Main Site         

Gleneagles did succeed

2006 July 3
by Paul Vallely

Is Africa better off without us? It is, of course, a nonsense question. Africa’s share of world trade may only be around 2 per cent but the link is there, and vital – a 1 per cent increase in trade would benefit the continent more than a fivefold increase in aid and debt relief. The same is true of debt and aid; whether we, and they, like it or not, Africans are locked into a relationship with the rich world. “Without us” is not an option in the real world. The question is how can we make that relationship more just – and better for those who suffer most within it.

This Sunday (2 July) will be the first anniversary of Live 8. Would Africa, for all the shortcomings of the concert, have been better off without it? It is fashionable now to say that it would. Aid does harm. Debt relief only helps dictators. Rock concerts only sell records for self-aggrandising pop stars.

Cynicism is not just cheap. It does damage to the morale of activists when they are told that all their efforts were for naught, and it disempowers them – most perniciously when it is based on a lie. Make Poverty History, Live 8 and the Gleneagles deal which they spurred were far from perfect. We did not get all that we asked for, or was needed. But it was a major step forward.

The principle of debt relief needing to be 100 per cent was conceded for the first time. That has been delivered and 18 countries have an extra $1bn each to spend this year. For the past four months healthcare has been free in Zambia. Rural feeder roads are being built in Ghana for poor farmers. Tanzania is feeding 3.7 million people hit by drought. Nigeria is hiring 50,000 more teachers and will get 3.5 million more kids in school. Extra money is starting to flow in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda.

On aid things are more confused. Gleneagles promised to double aid to Africa to $50bn a year, with EU members pledging a whopping rise to give 0.56 per cent of GDP in aid within five years. Aid has increased hugely, by $21bn. But this figure includes $17bn of debt relief to Iraq and Nigeria. It will not be clear until the EU prime ministers meet in December how they intend to maintain an increase of that order as new aid money between 2008 and 2010. It is important this happens because, contrary to jaundiced dinner party wisdom, aid does work, when it is done right, as the extensive research of the Commission for Africa showed – and as a million Africans now getting anti-Aids drugs will testify.

On trade, Gleneagles produced almost nothing. There were fine words but little changed in the world trade talks, where the rich world is demanding tariff cuts of up to 75 per cent from the poor and offering only 25 per cent cuts in return. Here we are not failing to assist Africa, we are positively hindering it. This is the key area on which campaigners must push, particularly in France, Germany, Japan and the United States – where more active movements have been building post-Live 8.

All in all, the picture is much more mixed than sexy headlines allow. Gleneagles is making a difference. And if activists can keep the politicians to their promises millions of lives will be saved. World-weary assertions that we do not expect those pledges to be honoured only give our leaders the wriggle-room they must be denied.

Comments are closed.