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Make Poverty History

Keith Parkins | 01.02.2005 15:54 | G8 2005 | Globalisation | Repression | Social Struggles

Church launch of Make Poverty History, a global campaign on debt, aid, and trade. Held at Bloomsbury Baptist Church in London on Saturday 29 January 2005.

'The church of Jesus Christ is not called upon to be a bastion of caution and moderation. The church should challenge, inspire and motivate people.' -- Kairos document, South Africa

'Compassionate rhetoric cannot disguise the reality of the government’s neoliberal policies. As long as Blair and Brown continue to push free trade and privatisation on developing countries, more and more people will be pushed deeper into poverty, not lifted out of it.' -- John Hilary, War on Want

'The UK government has hijacked the language of development campaigners to hide its promotion of ultra-free market economics, privatisation and deregulation which is serving the interests of multinational corporations. The real question is not “How do we bring other countries to support the UK's positive agenda?” but “Does the UK have the right agenda at all?” Sadly, rich countries are now uniting around policy prescriptions that over the past twenty years have led to increased poverty and inequality.' -- Mark Curtis, World Development Movement

'The government seems to think it can tackle poverty and prevent climate change by pushing the policies that created them in the first place. Developing countries know that they cannot tackle poverty by playing the rich countries' rules. They need to develop a sustainable way forward that does not put profit before people and the environment.' -- Eve Mitchell, Friends of the Earth

'Trade Justice for the developing world and for this generation is a truly significant way for the developed countries to show commitment to bringing about an end to global poverty.' -- Nelson Mandela

'On trade, our hypocrisy is at its most appalling. Trade reform isn't about charity, it's about justice, and this campaign – Trade Justice – is an unstoppable campaign.' -- Bono

'Championing the cause of the poor of the world is truly a noble endeavour.' -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu

'The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.' -- Jesus

Thursday 28 January 2005, a global anti-poverty campaign was launched at the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre in Brazil.

Two days later in London, at Bloomsbury Baptist Church, the church element of the UK mobilisation of the global anti-poverty campaign was launched under the title of Make Poverty History.

Make Poverty History, the UK mobilisation of the global anti-poverty campaign, consists of dozens of organisations, aid charities, churches etc. The inaugural launch by the churches took place in Bloomsbury on Saturday 29 January 2005.

Make Poverty History, follows up the Jubilee 2000 campaign and the Drop the Debt campaign. It would be wrong to say the latter two campaigns have been a success, as they have failed to achieve their stated objectives, but where they have been a huge success, is to push these issues high up the political agenda.

The UK is important because during 2005, UK holds the chair of G8 and the presidency of the EU. All eyes will be on the UK.

There is going to be mass action at the G8 when they meet in the UK, and Make Poverty History will be part of this mass action.

I attended the church inaugural launch, not because I had any special reason to focus on the church side, but simply because this was the only inaugural launch, apart from Porto Alegre, I was aware of. And London was nearer than Porto Alegre in Brazil!

The launch was divided into two sessions, with a break for lunch: Why should we make poverty history (morning) and how do we make poverty history (afternoon).

The morning session was religious leaders, with the exception of Janah Ncube (Ugandan human rights activist), opened by the Bishop of Wells and Bath. I did not attend the morning session.

The afternoon session had as speakers: Martin Dreary (Christian Aid), Alison Tenney (CAFOD), Stephen Rand (Jubilee Debt campaign).

Paul Boateng (chief secretary to the treasury) was invited to address the meeting in the afternoon. I would not have given anyone from this government the time of day, let alone a platform, and it was a serious mistake on behalf of the organisers to have done so. This is a government that peddles arms to Africa, pushed on Tanzania an overpriced unwanted air traffic control system, and underwrites white elephants via export credit guarantees.

An ex-minister, for example Michael Meacher, who knows what he is talking about, but an existing minister, absolutely no way.

How does the UK use its aid budget? Well one example is to pay consultancy firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG and Adam Smith International (the consultancy arm of the Adam Smith Institute) to advise poor countries on how to privatise their public services. In the last few years, neo-Labour has spent £60 million of taxpayers money on these services.

The EU, of which neo-Labour are the number one fan, is little better. It is the EU that is pushing for an opening up of services under GATS. The EU is bullying African countries into signing free trade deals. African countries sign a one-sided deal, as they fear losing what little access they have to EU markets. These free trade agreements, would open up African markets to a flood of EU subsidised imports.

What struck me before I even arrived, was that from what I had be sent as advance material, these people were not experienced campaigners. The flyer was thick and heavy, expensive to produce, expensive to ship; white text on dark background, expensive to copy. Without experienced campaigners, the campaign is doomed before we begin.

There were no workshops, insufficient time for questions and answers. If Paul Boateng had been guillotined (now there's a lovely thought) there would have been time for workshops and/or extra time for questions.

A number of stalls were dotted around the venue. Traidcraft provided Fair Trade tea and coffee.

With the exception of the speaker from the Jubilee Debt campaign, I found the speakers to be ill-informed, naive, at best well-intentioned.

The speaker from Christian Aid was a grave disappointment. Christian Aid do a lot of good work, publish excellent reports, but with this one speaker, their credibility too a huge knock. He was a one man fan club for Bliar and neo-Labour. Bliar must be relieved to know he has at least one supporter in the country. He focused on trivia and patronising examples.

The speaker from Cafod spoke on aid and the quality of aid. She said we should be pushing more aid into infrastructure, roads, telecommunications, ports!

Aid in itself is meaningless, it is where that aid goes. We do not want it to go straight into the pockets of the corrupt and the rich, to finance mega-projects, to have strings attached, to fill the coffers of corporations in the donor countries. We need to disconnect the economies of the poor countries from the rich countries, from the global economy dominated by the rich countries. Roads, ports, telecommunications, makes it a lot easier to ship our goods in, to export commodities and cash crops out.

The only speaker worth listening to was from the Jubilee Debt campaign. He produced a lot of useful facts and figures, and this data is available on request.

The speaker from Scotland spoke of wanting 100,000 people on the streets of Edinburgh. He was interrupted from the floor with, what's the use of 100,000 when the government ignored 1,000,000 and embarked on an illegal war with Iraq, we want to see direct action grind Edinburgh to a halt.

The speaker carried on as though there had been no interruption and ignored the question. He mentioned he had flown down from Edinburgh, and suggested we all flew up to the Edinburgh protest. Obviously he had never heard of global warming and the impact it has on the poor. As soon as he has finished his speech, he donned his coat and left.

Paul Boateng, praised his good friend Gordon and what he is doing to lessen the burden of debt. Tony was praised for establishing the Commission for Africa. We were given a little homily of growing up in Africa and rarely being able to afford a bar of chocolate. To his credit, he had the honesty to admit that Africa was now even worse off than it had been in the past, that the targets on debt reduction, poverty reduction, had not been met, and that at the present rate of progress, would not be met in a century's time.

The Commission for Africa is seen as at best a distraction, at worse bypassing the needs of Africa, sidelining genuine African voices, and being used as a Trojan horse to force a neo-liberal agenda on Africa.

Peter Hardstaff, Head of Policy at WDM, commenting on the Commission for Africa:

'A diversionary tactic designed to draw attention away from thirty years of broken promises on Africa. It could even undermine other international forums, such as this summer’s meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and Development and next years planned UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals, where African countries have a genuine stake and the right to a seat at the table.'

According to Downing Street’s website:

'The Commission aims to generate increased support for the G8 Africa Action Plan and the New Partnership for African Development.'

Now we see the real agenda! Support for the discredited neo-liberal agenda.

Yes, there has been some progress on debt, on the number of children in schooling, on health-care provisions, but in the totality of what needs to be done, it is a drop in the ocean.

There was a general view that there had been some progress, for the people affected, it was significant, but overall, little progress had been made, that if the government can find the money for an illegal war with Iraq, to promote arms sales, why can it not find the money for debt relief, for poverty reduction.

The churches were praised for their generosity, but criticised for their silence and inaction. When are they going to rise up and demand action on trade, debt and poverty?

If money goes on debt relief, there has to be strings attached, to ensure the money goes on health care, on education.

Free Trade is bad, Fair Trade is good, was the mantra repeated. No one questioned trade per se. The emphasis should be on localisation, self-sufficiency, food sovereignty, only then fair trade. No mention of the need to dismantle WTO and GATS, no mention of the need to take water and agriculture out of GATS, the need to replace WTO with a Fair Trade Organisation.

The UK has failed in the following key areas:

- Trade negotiations at the WTO – The UK government has been at the forefront of pushing an aggressive neo-liberal ‘free trade’ agenda at the WTO, dismissing developing country pleas that they should be allowed to defend their infant industries from predatory EU and US multinationals

- Bilateral trade agreements – The UK also stands behind the damaging Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) designed to open up markets in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, exposing small-scale producers to overwhelming competition from powerful multinationals

- Privatisation of services in developing countries – The UK has taken the lead in promoting privatisation of public services in developing countries, despite the increases in poverty this has brought. DFID has channelled millions of pounds from the aid budget to privatisation consultants such as KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Adam Smith Institute, engaged to ‘advise’ developing country governments on the privatisation of their public services

- Climate change – The UK has failed to control its own greenhouse gas emissions in the face of powerful industry lobby groups. It has also continued to use financial institutions, such as the World Bank, to fund fossil fuel extraction overseas and construction of coal-fired power stations. As one of the largest historic emitters of greenhouse gases, it needs to show the way by reducing UK carbon dioxide emissions year on year

- Corporate accountability – The UK government has undermined international calls to hold multinational corporations to account for their activities overseas, championing the voluntary alternative of ‘corporate social responsibility’ rather than corporate regulation

The only criticism of government policy came from the floor, and it was cut short.

I had my hand up, but was not granted the opportunity to speak. Had I been able to speak, I would have raised arms to South Africa, the Tanzanian air traffic control system that even the World Bank said was overpriced. Asked why Peter Mandleson as EU Trade Commissioner had an arm-lock on developing countries and was insisting on a neo-liberal agenda in return for access to EU markets, asked would the government be pushing to drop water and agriculture from GATS.

The speaker from Christian Aid replied to Paul Boateng, he once again praised the government. I could stomach no more and walked out in disgust, as did several other people.

The warmest applause was for a speaker from the floor, who suggested the churches should follow the examples set by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, that the churches should mobilise and take non-violent direct action to shut down Edinburgh during the G8 meeting.

This was put to Paul Boateng: what would be his government's response, were non-violent direct action to shut down Edinburgh during G8? He did not answer, not because he refused to answer, he was clearly perplexed and did not know how to answer.

I found the meeting to be a waste of time, a lost opportunity. The focus was on the church and Christians, on what they could do, but is this not an issue of concern to all of us? The speakers were well-meaning, but naive.

Would it not have been much better, if the churches had hosted the launch, but invited others from the Make Poverty History coalition who would have been better informed?

My fears before I arrived, on the lack of campaigning ability were more than justified.

Talking to one stall holder, they were trying to promote a video on debt. But why was it on VHS tape I asked, and not on DVD or CD? VHS is low quality, expensive to duplicate, bulky, expensive to ship. DVD or CD can easily be passed around, people can run off copies.

No campaigning organisation should be wasting its time and money with VHS tapes.

I am used to speakers hanging around, making themselves available, so people can talk to them, of people networking, going off down to the pub, or finding somewhere to eat, so discussions can be continued. None of this happened, as soon as the event ended, everyone just left.

A very strange meeting indeed. I came away feeling the meeting was a complete waste of time.

If the meeting manages to activate the churches, then some good will have come out of it, if parishioners go back to their churches and spread the message. And I have to admit, the only reason I was aware of the inaugural launch was because of a flyer on the wall at the Parish Centre of St Peter's.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said:

'If everyone who wants to see an end to poverty, hunger and suffering, speaks out then the noise will be deafening. Politicians will have to listen.'

At the very least, the churches can hang a Make Poverty History banner outside their churches, stick up posters on their parish noticeboards, and make sure plenty of information is readily available inside the churches to be picked up by parishioners and visitors. And encourage their parishioners to spread the message to friends, colleagues and family.

Make Poverty History is demanding action in three critical and inextricably linked areas: trade, debt, aid.

Trade: Trade should be fair. Poor countries should be allowed to protect their environment how they see best. They should not be penalised for what the WTO sees as 'protectionist' policies. The West, in particular the EU and US, should end export and other subsidies, that see agricultural produce dumped on poor countries, destroying the livelihood of poor farmers, distorting local markets. International laws should be changed to penalise Big Business, not adapted to aid Big Business. Big Business should not be able to exploit either people or the environment, there should be social audits of their actions. Water and agricultural should be kept out of WTO and GATS. We need a Fair Trade Organisation that takes account of human rights and the environment.

Debt: Debt to the poorest countries should be dropped. It should be dropped in a fair and open and transparent manner. We need laws to stop extortionists buying up debt, then bleeding the countries dry. Debt should not be used as a lever to control poor countries. Human and environmental needs should take priority over debt repayment. The monies saved on debt repayment must go into health and education and environmental protection.

Aid: Aid must be increased to the target of 0.7% of GDP which was promised three and a half decades ago. There must be a clearly defined timetable to meet this target. We need quality aid. Aid must only be used for sustainable development, health care and education. Aid should not be tied to purchases from the donor country. An international Tobin Tax should be introduced on international currency transactions.

Make Poverty History is the UK mobilisation of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty.

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty is an international campaign, but all eyes will be on the UK because the UK will hold the chair of G8 and the presidency of the EU during 2005.

At the start of the millennium, leaders of 191 nations pledged to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. We are already way off target.

Early January 2005, after being thoroughly embarrassed by public donations to the tsunami appeal, the UK government upped its miserly contribution to £50 million. The security budget alone for the G8 meeting in Scotland is expected to top £150 million. As the delegates wine and dine and stuff their faces, poverty in Africa is expected to top the agenda.


Worship Guide for Global Week of Action on Trade

Vote for Trade Justice Action Pack


Nelson Mandela is to address a public gathering in Trafalgar Square at 12 noon on Thursday 3 February 2005, he is to meet with the G7 finance ministers the following day

Fair Trade Fortnight, 1-13 March 2005

Global Week of Action for Trade Justice, 10-16 April 2005

Fast for Trade Justice, Monday 11 April 2005

Wake up to Trade Justice in London, 10pm Friday 15 April to 8am Saturday 16 April, Whitehall and Westminster

Christian Aid Week, 15-21 May 2005

World Debt Day, 16 May 2005

Edinburgh mass protest and civil disobedience, 2 July 2005

G8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland, 6-8 July 2005

Further information

CIIR 020 7288 8600
URC 020 7916 8632


Further reading

2005 and Sustainable Development: Why the UK government is part of the problem, WDM, War on Want, FoE, 26 January 2005

Christine Ahn, Shafted: Free Trade and America's Working Poor, Food First Book, 2003

Joel Bakan, The Corporation: the pathological pursuit of profit and power, Penguin, 2004

Blair’s Africa commission is ‘unnecessary diversion from real action for Africa’, press release, WDM, 29 April 2004

For Whose Benefit?: Making trade work for people and the planet, Trade Justice Movement, 10 June 2002

Growing Dissent!, SchNEWS 482, 28 January 2005

Noreena Hertz, IOU: The Debt Threat and Why We Must Defuse It, Fourth Estate, 2004

John Madeley, Hungry for Trade: How the Poor Pay for Free Trade, Zed Books, 2000

John Madeley, A People's World: Alternatives to Economic Globalisation, Zed Books, 2003

Damien Millet and Eric Toussaint, Who Owes Who?: 50 Questions About World Debt, Zed Books, 2004

Erik Millstone and Tim Lang, The Atlas of Food: Who Eats what, where and why, Earthscan, 2003

Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset, World Hunger: 12 Myths (2nd Ed), Food First Books, 1998

Keith Parkins, Civil Disobedience, May 2000

Keith Parkins, Localisation: A Move Away From Globalisation, November 2000

Keith Parkins, GATS, February 2001

Keith Parkins, A sense of the masses - a manifesto for the new revolution, October 2003

Keith Parkins, Sowing Seeds of Dissent, Indymedia UK, 6 September 2004

Keith Parkins, Seeds of Dissent, September 2004

Keith Parkins, Future of Food, Indymedia UK, 24 January 2005

Profiting from Poverty: Privatisation Consultants, DFID, and Public Services, War on Want, September 2004

Peter Singer, One World: The Ethics of Globalisation (2nd ed), Yale University Press, 2004

Trade Trap, Action Aid

UK Government’s Commission for Africa, WDM, 29 April 2004 {updated, December 2004}

UK government 'part of the problem' for developing countries in 2005, press release, WDM, War on Want, FoE, 26 January 2005

Keith Parkins
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