London Indymedia

Cynicism and the G8 Deal

diarist | 12.07.2005 20:59 | G8 2005 | Analysis | Globalisation | Social Struggles | London | World

Are condemndations of the G8 deal on Africa reasonable, or the cynical reaction of those who would never have been satisifed whatever the results of the summit?

Now that the G8 summit has concluded, the debate over its outcome is now being framed in the following terms: most aid agencies and campaigners contend that the outcome fell short of what was required because there was a lack of will on the part of world leaders. Those world leaders, and their supporters, counter by saying that the will was there, but that this was the first step on a very difficult journey.

How difficult was that journey? A simple mathematical exercise will go someway towards answering the question. The G8 have pledged to boost aid by $50bn over the next 5 years. Try calculating the GDP of these 8 wealthy countries over the course of the next five years. Then work out what percentage of that the much-trumpeted $50bn increase in aid amounts to. Here's a hint at what the answer might be: the UK, just one of those 8 countries and by no means the richest, had a GDP in just one year (2004), not five years, of $1.782 trillion - 35 times the pledged increase. That's in one year, not five. One country, not eight. Its worth noting that the cost of the war in Iraq is now over $192 billion, and rising by $1 billion a week.

There appears to have been no further movement on the recent EU pledge to spend of 0.56% of GDP on poverty reduction by 2010, and 0.7% by 2015. One wonders at what point the west will begin to experience feelings of embarrassment on this phantom target. The promise to spend 0.7% of GDP was a target for all donor governments established by the UN General Assembly in 1970 - 35 years ago - and the deadline for reaching that target was 1980. By 2015 the target will be 45 years old. Can we really dismiss condemnation of this dismal record as no more than the cynicism of people who will never be satisifed no matter how generously the west attends to the needs of Africa?

Opposition to the deal is not simply a question of never approving of any positive steps that are taken towards the final goal, if they fall short of immediate eradication of world poverty. The conditionality on debt relief, for example, is a negative step, not a positive one. Liberalisation has cost sub-Saharan Africa US$272 billion over the last 20 years according to Christian Aid. Debt relief conditionality by no means represents a positive step toward the ultimate goals envisaged by the Make Poverty History campaign.

That being the case, the protestations of the G8 leaders - saying that its all so difficult but maybe, by 2015 or so, we'll struggle our way there – are pretty hard to stomach. Particularly when 30,000 people died as a result of poverty today. Just as they did yesterday. Just as they will tomorrow, the next day and the day after that......right through to 2010 when that $50bn is paid in full.....right through to 2015 when we're meant to believe that the G8 will finally reach that fabled 0.7% of their GDP on aid they've been promising since 1970....all through that time tens of thousands of people will continue to die, needlessly, on a daily basis.

Its these raw numbers that we should use to judge the moral standing of our politicians; not the cheap pronouncements they make in interviews and speeches, pronouncements that, as far as I'm aware, have yet to save a single life.

Powerful people have assumed grand moral postures throughout history. If we're rational, we don't judge their actual moral character simply on the basis of the proclamations they make about their good intentions. If we're rational, we judge them by their actions. Today, the figures speak for themselves. To say that Blair and Brown are perhaps not genuinely driven by some personal moral crusade to save Africa, as they say they are, is not cynicism; its a rational observation concerning matters of fact. One hopes that the message of the Make Poverty History campaign, as transmitted to billions across the world by Live8, will, when contrasted with the measly outcome of Gleneagles, cause many people across the world to take a cold and realistic look at these eight men that represent us and the true costs of their actions. One hopes that many people will find cause to stop judging politicians by how they come across on television and in interviews with the sunday supplements, and instead start looking at the real implications of their actual policies.

Activists and campaigners certainly ought to be wary of cynicism. Cynicism, that is, on the part of politicians who are prepared to exploit the cause of combating poverty for their own political gain. That, it would appear, is one of the principle lessons for us to take from the Make Poverty History campaign so far.

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