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14 July 2005 Edition

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Live 8 roars, G8 whispers


Aid for Africa will be doubled by 2010 to $50 billion, with a renewed commitment to invest in free basic healthcare and education for all Africans. The US government has agreed that "climate change is happening now", urgent action is needed and the G8 as a group will work to develop clean energy technologies. The EU and the US have pledged to act on scrapping agricultural subsidies but have not yet set a date, and a three year $3 billion annual investment in the Palestinian economy was announced.

These were the highlights of the G8 summit deal agreed last week, so what happened? Did the G8 make poverty history?

It depends on who you ask. The politicians were ebullient in the belief that they had achieved something momentous, or what British Prime Minister and summit host Tony Blair described as "very substantial progress" but others in the poverty campaign summed up the summit with the words, "The people have roared but the G8 have whispered".


For Bono it was the "beginning of the end". Bob Geldof described it as "a qualified triumph", but other campaigners for debt cancellation and fair trade were less than convinced that the Gleneagles G8 summit really delivered a deal that will make poverty history.

Irish aid agencies like Trócaire and Goal were less effusive about the G8 commitments. Concern offered perhaps the most positive interpretation of what was agreed.


Trocaire policy co-ordinator Caoimhe de Barra warned that only $10 to $20 billion of the $50 billion increase in aid was "new money". De Barra said an extra $50 billion was needed in 2006 alone and delaying the delivery of the aid until 2010 would "cost the lives of millions".

Other issues raised by Trócaire included proposals that, "both donors and recipient governments needed to improve standards to ensure that aid was used effectively. They also highlighted the fact that much of G8 aid is tied up in the purchase of products and services from rich states and that the unbundling of these ties could improve the value of existing aid by up to 30%.


Goal chief executive John O'Shea was more forthright. He said the G8 has "squandered a unique opportunity to take action which would have meant meaningful change for the poorest people on the planet".

O'Shea described the G8 agreement as one that was "likely to benefit Swiss bankers only".

O'Shea is particularly vocal about the issue of corruption in some of the indebted states and argues that the G8 should "refuse to give any additional monies to corrupt third world leaders; ban all arms sales to third world governments; and trade fairly with the poor".


Concern chief executive Tom Arnold gave a broad welcome to the G8 proposals but said, "The big challenge now is to translate the decisions taken into urgent action".

Oxfam said that, "the world's richest nations have delivered welcome progress for the world's poorest people", but that the proposal had, "fallen short of the hope of millions around the world campaigning for a momentous breakthrough".


It is clear that there are substantial divisions between the coalition of groups that constitute the Make Poverty History campaign but few would have thought it would spill open in public. However the comments of Bob Geldof castigating fellow campaigner Kumi Naidoo, Chairperson of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty were an insight into the deeper feelings of different campaigners.

Nadoo told the post summit press conference that 50,000 people are dying unnecessarily each day and that, "if the leaders actually implement today's announcement in an urgent manner, we estimate that by 2010 this will fall to 37,000".

According to Nadoo the promise to deliver the new aid only in 2010 was "like waiting five years before responding to the tsunami".

The deal was for Nadoo only a "small belated step in the right direction. The people have roared but the G8 has whispered".

Nadoo's comments enraged Geldof who angrily rounded on his fellow poverty campaigner. Geldof said "When did 10 million people alive become a whisper? It's a disgrace to suggest anything other than that".


Whatever about discord among the campaigners, the G8 leaders were all on the same hymn sheet.

The 32 page G8 communiqué was given at Tony Blair's request, the unprecedented status of being signed by the eight leaders. Maybe it was Blair's ever vigilant media eye at work, but the symbolic signing, in what has been a tumultuous week for Europe and especially Britain by any standard, gave the Gleneagles summit much needed gravitas.

This summit marked a closure of sorts not just for the G8 leaders, but also for the anti-globalisation and other protesters whose efforts in recent years laid the foundations for this summit.

Years of protest beginning with the Reclaim the Streets and Mayday marches of the late 1990s, flaring up in London and then Seattle in 1999, followed on with needless police brutality and the murder of anti-globalisation activists in Genoa in 2001, has now come full circle.

In the industrialised world the issues of debt, trade justice and climate change are on the political agenda. They find though that politics is a contested space. Africa and global poverty have had their month. It will be hard to hold the public mind never mind the politicians' interests for much longer.

It was Tony Blair who summed up this position when at his post summit press conference he said that it was "in the nature of politics that you do not achieve everything you desire".


This is where the Make Poverty History coalition find themselves this week. The organisation and mobilisation of the Live 8 concerts, the marches, the press conferences and other events were an intensity of campaigning that most political organisations would find impossible to maintain.

So what happens next? The G8 communiqué points the way specifically mentioning the UN Climate Change conference in Montreal later this year and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which is due to report in 2007. On trade, new World Trade Organisation talks are due to be begin in December in Hong Kong.

We also know that the theme of the upcoming Russian hosting of the G8 will be energy, which puts Africa and aid even further back down the political agenda.

So Africa has had its moment in world politics for now. For the campaigners the next question must be that now that they have found a way to get on the agenda of international politics, how can they gain control of the agenda, because its is clear that making poverty history will need a lot more involvement in politics and that making poverty history in Africa might mean changing how Europe and the other power blocs are run. Are the G8 campaigners ready for this next task?

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