Focus on Africa at G8 summit

Posted: 13 June 2005

Africa and climate change will be centre-stage at the annual summit of the world's eight most powerful leaders, when they meet at Gleneagles in Scotland, from July 6-8. This special report is by John Madeley.

In early June, Britain's prime minister Tony Blair, who is hosting this year's G8 meeting, toured a number of G8 capitals to persuade leaders to give Africa more aid and improved debt relief - and to urge George W Bush to do more to combat US emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Mr Blair has been under pressure in 2005 from the Make Poverty History campaign. Launched in late 2004 by a network of 58 UK-based non-governmental organisations, Make Poverty History is urging more and better aid, 100 per cent debt relief and "trade justice" for developing countries.

The number of NGOs supporting the campaign had doubled within weeks of its launch and had risen to 450 by early June. Over 3.5 million of the campaign's symbol - a white band - have been sold. Mr Blair has been seen wearing a band on his wrist.

Make Poverty History is part of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a world-wide alliance that is urging world leaders to make a breakthrough on poverty

Aid plan

The British government hopes that Gleneagles summit will produce something worthwhile. But the government's position is still some distance away from that of both the campaigners and at least some of the other G8 countries. Prospects for Gleneagles are only fair.

On aid, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has proposed that an International Finance Facility be set up. This would increase aid by borrowing money on international capital markets, on the basis of aid which donors have already committed.

The United States opposes the idea, saying that it does not fit in with its budgeting systems. Neither are all the Make Poverty History campaigners convinced. For while the facility would lead to more aid immediately, it could affect aid in years to come, exacerbating any decline in future aid levels.

Progress on underlying levels of aid appeared to have been made in late May when European Union countries agreed to double their development assistance. However as donors agreed as far back as 1970 to provide 0.7 per cent of their national income in aid - and as only five have met that target - EU countries will now be watched to see if action follows.

More aid alone is not enough to beat poverty, say campaigners. It needs to focus on needs, genuinely benefit the poor, and support developing countries and communities' own plans and paths out of poverty.

They want donors to stop making their aid conditional on recipients privatising and liberalising their economies - which, they say, has not been proven to reduce poverty.

If aid is given on condition that such measures are undertaken, it may prove of limited value in reducing poverty.

Relieving debt

On debt relief, there was limited progress at the G8 Finance Ministers meeting in early June. Additional funding will be provided to cancel an extra $40 billion in debt that is owed by 18 developing countries to the World Bank and African Development Bank who already qualify for debt relief under the heavilly indebted poor countries debt initiative (HIPC). This is additional to money that has been already pledged in aid. But the deal needs perspective.

At the G8 summnit in Cologne, in 1998, Western countries promised to cancel $100 billion of Third World debt. So far $48 billion has been cancelled. Even with the additional $40 billion, debts relieved will be $88 billion, still short of the promise made six years ago.

To qualify, recipients have to show they have liberalised their economies in a way that satisfies Western countries. This includes trade liberalisation,opening their markets to imports.

However, trade liberalisation, free trade, is failing the poor, say Make Poverty History campaigners A new report by the UK aid agency, Christian Aid has evidence of this.

Trade justice

The report, The damage done: Aid, death and dogma looks at the impact of free trade on agriculture in India. It says that unfettered free trade policies "have led to a crisis in Indian agriculture, spiralling rural debt and an epidemic of suicide among poor farmers".

New research reveals, it says, that more than 4,000 farmers have killed themselves in the India's Andhra Pradesh state since the 'reforms' of a hard-line liberalising regime, in part bankrolled by the UK government's Department for International Development.

The report also looks at the impact of free trade on the poor in Ghana and Jamaica. In Ghana, "democratic institutions have been subverted by the demands of doctrinaire free market policies, where the International Monetary Fund, backed by the World Bank, effectively overturned a law to protect poor farmers", it claims.

In Jamaica the report says that increasing numbers of women have been driven to prostitution and drug smuggling by a continuing round of liberalisation that has wrecked their employment opportunities.

The UK's development policy, it points out, "along with that of the World Bank and the IMF, is still strongly based on liberalising principles".

Like other groups in the Make Poverty History alliance, Christian Aid is pushing for trade justice, for the right of developing countries to decide if and when to liberalise their economies, and not to have change forced on them as the price for aid and debt relief.

Climate stalemate

Gleneagles will come up with a package on aid and debt but campaigners say that will be unacceptable, not helping to reduce poverty, if it is conditional on countries having to undertake trade reforms.

If progress in Africa at the G8 summit will be limited, it is likely to be non-existent on climate change. While Mr Bush now appears to accept that there is a problem he is looking at technological developments for solutions.

But anti-poverty protestors seem to be directing their fire almost exclusively at the aid and trade issues, with little attention to climate change. To some this is perplexing.

As Robin Cook, former British Foreign Secretary, writing in The Guardian, commented: "Climate change will visit on the poor of the world a level of destitution and hunger that will swamp any progress on debt secured at Gleaneagles. Africa will suffer both more frequent drought and more serious floods."

Nevertheless, the demonstrators will be there in the thousands. The G8 venue, Gleneagles, is a swish hotel surrounded by golf courses. In July it will also be surrounded by a huge perimeter fence to keep out protesters.

But the leaders will not keep out the growing idea that deeper changes in their policy are needed if poverty is to be made history.

The Christian Aid report can be downloaded from here

Details of the Make Poverty History campaign can be accessed here