G8: The long walk to justice doesn't end at Gleneagles Print E-mail
 July 4 2004
Cover Story

Now is the time to act

G8 - Ministers want us to think the Africa battle is won, but it is just starting, and we must pile on the pressure.

By Noreena Hertz

Thousands upon thousands of people are on their way to Edinburgh and Gleneagles, heading there because they believe that they can play a part in creating a global order in which the gains are not hoarded and the spoils are shared. They are focusing their call for justice on a particular region. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most damning indictment of the current global system that there is: 46 million children (most of them girls) do not go to school; 25 million people are HIV-positive;and 30,000 children die every day from poverty-related diseases we know how to prevent.

If we believe what the G8 leaders have been claiming, when they get to Edinburgh all these people can basically chill out. "No need to protest - instead celebrate," goes the party line. "The G8 finance ministers at the London summit on 11 June have dealt with pretty much all your concerns."

If only that were true. This cack-handed attempt to transform protesters into cheerleaders presents us with a cautionary tale - of politicians so determined to claim victory that they want to neuter any dissent, and of protesters in danger of becoming so caught up in the euphoria of the moment that they lose their critical eye.

This critical eye is essential; we must not allow others to pull the wool over it. Take debt: "100 per cent debt cancellation" was the headline, but only 18 countries will get their debts cancelled in the near term, out of 62 that need it. There is no deal for Sierra Leone, for example, which will still have to pay more on debt service than on healthcare next year, despite the average life expectancy there being just 38.

Any other countries included in the deal will be selected not by the extent to which they need funds to provide healthcare, education or shelter, but instead for the most part by the extent to which they adhere to World Bank and IMF rules. Relief is conditional upon countries privatising their electricity, water, roads and railways and slashing public expenditure - all requirements that do most harm to the most vulnerable in society. The deal is hardly bountiful - it will cost the world's richest countries together no more than £833m a year, a fifth of what we in Britain spend annually on chocolate. It also goes hand in hand with a corresponding reduction in aid to the country to which debt relief is given, a rather underpublicised fact.

The deal is little underpinned by concern for justice. If it was, any country unable to meet the most basic needs of its people would be eligible to have its debts cancelled, provided its government could be counted on not to misappropriate the monies. And any sums that lenders had knowingly lent to dictatorial and corrupt regimes long since gone would automatically be written off (unless that was against the wishes of the new leaders). Why should the Congolese people, for example, who are among the poorest in the world, have to allow a third of their government's pitiful revenues to be used to repay debts racked up by the for-mer dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, a man who not only violently oppressed his people but also shamelessly stole from them?

Of even more concern is that the hyperbole around the debt deal might let the G8 off the hook on trade. It is a travesty that every EU cow continues to be subsidised to the tune of £1.50 a day when more than a billion people live on less, and that the debt deal will cost the richest countries only 0.6 per cent of what they shell out in agricultural subsidies every year. It is a travesty that the poorest countries are unable to earn their way out of misery because of our unfair trade support and unfair trade rules. As for aid, Brown did do well to pin down the French, Germans and Italians at the London summit on making good Europe's pledge to double aid. But why on earth is the doubling not going to be delivered until 2015? And why do we in Britain have to wait eight years until we meet the 0.7 per cent of GDP aid target that was agreed more than 30 years ago? Meanwhile, Canada, Japan and the United States (one of the least generous providers of foreign aid judging by percentage of GDP) are yet to signal any commitment to reach the target at all.

It's not as if there were a shortage of plans for ways in which governments could raise new monies for aid. Gordon Brown has his International Finance Facility plan. The French and the Germans are keen on putting a levy on airline travel, with the money going to development goals. I can even add a few of my own. We could securitise the hundreds of billions of dollars in remittances sent home by migrant workers, and thereby create development bonds. Or leverage the post-9/11 rolling-back of bank secrecy laws and go after the billions of stolen dollars sitting in despotic African leaders' offshore bank accounts. All good plans. But while the west argues about which to adopt, why can't it just get on with the task at hand? What is needed for Africa is an extra £28bn in development aid. That's about a quarter of what the US spent on military operations in Iraq last year. This is not a question of available resources. It's a question of how we choose to spend the resources we have.

There is nothing on the G8's agenda to ensure that aid is well managed - by donors, that is. ActionAid recently revealed that only a third of aid money actually goes on development, much of the rest ending up in the hands of western consultants. And while much lip-service is paid to "good governance", stories of the west bankrolling corrupt or tyrannical regimes continue to emerge.

Blair and Brown should be commended for putting Africa at the heart of the G8's agenda, yet that must not be taken as grounds for celebration. The inherent contradictions in the policies they espouse are far too troubling; they have set the bar way too low. Which is why the thousands heading to Gleneagles and Edinburgh and the millions walking alongside us in spirit must wear a protest mantle. We have to be unequivocal about that. We will not celebrate. We will not congratulate. We will not claim victory at the G8 unless its policies are made consistent and the bar is raised.

The rallies and marches must have this as their aim. Which means they must be more than does-my-wrist-look-good-in-this gatherings, more than singalong happenings. All that stuff is good for awareness-building, but not for getting the job done.

We now need protest - protest that is tough, confrontational and uncompromising, but not violent (otherwise what better excuse for George W Bush and the others to dismiss us as a bunch of crazy thugs?). We need protest that lays out clear positions on debt, trade, aid, reform of the World Bank and IMF's economic conditions and accountability, from which we will not budge. It should be protest of the civil rights, anti-war, anti-apartheid kind, that articulates clearly not only what we are against but also what we stand for. It is critical that the 5.5 billion people whom producers estimate may watch Live 8 take away from the concerts more than an understanding that Africa is in trouble, or a sense of solidarity with the continent and with each other. Those people need to understand that they must put pressure on their politicians to fix it, and they need to know what exactly they should be calling for.

Protest historically has proved capable of shifting the political agenda in radical ways. Government ministers here in Britain acknowledge there is no way that Africa would even be on the agenda at the G8, were it not for the concerted efforts of British campaigners, pressure groups and activists, and the mailbags full of letters that the Treasury receives each day insisting that it put development centre stage. Yet protest will not create immediate results, and that means we will need to keep on pushing for change. Keep on demonstrating, signing petitions and e-mailing our politicians. Keep on being politically active through the UN summit in September and the World Trade Organisation meeting at the end of the year - at each of which new decisions can be made. Keep on pushing the leaders of the world's richest countries so that they deliver a meaningful settlement in 2005.

The billions of people who will be watching the bands play and people march between 2 and 6 July, and the thousands who will physically take part in the rallies during those days, also need to understand this. They need to understand that they are witnessing the start of a process of participation and not the end point of a protest. The long walk to justice doesn't end at Gleneagles. It only begins there.

Noreena Hertz is professor of global political economy at the University of Utrecht