At the beginning of this month, the leaders of the eight most powerful nations
met in Gleneagles, Scotland, to decide on the critical issues that will impact
the lives of the six billion other people on this planet, and the planet itself.
Much critical analysis of these failed meetings was overshadowed or replaced by
coverage of the London bombings. Ironically, even though the host of the hour,
Tony Blair, was attempting to recast himself as the savior of Africa, a move seemingly
light years away, or certainly several continents away from Iraq, both the London
bombings and the G8 meetings are inseparable from the war on Iraq.
Previously, I have written about the connections of the attacks in London and
the attacks on Fallujah. This article will recount my experiences in Scotland,
protesting the dictatorial nature and issues of the G8 meetings, and offer an
analysis of the Blair government's public relations campaign surrounding the
meetings, a campaign aided and abetted by the Bush regime, British NGOs, and
quite unfortunately, Bob Geldolf and Bono. I conclude that facilitating the
fusion of the anti-war movement with the global justice movement is an absolutely
critical task for those of us working toward the eradication of poverty, war,
and imperialism. One practical and immediate tactic is to mobilize the biggest
demonstration possible on September 24 in Washington, DC the site of both a
national anti-war rally and march, and meetings of the International Monetary
Fund and World Bank.
Co-opting of a Movement: The Make Poverty History Demonstration
The largest mobilization ever amassed in Scottish history occurred the Monday
before the G8 leaders met in Gleneagles. Over 300,000 demonstrators packed the
streets of the picturesque town of Edinburgh with quite a large part of the
crowd being unable to march the route, after having waited up to three hours
in line, because of the enormity of the demonstration's turnout.
The theme of the march, which was also the name of the NGO that temporarily
formed to organize it, was "Make Poverty History." The most influential
player of Make Poverty History (MPH) was Oxfam, a centrist NGO with close allegiance
to the British government, in particular with British Chancellor Gordon Brown's
office. Working closely with the Commission for Africa, which is chaired by
Bob Geldolf and run by Blair, Brown, and Britain's overseas aid minister Hilary
Benn, the official MPH campaign ignorantly fell into supporting the neo-liberal
agenda of the G8 leaders.
Although the commitment toward ending the debt and fighting African poverty
is genuine from the NGOs and rock stars, the assumptions and recommendations
manufactured by the Commission for Africa would prove disastrous for Africa's
workers, peasants, and the urban poor. These include the assumption that the
impact of Western maneuvers on Africa has been largely benign. There is a complete
absence of criticism of the ongoing Western military interventions of the last
half century, and the colonial exploits and brutality forced upon the peoples
of African nations. The other damaging assumption of the Commission revolves
around the premise that free trade and privatization are somehow the key to
liberation for Africans. The International Monetary Fund is viewed as being
able to "play an invaluable role" in clearing the way for "private
sector investors." Private profit making is seen as the panacea to poverty:
"Successful growth will be led by the private sector." The commission
concludes that only by ridding themselves of barriers to free trade and exporting
to the rest of the world can Africans work their way out of poverty.
In contrast to this whitewashing and sidestepping, the organizers of the G8
Alternatives and the Stop the War coalition won political battles and arguments,
some lasting a year long, to lawfully protest at the fence surrounding the G8
meetings in Gleneagles, secure housing for protesters, and organize a counter-summit
in Edinburgh. Importantly, the message of "Fight Poverty, Not War"
was stamped throughout the huge Make Poverty History demonstration critically
inserting the obvious and necessary linkage between war and poverty a linkage
many in Blair's government were trying to ignore. Thus, although Make Poverty
History organizers were not confident enough or willing to draw out the connection,
the British anti-war movement succeeded in proving that the hundreds of thousands
marching against poverty were also marching against war and the system that
Poverty in Africa: the Real Story
Blair and Brown's simplistic rhetoric of relieving Africa's debt instead masks
the reality that there are massive and continuous flows of wealth out of Africa
into the pockets of Western capitalists capitalists who are inextricably bound
to the system that impoverishes millions, while the bankers and investors profiteer
from the militarized budget. The Commission for Africa's agenda and the drive
for free trade actually ties the mass of Africans into an exploitative neo-liberal
system that has been bleeding them dry for decades.
A professor of development studies at the London School of Economics, Gavin
Capps has researched the numbers behind the debt. In an article titled "Redesigning
the Debt Trap," he explains the dangerous web that the debt, structural
adjustment programs, and capital flight creates in Africa. He cites Africa Action,
a U.S.-based NGO, reporting in 2001 that the ratios of foreign debt to the continent's
gross national product increased from 51% in 1982 to 100% in 1992. Africa's
debt grew to four times its export income in the early 1990s. Its debt burden
is twice that of any other region in the world, it carries 11% of the developing
countries' debt, with only 5% of its income. The gross national product in Africa
is $308 per capita, while its debt stands at $355 per capita.
The money spent paying back the debt and the interest on the debt expanded
from an average of $1.7 billion from 1970-1979 to $14.6 billion from 1997-1999.
Africa received a total of $540 billion in loans, paid back $550 billion, and
still retained a debt of $295 billion between 1970 and 2002. In 1990 African
countries paid out $60 billion more than they received in new loans, and by
1997, this increased to about 162 British pounds. In 2001, sub-Saharan Africa
borrowed $11.4 billion, and paid back $14.5 billion.
This catastrophe is played out in the social service and health sectors. Shrinking
African national budgets are being spent in greater proportions to repaying
Western creditors at the expense of welfare or productive domestic investment.
During the 1980s debt service repayments averaged 16% of African government
expenditure compared to 12% on education and 4% on health. A decade later, the
situation remains appalling, as interest payments are prioritized over human
needs. In 1999 the Zambian government was pressured to spend $14 million more
in debt service than on its collapsing health care system, in the face of the
AIDS pandemic reaching new heights. Also in 1999, 33% of Angola's gross domestic
product was spent on debt repayments, as compared to 4.9% of gross national
product on education and 1.4% on health. In the whole of sub-Saharan Africa
in 2001, debt repayment amounted to 3.8% of GDP, as opposed to 2.4% spent on
In tandem with the debt repayment crisis, capital flight and structural adjustment
programs tighten the fatal stranglehold on the African continent. Capital flight,
the transfer of locally owned capital to the advanced economies, amounted to
$187 billion during 1970 and 1996 in 30 sub-Saharan African countries. This
flight of capital was inextricably bound with the accumulation of debt, as roughly
80 cents on every dollar borrowed by these countries flowed out as capital flight
the same year. When interest is added, the stock of capital flight of those
30 countries equals $274 billion, or 145% of the total debt owed by that group
of countries in 1996.
Corrupt leaders skimmed from the top of these profits. But simply attributing
capital flight to the greed of African politicians hides more than it reveals.
The great powers, the leaders of the G8, propped up African dictators like Mobutu
Seso Seko, of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in order to guarantee
Western strategic interests during the Cold War. (Mobutu was installed in mineral-rich
Zaire after the CIA-backed assassination of popular radical nationalist leader
Patrice Lumumba.) Breaking the pathologyzing myth of corrupt black African leaders,
apartheid South Africa enabled an average of 7% of annual gross domestic product
to leave as capital flight between 1970 and 1988, a flight whose destination
was into the coffers of major Anglo corporations. Such a move defied local capital
controls and broke the international sanctions regime on apartheid. Thus, the
private "white" capitalists of South Africa and white European business
leaders were also in lockstep support of capital flight.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank consolidated their
hold over Africa directly because of the debt crisis. They continue to ensure
commercial banks are repaid by lending African states more money to service
their private debts. And these U.S.-led institutions act as debt collection
agencies for the Western powers, in addition to the IMF's insistence on even
harsher repayment terms of the multilateral loans it makes. The charters of
the IMF and World Bank specifically forbid debts that they hold to be rescheduled
or written off, and most of these debts are charged at market rates. This is
one of the main reasons why Africa's total debt has continued to grow while
an even greater volume of its resources has flowed out of the continent.
The G8, Hypocrisy, and the Right to Protest
The logic of the G8's debt relief schemes is not an act of philanthropy, but
a necessary maneuver in order to maintain the debt repayments to the private
banks. First, only the poorest and most heavily indebted countries would be
allowed to qualify; secondly, all participants would have to adopt structural
adjustment programs; and lastly, on no account would other debtors be offered
any debt relief, and those that were could never have their debts written off.
The retention of a large and costly debt after such "relief" is entirely
legitimate within this scheme, as the stated aim is to reduce the debt of the
world's poorest states to "sustainable levels." Calculations after
structural adjustment programs are imposed do not take into account the level
of poverty in a country, only its ability to pay. Thus, on average, debt repayment
of the poorest countries will only be cut by a third. Practically speaking,
this means that after debt reduction, Mozambique, which had been paying about
$120 billion a year in interest on the principal, will continue to spend $70
billion a year. Tanzania's debt reduction will only be about 10%. In Cameroon
and Zambia, where one in five children do not live to the age of five and whose
parents earn less than 60 cents a day, will be left with a debt of $5 billion.
Moreover, the debt relief pledged is only just that: pledged. The people of
Southeast Asia who were devastated by tsunami destruction earlier this year
received only 10% of the money the wealthy governments of the world pledged,
governments which were shamed into pledging a respectable amount after their
citizens' gave more generously than the governments themselves.
It is for these reasons, for the G8's insistence that profits come before people's
lives, that protesters swarmed the streets of Edinburgh, and then met at the
gates of the posh hotel at an exclusive secluded golf course in Gleneagles.
Meanwhile, calling George Bush a "sincere and passionate man," resting
his head lovingly on Tony Blair's shoulder while posing for the media cameras,
Bob Geldolf joined Bono's tradition of delegitimizing the protesters and pandering
to elite leaders, in particular two of the eight men who created the poverty
in the first place.
Geldolf and Bono's actions not only dismissed the much more complicated and
deeper critiques made by the protesters, but also implicitly condoned the hypocritical
decisions of the corporate and government elites made during that week alone.
The Scottish government punished members of Parliament who spoke out in favor
of protecting protesters' rights to peacefully dissent in Gleneagles. For an
entire month, these MPs were banned from government buildings and their salaries
as well as the salaries of their staff were taken away. While Bono and Geldolf
spoke from on high about saving the Africans, the rock stars took no action
to pressure the UK government to let across the African protesters who were
being denied entry into the country and denied participation in the events at
which they had been invited to speak.
On a much more crude level, police rampantly lied the day of the Gleneagles
mobilization, broadcasting over the mass media that the protest was cancelled,
stopping dozens of buses and telling protesters the demonstration was cancelled
and to turn back, stopping British MP George Galloway's car five times and searching
it, and spreading general fear among townspeople that the protesters were violent,
lawless, and ignorant. None of these intimidations worked, as the ordinary people
of Gleneagles waved, hung peace banners, and smilingly took photos of our buses
as they passed through the streets. Despite the sometimes literal roadblocks
erected by the Scottish government, over 15,000 protesters succeeded in reaching
the fence at Gleneagles, demanding an end to poverty, war, and the crippling
economic injustice spawned by the eight men toasting themselves inside.
Live 8 Concerts: Did Bob Geldolf's Music Change the World?
Besides completely whitewashing the real story behind Africa's debt burden
and the continuous misery their policies impose on the rest of the world, Blair
and Brown and the rest of the G8 leaders hoped to use the Make Poverty History
events as a smokescreen for the crisis occurring in Iraq. Unfortunately, Bono
and Geldolf wholeheartedly supported this move. Because of their facile and
naïve view of the political situation, Bono and Geldolf helped to take
the heat off Bush and Blair at their weakest point the Iraq war, which is strategically
situated as the first in a long series of dominos set up by and for both Western
administrations. If this domino falls, pressured by the global anti-war movement,
then the long line of imperialist drives, including the debilitating imposed
debt on Africa, has a much greater chance of falling, of being cancelled. Instead,
with foolhardy optimism in a system and its pushers who have literally created
the misery, the millionaire rock stars persist in criticizing protesters through
name-calling and displays of ignorance about protesters' understanding of the
situation as if ordinary people simply could not grasp the real story behind
Ironically bolstered by the strength of the global anti-war movement's ability
to draw out millions in the streets, Geldolf organized Make Poverty History
concerts all over the world and called for people to march in Edinburgh. As
opposed to providing the real justice that South African activist Trevor Ngwane
and others called for, however, Geldolf instead used his impressive soapbox
to call for patronizing charity, and a more than polite request to the G8 leaders
to "play nice." In the same vein, Geldolf also intentionally refused
most African artists to play on his stages, saying they wouldn't draw crowds.
Thus, he paternalistically reduced the people of Africa to uncultured children
who need to be pitied, not empowered. He also privileged the minuscule numbers
of the powerful ruling class into the position of being willing and able to
change the world not the masses of ordinary people everywhere.
To make matters worse, Geldolf emailed an edict to each of the Live 8 performers,
forbidding them from mentioning the Iraq War or saying anything that would "embarrass"
Blair. As with the Make Poverty History demonstration, this was a case of the
millions of participants being more progressive than the organizers of the event.
It was also a perfect exemplification of class unconsciousness. From the stage,
the wealthiest man on the planet, Bill Gates, along with the likes of Sir Paul
McCartney and Sir Bob Geldolf, positioned themselves as experts on Third World
debt and poverty. Millionaires like Madonna, before performing, asked the crowd
if they were ready for a revolution. And perhaps the most egregious moment came
when Chris Martin of the pop band Coldplay, commented that the Live 8 concerts
were the most important events ever organized in human history.
This select assortment of examples demonstrates a severe disconnect with the
reality of social movements and how true change and economic justice has been
developed and won by the masses of ordinary people throughout time not doled
out philanthropically by millionaire and billionaire entertainers. It is through
grassroots movements for civil rights, women's equality, environmental protection,
lesbian and gay rights, the rights and dignity of workers, and today's anti-war
movement that will continue to turn the tide and create the safe and fulfilling
world in which the non-millionaires have a right to live and thrive.
DROP THE DEBT, NOT BOMBS: Why the September IMF and World Bank Protests
National anti-war coalitions such as United for Peace and Justice (www.unitedforpeace.org)
and ANSWER are planning mass mobilizations on September 24-26 in Washington,
DC. It is crucial for all of us to both amass the largest numbers possible for
the demonstration on September 24, as well as take serious note of the World
Bank and IMF meetings occurring at the same time. Creative protest events are
being organized by groups like Mobilization for Global Justice and 50 Years
is Enough. With Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz heading the World Bank, the
linkages between the anti-war and global justive movements are painfully clear.
Seattle was indeed a fork in the road. The September 11, 2001, attacks were
a major setback for the U.S. global justice movement, from which it has not
yet fully recovered. But like the reinvigoration of the anti-war movement after
the demoralizing 2004 presidential elections, ordinary people's anger and desire
to change the situation will prevail. It is my contention that the educational
and political groundwork laid by the global justice movement since Seattle has
undergirded the anti-war movement of today. It is why people are more quickly
and deeply making the connections of global war, imperialism, and poverty than
they did during the Vietnam anti-war movement.
Recently there has been much debate about unity in the streets. Time and efforts
are clearly better spent at joining the immediate demand of Bringing the Troops
Home and Ending the War in Iraq, with the long-term demand of empowering the
people of the planet to decide on the way our economy will benefit all of us,
as opposed to the handful of elite bankers, investors, and CEOs who now run
the IMF and World Bank. The anti-war movement should continue to hammer away
at the Achilles' heel of the Bush and Blair administrations: the occupation
and war on Iraq, and merge with the global justice movement at this fortuitously
timed series of events in September in Washington, DC. With the adoption of
the critiques of imperialism from the global justice movement, today's anti-war
movement will strengthen even more so, and ensure its survival through the people's
struggle to create another world.