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G8 SUMMIT: AWAY WITH GLOBAL ECONOMIC APARTHEID

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JOHANNESBURG, Jun 6 2007 (IPS) - It was in Germany in 1884 that Africa was carved up randomly and its communities destroyed by the dominant world powers; is it to redress this that the G8 summit in Germany is focused on poverty relief and climate change? asks Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of CIVICUS, chair of Global Call for Action Against Poverty (GCAP). In this article, Naidoo writes of the need to involve those whose situation we aim to improve in formulating the shape and direction of assistance offered to them. This is not just a moral call but a matter of basic human rights. Aid is not a panacea; increasing aid should come with increased efforts to make aid work. We need both more and better aid, fairer trade conditions, and renewed efforts to lift the debt burden, so that the promises made truly improve the lives of the poorest. It is the G8\’s duty to ensure that this happens. 123 years after the Berlin Conference and 61 years after the Marshall Plan, Germany has an opportunity to change its legacy. It could be remembered not only as the place where Africa\’s woes began but also as the place where impoverished nations got the chance they needed to recover, once and for all. Just as Germany benefited from the Marshall plan, surely a global Marshall, or perhaps Merkel, plan now makes sense. It would ensure that future generations live in a world with political, social, economic, gender, and environmental justice.

In many ways, the fact that Africa is now extremely rich beneath the ground yet extremely poor above it dates back to this period. Africa’s poverty and degradation is principally due to colonial actions and to the failure to redress the injustices done both by colonial plunder and the neglect of many African post-independence leaders.

So is it to redress the errors of the past that the G8 summit in Germany is focused on poverty relief and climate change?

It is widely acknowledged that both poverty and global warming are caused by human behaviour and affect the entire planet. The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), a coalition spanning over 100 countries and representing millions of people, is demanding that justice be done by planning a future that favours everyone, not just the rich; a future that favours all the complex parts of human existence, not only material wealth. To this end, all of us — civil society, governments, and business — need to get serious about accountability of all to all.

While the direct results of the horrendous colonial past maintain and worsen poverty, they are also one of the most detrimental forces to our common environment. For instance, what peace brought the Democratic Republic of Congo was not so much an improvement in people’s daily lives as access to virgin forests for Western companies and corrupt Congolese government officials, causing further degradation of both the socio-economic and natural environment.

Congo’s problems are only a symptom of the current global economic and environmental apartheid. As I have witnessed myself as an anti-apartheid activist in my country, South Africa, such divisions create downward spirals with their own momentum that have far-reaching detrimental consequences. History has shown that the spiral can be broken only by bringing the system down through mass mobilisation and a peaceful transition in which all parties join.

These days civil society organisations take the issue of accountability seriously, acknowledging that all they have to work with is the trust that people worldwide place in them. They understand that they will be closing their doors sooner rather than later if they lose the trust of the wider public. This seems to be yet another inconvenient truth for G8 leaders who feel the need to build a wall around their meeting venue to keep their citizens out. The fear and aggression represented by this wall is part of a larger trend marked by a clamp-down on civil liberties in the name of the ”war on terror”.

The real test of democracy is upholding the right to be heard against all odds. When G8 countries act in ways that undermine democracy, it makes it more difficult for people in repressive countries struggling to be heard and get involved at basic levels. Accountability cannot be measured in aid figures alone. Though aid efforts indeed still fall behind the G8 promises of 0.7 percent of GDP, and though this amount is a minimum necessary to address matters on a subsistence level, real accountability is but part of a broader picture. As Oscar Wilde said: only fools know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Here lies the link between voice, development, and democracy. The ritual announcements of new large promises of aid during and after G8 meetings only serves to draw attention away from the larger issue. What matters here and what matters most is that billions of citizens of this planet lack the power they need to solve their own problems.

Consequently, central to our demands are calls for citizens to be involved in their own governance. We underline the need to involve those whose situation we aim to improve in formulating the shape and direction of assistance offered to them. This is not just a moral call: this is a matter of basic human rights. Since the Marshall Plan of sixty years ago, we know that this approach works when properly managed and directed to the provision of essential services. Aid is not a panacea; increasing aid should come with increased efforts to make aid work. We need both more and better aid, fairer trade conditions, and renewed efforts to lift the debt burden, so that the promises made truly improve the lives of the poorest.

It is the G8’s duty to ensure that this happens: 123 years after the Berlin Conference and 61 years after the establishment of the Marshall Plan, Germany has an opportunity to change its legacy. It could be remembered not only as the place where Africa’s woes began but also as the place where impoverished nations got the chance they needed to recover, once and for all. Just as Germany benefited from the Marshall plan, surely a global Marshall, or perhaps Merkel, plan now makes sense. It would ensure that future generations live in a world with political, social, economic, gender, and environmental justice. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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