BRUSSELS – How many Madonnas spreading a “Ray of Light” or how many Stings stressing “we’ll be watching you” does it take to sway the alleged leaders of the world who meet this Wednesday at the annual Group of Eight (G8) summit near a remote golf course in Scotland?
The hyped-up British media dubbed Live8 “the biggest musical event in history”, watched by “half the world”. Stiff-upper-lipped editorialists almost fainted as they elevated to the heavens the “idealist alliance” between the faded rock star and Live8 organizer Bob Geldof and the canny politician, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Geldof wanted to “tilt the world on its axis” for the benefit of the African poor. Pop music was supposed to serve as the catalyst, saving us all from greenhouse gases and rescuing Africa from the guillotine of foreign debt.
For a moment, one might have had the impression that the whole planet last Saturday was wearing white “Make Poverty History” wristbands. The media hysteria that has spread across the world, fueled by Bono’s U2 singing “It’s a beautiful day”, has created expectations that this G8 summit could “make poverty history” or even reverse the terrible damage caused to the environment. No way.
Live8 will have an impact – on CD sales and iTunes downloads of the Madonnas and Snoopy Dogs and the reformed Pink Floyd. As for the global environment – the poor cousin in Live8’s agenda – the Bush White House may have officially admitted – for the first time ever – that climate change is at least “to some extent” the US’s own fault. But it’s undiluted wishful thinking to believe that President George W Bush – leader of the biggest polluting country in the world and a man who answers to no one but the American energy lobby – would ever agree to impose strict limits on carbon emissions.
What you see is not what you get
The Royal African Society in Britain, in a fresh report, outlines what the wealthy North could actually do in practice to help the poor South, especially Africa. Among its recommendations: crack down on Western banks and multinationals complicit in extensive corruption and money laundering in Africa; stop fueling wars in Africa, where the West always profits by selling weapons; and, while exploiting Africa’s natural resources, at least respect corporate governance, the rule of law and decent labor practices.
In the past 40 years, aid for Africa basically has not worked. Now Blair wants aid doubled. Africans don’t want aid. People like Moeletsi Mbeki – the brother of South African President Thabo Mbeki – insist that “giving the money to the people for productive investment” is the best solution.
The real deal at this G8 would be if American and European Union farm subsidies were erased, and true fair trade relations were offered not only to Africa but to the rest the world. It won’t happen – not as long as the unelected, undemocratic G8 sets the controls of the world economy. The “debt relief” for some African countries approved in early June – ie, the writing off of much, but not all, of the debt owed by 18 poor nations, mostly from Africa – is a myth: it comes with so many conditions that the countries simply won’t benefit from anything. Moreover, dozens of other African countries were not “rewarded”.
Behind the G8 hype, tempers will be boiling. Seven heads of state, excluding the US, simply can’t stomach Bush’s fierce opposition to the Kyoto treaty, and even less Bush’s lame admission of responsibility “to some extent” for climate change. These leaders, and their populations, know that global warming is the ultimate long-term threat to the human race, not to mention the short-term threats, avian flu and the oil crisis.
France, Germany and Canada have not forgotten Bush’s imperial disaster in Iraq. Whatever the diplomatic excuses, Germany, Italy and Canada are definitely not in the mood to give more aid to Africa. And to top it, France and Germany are even angrier with Blair than they are with Bush, because of the recent, acrimonious dispute on the European Union’s budget. Blair has now embarked on a crusade of his own against the EU’s CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), which the developing world derides as extremely unfair to free trade.
And definitively coming back to earth after the excesses of Live8, what the G8 really means for members like Germany and Japan is a great opportunity to woo the 53 votes of the African Union in their bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
Once again, only wishful thinking would allow the wealthy G8 club to voluntarily eliminate its own trade barriers that stop African farmers from selling their products in the North. And even if there was a semblance of a deal, it would be struck only in December, at the World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong.
All together now
Some reports say that up to 2 billion people saw Live8 on television. While most of Western Europe was Live8-saturated on Saturday night – with some stations running “best of” bits until early on Sunday, coverage in the crucial US was not extensive. Not many people seem to care about Africa in the US – and certainly not corporate television. And for most of the 689 million Africans, they didn’t even get to see or read about Live8 – televisions and even newspapers are a luxury for most. This is a continent where owning a radio is more precious than owning a luxury car.
The numbers are extremely depressing. Africa’s gross national product (GNP) is only US\$311 billion – 1% of the global sum. Its share of world commerce is now just 0.68% – down from 6% 20 years ago, when Geldof concocted the original Live Aid. The average annual income per person is \$450. The agricultural subsidies available to G8 farmers are higher than Africa’s total GNP. You simply can’t change this dire state of things just by waving your hands in the air along with Madonna and Bono.