increase aid to $48 billion by 2010, and to write off debt for 18 impoverished countries.
Any measure that staunches the bleeding of wealth out of Africa, as interest charges on unrepayable debt, and transfuses wealth back into Africa as aid is apt to be beneficial. African countries will have an opportunity to invest in vital services such as education, health care, clean water supply and sanitation.
This is by no means the first time the world's rulers have announced seemingly impressive plans to tackle poverty, only to back away from their commitments later. Even if they do deliver the package promised at Gleneagles, it will come with strings attached. Recipient countries will be expected to sign up to economic norms decided by the Western elite, including free trade and privatisation.
When Blair and Brown speak of the need to overcome world poverty, they appeal both to the altruism of the public and to the self-interest of business in the West. Broadly speaking, they visualise Africa having the same kind of capitalist development that has taken place in much of Asia. If successful, this could indeed raise standards of living for many millions of Africans, as the rather crude plunder of the continent gives way to more rational and sustainable forms of exploitation.
Even if this agenda were achieved in full, Africa deserves better than this. Africa, the original homeland of humanity, deserves its rightful place as part of a global classless society.J
july 15 2005
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