Friday 8 July. Stuart Hodkinson in Edinburgh. When the news of the bombs hitting London broke on our campsite in Craigmillar, we all immediately reached for our mobile phones in the hope that friends were ok. In that moment, the G8, Africa, the protests and the police all became irrelevant. As good news filtered through, political minds inevitably began to drift back to the wider political implications. "This will definitely mean ID cards,” one sighed. "Iran will be next for the neo-cons," said another. "And Muslims are going to be hammered." Debates and disagreements broke out but on one thing everyone was agreed: this was “a good time to bury bad news”. And yesterday's announcement of the G8 deal on Africa and climate change contained a lot of bad news, whatever those idiots Geldof and Bono say.
Since February of last year with the launch of Blair's Commission for Africa, the expectations that the UK presidency of the G8 summit would finally deliver a new political and economic settlement for Africa have been steadily built up to levels of near-hysteria by New Labour's captured coalitions of rock star campaigners and development NGOs in the form of Live 8 and Make Poverty History. Millions of people were duped into joining the 'white band-wagon' in the genuine belief that Blair and Brown were going to 'make poverty history'. They were seduced by the politician's impassioned moral rhetoric of which Blair is a modern master. When the Africa Commission report was released in March this year, Blair declared that its recommendations meant:
There can be no excuse, no defence, no justification for the plight of millions of our fellow human beings in Africa today. There should be nothing that stands in the way of our changing it.
With a clutch of handpicked (neoliberal) African leaders on Blair's Commission nodding enthusiastically, and reputed celebrity campaigners like Bono, Geldof and Richard Curtis joining Oxfam and other co-opted aid agencies in singing the UK government's praises, how could middle England – the backbone of the Make Poverty History campaign – doubt New Labour's sincerity on this great 'moral crusade'? Well, now the truth is finally out. The G8's self-proclaimed “comprehensive plan to support Africa's progress”, heralded by Bono and Geldof, is an unmitigated disaster for the continent. To understand why, we only have to look at the huge gap between the conservative demands of the pro-government Make Poverty History (MPH) coalition and what the G8 actually delivered.
MPH wanted a mild form of 'trade justice' – the end of forced liberalisation and privatisation on poor countries as part of aid, trade deals or debt relief, and the abolition of Northern agricultural export subsidies that leads to dumping of cheap goods on southern producers, wiping out their local economies. Then there was more and better aid – rich countries should immediately increase aid by $50bn per year and meet 35-year old promises to spend 0.7 per cent of national income (collectively worth $125bn a year) in development aid by 2010. Perhaps the most important demand was to 'drop the debt', or rather 'some of the debt' through the cancellation of the ‘unpayable’ debts of the world’s poorest countries through a ‘fair and transparent international process’ that uses new money, not slashed aid budgets. To ensure that such reforms would work, MPH also called for the regulation of multinationals, the democratisation of the IMF and World Bank and the end of all economic conditionality imposed on the South by the rich North as part of global trade, debt and aid structures.
Whatever we might think about MPH's own political failings, the inability of the G8 to get anywhere near the coalition's demands sounds a death knell to millions of people across Africa. On trade, the G8 failed to set any deadlines or targets to eliminate agricultural subsidies. Its general promise “to ensure Least Developed Countries have the flexibility to decide their own economic strategies” was of course then contradicted by the announcement on debt relief that those 18 countries chosen for special dispensation would still have to complete the IMF/World Bank HIPC programme, which makes debt cancellation conditional upon completing neoliberal economic reforms.
It is important to remember that Africa alone has repaid over $500bn in debt servicing over the last 30 years yet still has a debt stock of roughly the same amount – the original debt was only worth around $50bn. In other words, the debt has been repaid and is now illegitimate. MPH, which failed to champion African voices calling for total and immediate debt cancellation for all poor countries and reparations for 300 years of colonial plunder, was to its credit still calling for at least 60 countries to be given 100% debt cancellation worth over $45.7bn a year in saved debt repayments. The G8's headline debt deal to cancel $40bn of debt is actually worth just $1bn a year. The only crumbs coming from the top table were on aid and treatment for AIDS and malaria– the G8 promised to spend an additional $50bn a year in poor countries. Unfortunately for millions of sick and starving Africans, this will only begin in 2010, knowingly condemning them to death when such genocidal loss of life could have been prevented.
In return for this slap in the face, African governments must commit themselves to a decade of political and economic reforms under the mantra of "good governance". The IMF and World Bank remain untouched; corporations' rights to roam the world for profit have been enhanced, not limited. And when you consider that the only real agreement on climate change, which is currently causing huge devastation in Africa in particular, was the vague recognition that “climate change is happening now” and that carbon emissions need to “slow, peak and then decline” at some point, Bob Geldof's claim that "[t]his has been without equivocation the greatest G8 summit there has ever been for Africa" is criminal. He should be politely asked by African social movements to "f#$k off".
For those naive enough to buy the wristband and swallow the age-old lies, the release of the G8 communique yesterday afternoon with no deal on trade, no new deal on debt and a small package of new aid that won't be seen until 2010, will have come as a cruel blow. Many may now be so disillusioned that they'll quit a movement for global justice they've only just joined. Others may get angry and look for more radical explanations and solutions. Whatever happens, everyone is about to get a very sharp education in the realities of power and wealth. With the smashing of hope also comes the dismantling of any illusions that the G8's illegitimate grouping of imperial powers and their corporations will ever voluntarily release Africa and other peoples of the neo-colonised Global South from the profitable shackles of debt bondage just because a few pop concerts ask them to.
The government's job has been done - Blair's Africa agenda was an ingenious smokescreen to distract middle England away from the carnage in Iraq and get him through the election. MPH, which played along with the government and helped its betrayal, is now in total disarray. Those radical NGOs like War on Want and WDM who warned Oxfam and co not to get too cosy with Richard Curtis and Gordon Brown, have been vindicated. With their complicity, the G8 has this week condemned millions of people to a painful death but unlike London, we won't be seeing their faces and life stories printed across our newspapers. It is the duty of campaigners across the world to tell the truth about this G8 without equivocation. The G8 called their deal on Africa “an historic opportunity”. The reality is that it was an historic betrayal.