Patrick Bond, Dennis Brutus and Virginia Setshedi
Despite the recent global hype associated with reversing aid, debt and trade injustices, it hasn't been an easy time for the huge Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) at the centre of the action.
A front-page New Statesman article on 30 May revealed that Oxfam's revolving-door relationship with chancellor Gordon Brown has neutered the demands, strategies and tactics of the 450-member NGO campaign, 'Make Poverty History'. Red Pepper followed up with a devastating political critique of the campaign, including its refusal to countenance any anti-war message that will embarrass Brown and Tony Blair.
This sort of embarrassment has become endemic. The Bob Geldof superstar concert series 'Live 8' correctly stood accused of being 'hideously white' (as Black Information Link put it), since only one band from Africa was scheduled amongst dozens at the five major performances. (A hastily arranged additional concert in Johannesburg may lead to a kind of outsourcing for black bands.) In any case, Sir Bob's mid-1980s Live Aid famine relief strategy is widely understood to have flopped because it ignored the countervailing roles of imperial power relations, capital accumulation, unreformable global institutions and venal local elites - problems repeated and indeed amplified in Live 8.
There was another PR disaster in early June, just a month before the Group of 8 (G8) leaders meet in Gleneagles, Scotland: white wristbands favoured by Blair as a mark of his commitment to Africa were revealed as products of Chinese forced labour at a Shenzhen firm, Tat Shing. According to The Daily Telegraph, 'Christian Aid, which bought more than 500,000 wristbands from Tat Shing, claims that Oxfam failed to tell other charities that it had decided to stop ordering from the Shenzhen company. Oxfam said it told its coalition partners of its decision, but ‘perhaps could have put it in writing.’
Do these gaffes signify merely careless paternalism? Or do they tell us something deeper about a campaign who’s main outcomes are to be celebrated in media buzz, fashion statements, celebrity chasing and the NGOs' proximity to power?
[more on RedPepper website, http://www.redpepper.org.uk/global/x-jul05-whiteband.htm]