Sunday, July 03, 2005

Terms and Conditions Apply

So we've had that there Live 8. There have been a lot of criticisms of the event. Just in the some of the blogs I read, Justin has had a pop, as have Nosemonkey and Nick. Even I've had a (half-hearted) go.
There are three main issues.
  1. It's been badly planned (although the show seems to have gone ok from what I've seen).
  2. It's never edifying watching multi-millionares talking about making poverty history (especially when they're likely to sell more CDs and make even more money in the process).
  3. It's going to attract a crowd who mostly don't give an underarm throw about global poverty.
In short, it's a pants idea. I did watch some of it and it seemed to be reasonable enough entertainment. (I liked The Who if anyone's interested). It's not going to do much to help fight poverty though.
Of the blogs I read regularly, only Jim Bliss writes in support of Live 8. Go read, if you haven't already. Here's a sample:
Now, I don't know how many 16-year-old poverty activists Geldof has created in the past two weeks and will create tomorrow. Kids who are impressionable enough to have their minds changed by their pop star heroes. Certainly it'll be less than 1% of those who get fired up briefly by the event. But it'll be more than I'll manage to inspire in a lifetime of writing silly little articles.
It's a persuasive argument. Perhaps Live 8, for all its faults, will still have a positive effect. The BBC says "A TV audience of several hundred million were watching the gigs..."
That's a lot of people. How many will have been inspired to learn more about the causes of poverty? Probably a tiny percentage, but that's still going to be a lot of people.

There was one further critisism I would level at Live 8 though. I didn't see much information about poverty or its causes. Well, in the off chance that you, the reader, are one of those who'd like to know more about the issues, here are some links which might help start you off. I've not long started down this road myself, so don't expect great insight or detail.

It does seem that the this week's G8 will make some progress in tackling poverty. Unfortunately, there are some issues which will get little attention.

There is likely to be very little movement towards introducing fairer rules of international trade. Make Poverty History have a summary of what's needed. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told the BBC it was unlikely they [the G8] would agree to grant Africa "a fairer trading environment". Andrew Marr said the same when interviewed by Jonothan Ross during Live 8. After the G8 summit, the rules are still going to be overwhelmingly in favour of the wealthy nations. There is no economic or moral justification for this state of affairs. Vested interests are the major barrier to movement on this.

There is another area of great importance to development in Africa and elsewhere. It's conditionality, the attaching of conditions to debt relief and aid. At first glance it sounds like a sensible idea. The problem is that the conditions applied are based on something called the Washington Concensus. The conditions can be as damaging as the problems they are apparently designed to solve. Read George Monbiot for a flavour of the problem.

Tom Paine has more, explaining how the Washington Consensus has been attached to the recently announced debt relief programme:
According to G8 ministers, a country practicing "good governance" is one that wholeheartedly embraces the Washington Consensus. The 18 chosen countries are those that have reached "completion point" under HIPC [Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative], meaning that they have already complied with the onerous economic mandates. Since the G8 deal keeps this "conditionality" in place, new countries wishing to be included in future cancellation must still endure neoliberal "adjustments."
Ben Turok explains why this is problematic for African countries trying to develop:
One problem facing parliamentarians in Africa is that the IMF and World Bank [both dominated by the G8 and the US in particular] exercise major influence on government policies and programmes without these being referred to the scrutiny of parliaments. Another is that although these institutions claim that their recommendations are based on the recipient countries' strategic priorities, the imposed conditions override country preferences.
Conditionality removes power from local decision makers and places it in the hands of the G8. Given the problems with corruption in Africa, it is tempting to think that this is always a good idea. Unfortunately, in practise it means that decisions are taken by those who have a responsiblity only to rich nations. In the final analysis, the welfare of impoverished Africans will never have the same significance for these decision makers as the welfare of their own countries economic prosperity.

There are many examples of the Washington Consensus causing problems in developing countries. Argentina's economic collapse in 2001 is a recent example. There are lots more. Joseph Stiglitz has written an excellent book on the subject. It was reading this book which really opened my eyes to the problems in the international economic system. It's worth a read if you want to find out more about how the global economy works.

Yes, the G8 will make some significant progress in tackling African poverty, but it will only be a small step on a long road.

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