Gleneagles, 7/7 and Africa

Ann Pettifor
3 July 2006

Although aware that it is not politically correct to do so, I have always thought of peaceful campaigning in military terms. In developing a successful strategy for defending the interests of the oppressed the key question, in my view, is this: what will strengthen the forces needed to defend the vulnerable? And what will weaken the powerful – those opposed to, and denying these communities justice – and cause them to change? The answers to these questions provide strategies for defending those oppressed by the financial, military and political powers of great empires.

With one murderous act, the Leeds bombers, aided and abetted by their leaders in al-Qaida, helped strengthen the forces that have attacked peaceful and innocent Muslim communities; undermined civil liberties in the United Kingdom and the United States; and pushed and maintained imperial forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

At the same time their violent attack on innocent people immediately weakened the millions mobilised around Make Poverty History, and fighting to defend the interests and environments of the world’s poor, including vast Muslim communities in countries like Nigeria, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Ann Pettifor is executive director of Advocacy International. In the 1990s she helped design and lead the international campaign Jubilee 2000. She is author of The Real World Economic Outlook (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). Her book The Coming First World Debt Crisis is published by Palgrave in October 2006). Her blog on the Guardian’s commentisfree site is here

Also by Ann Pettifor on openDemocracy:

“The coming first world debt crisis” (1 September 2003)

“Ethiopia: the price of indifference” (19 February 2004)

It is more realistic than cynical to say that the reactions provoked by the events of 7 July 2005 in political leaders like George W Bush, and their backers among the rich and in the oil sector, must have included relief that the attacks immediately removed three items from global political and media agendas:

  • the impoverishment of Africans and the need for rich countries to give additional aid and deeper and wider debt relief
  • the need for an international trading system based on justice
  • cuts in carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic weather events in countries such as Bangladesh.

These issues, pushed on to the agenda by activists in low-income countries and western campaigners, have not fully recovered the powerful grasp they had on public opinion the day before 7/7. Instead, terrorism, militarism and repression once again dominate the agenda, and leaders fiddle while the global economy burns.

What drove those young men to sacrifice their lives, murder and maim innocents; and inflict intense agony and pain on their families and communities – just so the interests of their avowed enemies could be strengthened? We shall no doubt never know. However, we must hope that others will not be seduced into serving their enemies so well; that new leaders will come forward that will strengthen, not weaken, the interests of their communities.

The lesson of failure

The reactionary after-effects of the violence of both 9/11 and 7/7 continue to reverberate around the world. In particular, G8 leaders at their summit in Gleneagles, Scotland on 6-8 July 2005 were relieved of their obligations to fulfil their role as world statesmen.

Before 7/7 the summit had taken on the character of a vast rock circus. The British government had bent over backwards to facilitate the huge Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park, which, despite the hype, distracted attention from their deliberations and eclipsed the 250,000 demonstrators gathered in Edinburgh. Tony Blair hoped the event would persuade the meeting of Olympic Games dignitaries in Singapore the following week to award London the 2012 event; and his fellow-politicians hoped to benefit from the afterglow of rock stars whose international fan clubs are the envy of politicians worldwide.

But while celebrities have a duty to sell records and satisfy their customers, it is the task of international statesmen to do what celebrities cannot:

  • defend the interests of all the world’s citizens by redistributing wealth to the world’s most vulnerable people
  • defend the planet against the threat of climate change
  • stabilise the global economy.

Those in charge of national and international governance have a duty to regulate, cooperate and coordinate – at an international level – to maintain financial, political and environmental stability. We have discovered this from bitter experience of their failure, particularly when the instability of the global economy in the 1920s and 1930s led to the immense destruction of the great depression, the spread of fascism, and the second world war.

In 1944, Harry Dexter White, the chief United States negotiator at the Bretton Woods conference, uttered a prescient warning about the need for such international cooperation:

"The absence of a high degree of economic collaboration among the leading nations will ... inevitably result in economic warfare that will be but the prelude and instigator of military warfare on an even vaster scale."

At Gleneagles, George W Bush and other leaders ignored the lessons of history, and the advice of scientists. Instead they looked for every opportunity to evade their responsibilities to collaborate, cooperate and regulate. Then the 7/7 bombers provided them with the ideal get-out.

The consequences were inevitable. First, despite increasingly alarming reports and analyses from scientists warning of climate change, very little has been done since Gleneagles by rich countries to limit carbon emissions. Newsweek reports that in recent days the US capital experienced some of its “worst flooding in more than a century”; record flooding forced thousands to evacuate their homes and was “blamed for at least 20 deaths in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and Virginia”. These are but some of the extreme weather events facing a world bereft of international stewardship and leadership on this issue.

Second, despite increasingly alarming reports and analyses from international economists, including the IMF and the Bank for International Settlements, very little has been done by rich countries to stabilise global financial and trade "imbalances" – that is, the massive debts of Anglo-American economies, and the surpluses of countries (like China and India with very large numbers of poor) financing those deficits. Indeed, as this article is published, global financial markets are gyrating, with much destruction of value.

In the meantime, heavily indebted and unbalanced economies, like that of Iceland, Hungary, Turkey and New Zealand are facing currency crises, as investors panic and suffer "risk-aversion". Those who are averse to Iceland's risks may soon become averse to similar risks facing the US. Climbing US interest rates imply further instability, and the threat of a collapsing dollar is now widely discussed.

Such financial instability will hurt the poorest most, for they do not enjoy the cushions of protectionism, wealth and welfare that will protect many in rich countries. Aid agencies like Oxfam are very unwise, therefore, to urge leaders not to "focus mainly on the global economy".

Third, despite the impact of rising oil prices in impoverishing poor countries further, rich countries have taken limited steps since Gleneagles to honour their promises to increase aid. The IMF notes that "the (upturn) in oil prices since 2002 has caused poverty to rise by as much as 4-6% in some countries … A sustained price increase of $10 per barrel above the $30 per barrel level … would cause an economic shock equivalent to a 1.47% loss of GDP for the poorest countries [those with GDP per capita of less than $300]" (World Economic Outlook, April 2006).

As the world knows, oil prices, for reasons that have little to do with the poorest countries, have been sustained above $67 per barrel for more than three months now, implying a massive economic shock of at least 5% loss of GDP for these countries. It is against this backdrop that G8 promises on aid should be considered, and not as Larry Elliott suggests, the self-imposed budgetary constraints faced by rich countries.

Oxfam notes that "the impact of (the G8's) lack of generosity is that key global initiatives set up to fight poverty cannot find funding. The Education Fast Track Initiative [Education FTI], the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria and the new UN Central Emergencies Response Fund remain shockingly under-funded" (Oxfam, Gleneagles, one year on)

The route to reality

If poor countries are to keep to their side of the Gleneagles bargain – i.e. improving governance and accountability – then at the very least their people must be kept alive. If they survive emergencies, plagues and disasters, then they must be made healthy so that they can attend school. To understand what their leaders are up to, it is important that they be taught to read and write. These are the minimum requirements of societies set to defeat corruption and hold their governments to account. By withholding resources needed for these purposes, and then blaming the victims for corruption and bad governance, the rich world is being both cowardly and mean.

Increased aid, greater justice in international trading relations, controls over finance capital and a decline in carbon emissions would help poor countries cope with crises and shocks "external" to their economies. But they cannot do so alone. The world needs responsible, international leadership, cooperation and regulation to deal with a range of threats. These threats have implications, not just for the survival of a range of species; but also for whole swathes of humanity. To expect low-income countries to make sacrifices and exercise leadership, while rich countries fiddle and the Doha Round burns, is irresponsible, foolhardy and reckless.

The Leeds bombers provided world leaders with momentary relief from their responsibilities, shocked economic justice campaigners – in particular the many millions that thanks to Make Poverty History had joined for the first time – and pushed major issues off the media’s agenda. But campaigners for justice cannot allow such violence, or threats of violence, to deflect them from defending the interests of the vulnerable, and of the planet.

On the 7 July 2006, the Global Call to Action on Poverty, in partnership with Russian campaigners, is staging events in Moscow to highlight issues the Russian government has put on the agenda of the G8 summit it is hosting on 15-17 July: education, health and Africa. Everything must be done to bolster their activities and ensure these issues stay on the agenda. At the same time it is vital not to downplay the need for G8 leaders to focus on the unbalanced global economy and the unbalanced global ecosystem.

This time, world leaders must not be provided with distractions, cover and get-outs; they must be made to face up to their responsibilities. Too much is at stake.

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