In the build-up to the G8 Gleneagles summit meeting on 6-8 July, Blair was quoted as saying that it would "go down in history" for tackling poverty in Africa. But "tackling poverty" is hardly what the G8 is about to do. Never mind. These days Blair is concerned to project almost everything he does as being "historical", having lost so much credit in front of the electorate.
As president of the G8 from July, Blair has already begun to use this "stage" for demagogic performances to try to convince the general public of his deep concern over poverty in Africa. Seldom has a G8 meeting been accompanied by such official hype. Even the sideshow, which is usually the responsibility of the anti-G8 protestors, was co-opted by Blair and Brown, under the "management" of Thatcher's tamed knight, Bob Geldorf, who organised the "Live Aid" concerts 20 years ago, to raise funds for the victims of famine in Ethiopia.
Accordingly, "Sir" Bob Geldorf, announced the "Live8" concerts (in Hyde Park and around the world) prefacing the summit, which were meant to "raise awareness" on world poverty, while Brown agreed to waive VAT for them and pick up the tab for cleaning up the mess in Hyde Park afterwards. It should be said that Geldorf was one of Blair's appointees on the "Commission for Africa" set up by Blair last year, sitting alongside Blair himself and Gordon Brown. And that the Penguin paper back edition of the Commission's report is being marketed with a grandiose quote from Geldorf on its cover: "If our plan is adopted, this could be the decade when Africa's fortune turns."
If the pop-star circus around the G8-Live8 events could allow the well-meaning demonstrators and concert-goers to really understand the causes of poverty, that would not be such a bad thing. But, in fact, the celebrities and politicians involved in these events will have merely helped to promote a number of false arguments, if not outright lies. Above all else, is the idea that eradicating poverty depends on the policies implemented by the rich countries' governments on trade, aid and debt, and all it needs is for the G8 leaders to respond to the "pressure" from pop stars and the "Make Poverty History" campaign for things to change. As this campaign says on its website "they have the power and we can make them use it." Those who believe in this establishment-led deception will be disappointed.
This lavish jamboree "for Africa" is pure politics at its most obscene - and indeed there has been plenty of ridicule directed at Blair and Brown because of it. It is a little too obvious that they are trying to play up to the middle class electorate who deserted Labour over Iraq. It is also a little too obvious, that when their policies have actually increased poverty at home by widening the gap between rich and poor, they are hardly likely to have a credible plan which will end it anywhere else, let alone on the whole continent of Africa.
Ensnared in poverty
Today more than half the world's population - over 3bn - live in still undeveloped, so-called Third World countries, and scrape by on under $2 a day. This is defined by the World Bank as "moderate poverty". 1.2bn however, live on less than $1 a day, which is defined as "extreme" poverty. The number of poor people around the world rose annually by 4.4% between 1981 and 2001. Almost half those in extreme poverty (500m) live in South Asia. One quarter (314m) live in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the number in extreme poverty has doubled since 1981 and includes almost half of the region's population.
The catastrophic burden of indebtedness for the world's poorest countries is nothing new. It originates in the desperate need of these countries for products and infrastructure, which they can only buy at a very high price from the rich countries. The imperialist companies which produce these goods and the banks that control these companies have, therefore, a vested interested to ensure that the poor countries have the necessary cash. For the imperialist banks this system implies a double whammy: not only do they get a profit from the interest paid on the loans(which is usually high, under the pretext that lending to a poor country is "risky"), but they also make a profit through the additional sales made by the companies they control!
For the borrowing countries, these loans are comparable to giant household mortgages, where the sum borrowed is paid off several times over in the lifetime of the loan just through the interest repayments, while a large part of the original loan remains outstanding for years to come. Taking Sub-Saharan Africa alone, for instance, between 1970 and 2000 the region received some $540bn in loans, according to a UN report published in 2004. But despite having paid back $550bn, including interest, its outstanding debt remained at $295bn in 2000! The report condemned this as a "reverse transfer of resources". Too true!
From the late 1970s, it was already obvious that the poor countries were becoming increasingly unable to continue to pay the high interest rates charged on their loans by lenders. So imperialist international agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank stepped in to pre-empt a possible wave of defaults, which would have badly affected imperialist banks, the financial industry as a whole, and reduced the export markets of imperialist companies. At first these international institutions took over part of the loans made by private banks to the poor countries and offered them new loans so that they could meet their interest payments. Then their existing loans were rescheduled - an operation similar, and just as costly for the borrower as remortgaging a house. In both cases, the international bodies were said to be providing "aid" to the Third World. In the case of rescheduling, this "aid" was often described as "goodwill" or even "debt cancellation", thereby making these international bodies appear as benefactors of the poor countries. Except that with each rescheduling and each new loan, the debtor country sank even deeper into debt!
The point is that "aid", in the language of imperialism, has never meant "help". It is merely a business facility provided by the international agencies to the poor countries and, in this capitalist world, any such "service" comes at a price!
The target strategy - another vicious circle
What is being announced today with so much fanfare is, in reality, just another debt rescheduling package for some of the poorest countries, dressed up in such a way as to make it look generous. It is, in fact, the latest episode of a programme for the "Highly Indebted Poor Countries" (HIPCs) which began 9 years ago, after the G7 meeting which took place in Lyon.
This first HIPC initiative, begun in 1996, "HIPC-1", selected only 41 out of 150 poor countries which had fallen into "debt trap", as eligible for some kind of debt relief. However, before getting any relief in their interest repayments, these countries were given six years to prove that they "deserved" it by implementing Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) involving tight austerity measures coupled with the opening up of their economies to western capital, the privatisation of remaining state-owned utilities, industry and infrastructure and the removal of food and fuel subsidies.
These SAPs were not new. They had become a common precondition for any loan from the IMF since the late 1980s. And most of the HIPC countries had already been subjected to them. This had already led to depriving many of these countries' populations of the limited water, electricity and fuel (and food) they used to just about afford, because they were now being "sold" to them at commercial rates by private foreign companies located in Europe or the US!
It soon became clear that as a result, the HIPC countries would be unable to meet the conditions for debt relief within the six years originally planned. So, in late 1999, "HIPC-2" was announced by the IMF, supposedly in answer to what was described as a new "debt repayment crisis" - but which was really the same problem which had allegedly been "resolved" in 1996. Called "debt cancellation" again, what was on the table was just another rescheduling of interest payments.
However this time, the despised SAPs had to be relaunched by the IMF and World Bank as "Poverty reduction Growth Frameworks" (PRGFs), which were designed to be very democratic-sounding. The countries involved were supposed to have a say by producing "Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers" compiled under the supervision of their elected parliamentarians. This time there was meant to be "national ownership" as the IMF called it, of the austerity programmes. Of course, it remained ultimately up to the IMF to accept or reject these proposals and to dictate its amendments!
At the same time, the 18 richest countries signed up to the UN's "Millennium Development Goals" (MDGs) as these latest, but now "targeted" conditions for aid and debt relief for the poor countries were called. These were promoted as a way of getting Third World regimes to use the money they "saved" on debt servicing to "reduce poverty" - which would be closely monitored. These MDGs also included the promotion of gender equality, universal primary education, reduction in infant mortality by two thirds, reduction in maternal mortality, the combatting of HIV, malaria and other diseases, environmental sustainability and becoming involved in "global partnership"!
Jeffery Sachs (Special Advisor to UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan), in his book,"The End of Poverty: how we can make it happen in our lifetime" actually cites as an example of the "economic empowerment" which is supposed to be the objective of these MDGs', the Bengali women who have been driven by rural poverty into working in textile sweatshops. He does so, even while admitting that they cannot make a living in the sweatshops and are often under constant threat from landlords and criminal gangs who prey on their vulnerability in a society in which women have no rights and are severely oppressed. Sure, these women are strong and determined, but his argument is weak and unconvincing!
As even Trevor Manual, South Africa's Finance Minister, pointed out recently, these MDGs were a catch-22. If the poor countries did not have the means in the first place, how could they find them in order to achieve the targets to "qualify" for the debt relief? But this did not stop the UN from declaring that if, by 2015, MDGs were stuck to, poverty would be reduced by half! Actually the idea was supposedly to help half of those in "extreme poverty" into "moderate poverty" - which, as they say, is the "first rung of the ladder" leading to "economic empowerment"!
At the UN's Financing for Development conference in Monterrey, Mexico in 2002, the HIPC-2 initiative was endorsed as a success! Within a year, however, the World Bank was calling it a failure.
By 2003, 21 countries were meant to have had a total "debt cancellation" of $34.7bn agreed. However, only 8 countries had passed their MDG probation period, for a total of $11.8bn in debt relief. With the additional relief granted by the Paris-Club countries, the grand total of debt relief for these countries over the 1996 to 2003 period, agreed under the HIPC programme, period came to only $26.13bn. But this only meant that $26.13bn worth of interest repayments had been "written off" over a period which was in fact due to finish in 2015, while the outstanding debt remained intact!
To quote Josef Ritzen, (a vice president of the World Bank from 2001-2003) "the tragedy of this first decade of the millennium is that most of the traffic lights for successful progress in development cooperation remain fixed in orange or red."
Debt cancellation or debt reinforcement?
So the latest "debt relief" plan was announced on 11 June this year, after Brown had met with G8 finance ministers in London and this plan is meant to be rubber-stamped at Gleneagles. It is in fact really just a completion of the final stage of HIPC-2, but for a very reduced number of poor countries! Nevertheless, it was hailed as an "historic breakthrough" and as a "triumph" for Gordon Brown. One has to wonder what the other G8 leaders thought of this, since they are just as responsible for this "deal".
Now only 18 countries, with a combined debt of $40bn, are considered to be suitably "on track" with the IMF/World Bank programme, so as to be able to qualify for "debt relief" at some point. Besides the 4 South American countries of Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua and Bolivia, 14 African countries (including Britain's "favourites" - Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique) were selected. In addition, another 9 countries may be added to the list in the next 18 months, bringing the total to 27.
This "London Agreement" was described as a "cancellation of all debts" by official spokesmen and the media. Yet this is a blatant lie! Not one of these countries is going to have its debts written off! They are merely going to be allowed to postpone their interest payments - and only those they "owe" to three of the so-called "multilateral creditors", namely the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Their combined interest repayments, which come to $1.5bn per year will be waived, between now and 2015 - that is, for the next ten years only. After that they will be expected to resume repayments on the same outstanding debt.
What is more, the HIPC-2 conditions for this waiver still stand. Accordingly, they will be expected to open their doors even more widely to Western companies, carry on the process of privatisation, while at the same time succeeding in reducing infant mortality, "tackling" killer diseases like HIV and malaria, and improving primary education!
Only if they keep on track, will the G8 countries refund their annual repayments to the multilateral lenders. Moreover, this amount is petty cash for the G8. If the 7 rich countries - the 8th is Russia - pay an equal share, it only amounts to $214m each. Besides, this sum could well be taken out of their aid budgets - and this is almost certainly going to be the case after the next 3 years (their contributions to the World Bank have already been set for this period). So this could well leave these countries, at best, only temporarily relieved of some debt interest payments, but deprived of aid as a consequence!
To give some idea of the miserly amount this $1.5bn is, it is nothing compared to the G8's total $700bn military expenditure or the $4bn the US spends every month on the continued occupation of Iraq! Less than 3 months of occupation cost would pay for the annual treatment of every HIV-sufferer in Africa today. This $1.5bn can also be compared to the $1.6bn that British companies made in 2004, from arms sales to Africa. This is scandalous in itself. But it means that what is given by Britain to "Africa" with one hand is taken back several times over with the other hand, just in arms sales alone.
Another problem arises out of the fact that the $1.5bn "reimbursement" for missing debt service monies will only be made to the World Bank and AfB. The IMF is meant to find the funding for its share of the "debt relief" from its own resources, while Brown's proposal that the IMF sell some of its gold reserves has been quietly shelved. This could well mean that the IMF will balance its own books by cutting aid to other countries!
However, even those countries who meet the conditions to benefit for this relief will be left with a whole number of other debts to service and repay. There is no "cancellation" planned for debts owed to other multilateral lenders such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank, although these are major creditors of some of the HIPCs selected under this London agreement. The US claims to have cancelled 100% of all "bilateral debts" it was owed by HIPC countries in 1999 - and so does the UK, Germany, France and Japan. But there is no plan for relief on debts owed to other states, nor to commercial banks.
So much for the papers' headlines about the $40bn gift obtained by Brown for Africa!
Gordon Brown as saviour of the poor?
To help explain the current failure in poverty reduction, since the "Millennium" initiatives, a finger has been pointed by some commentators at the diversion of Overseas Development Aid by Britain and the US to countries which supported the US-British "war on terror" - like Pakistan - or those which have been its targets, like Afghanistan and Iraq.
In fact, in order to "fulfil the commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq", £544m from Britain's aid budget was allocated for 2003-2006 - but without this budget being increased by the same amount. How much of that money is really intended for "reconstruction" and how much for military purposes and "security" is, of course, a well-guarded secret! As a result of this diversion, in October 2003, it was announced that aid would be reduced for 20 "middle income" countries, as well as for South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bolivia and Jamaica. British bilateral aid was stopped completely for Peru, Honduras, Anguilla, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia.
The UN has been calling on all rich countries to increase their aid to at least 0.7% of Gross National Income, for many years, in fact. Brown has said this will be possible for the UK by 2013...but boasts about how the British aid budget has been increasing. It will be 0.4% of national income by 2006 (£4.9bn).
This is a micro-drop in the ocean, however. In 2004, the figure for total Official Development Assistance provided by all donor countries, was less than $80bn, while the amount paid in debt repayments from the poor countries was over four times that - as much as $370bn! So on the one hand the rich countries' governments act as Shylocks when it comes to interest repayments and then they toss a few coins at their debtors!
This aid, paid out of government budgets, has never been a free "gift" to the poor countries. Up until the mid-nineties it was estimated that £9 in every £10 of aid from Britain came straight back because the aid was tied to the privileged procurement of contracts for British companies - among other strings. But it is still the case that part of this aid has strings attached, despite the commitment made by certain EU countries, including Britain, to "reform" this conditionality. To quote the UK Department of International Development "...the relationship between donors should not be conditional on policies imposed on the developing country. Instead, the relationship should be based on a partnership, based on shared commitments to reducing poverty and meeting the MDGs, to respecting human rights and to strong management of public finances to ensure aid is spent effectively." But what does it mean to spend aid "effectively"? To buy British for instance?
These countries are supposed to have their own "Poverty Reduction Strategies" which are meant to set their own targets. But "if countries deviate significantly from these shared commitments... aid will be reduced or interrupted." It is a bit like the NHS hospitals, which, due to under-funding do not meet their targets and therefore have their money cut.
In addition, while we are told that aid is "no longer" tied to contracts, it is still tied to a whole industry of advisors, consultants and other parasites living off the "development business". The incredible growth of the Non-Governmental-Organisation (NGO) industry, which manages funds both from charities and government aid, is one obvious aspect of this. In fact, NGOs have become the only "growth industry" in many African countries. These days, it is increasingly common to meet students in management and business studies (among both British and Overseas students) who aspire "to start their own NGO"!
Having been forced to admit that all this "poverty reduction" has failed utterly to reduce poverty, the international institutions now call for a doubling of aid to Africa. The World Bank itself has said that at least another $50bn will be required in so-called "development aid" if the HIPCs are going to "achieve their millennium targets" by 2015.
However the $12bn pledged so far by the EU and US, and only to be paid by 2006, falls short of this. So Gordon Brown has decided that he should step in with a bright idea to raise the additional $50bn, and one which would have the added advantage of not costing the rich countries one additional penny or cent! This is his famous "International Finance Facility" (IFF), which would raise this $50bn through the issuing of bonds on the financial markets. Apparently France, Germany and Italy have not offered any objections. But the US has. During Blair's special trip to Washington, he was told by Bush that the US was already giving more than enough aid - and that was that.
Tony helps those who help themselves
The "Commission for Africa" is the other card in Blair's compassion pack. It was launched in February 2004, by Blair himself. Its final report was published in March 2005 and makes recommendations to the G8, the other rich countries, as well as to Africa, about what they should and should not do.
Its 16 commissioners were appointed by Blair. Running through the list probably says it all about the content of the report. Besides Himself as chair, Brown and International Development Minister Hilary Benn, there was Geldorf, (ex-popstar, but also the "founder" of Planet 24, the largest independent production company in the UK and founder and chair of 10 Alps Broadcasting). Also sitting on this Commission were South Africa's Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, and two African Presidents - Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.
The case of Melez Zenawi, is worth a few comments. Ethiopia, where 4 million people still rely on food aid, is described as one of Africa's "most stable" countries. In May, Ethiopia held its third "multi-party" election, during which ballot-rigging and fraud was rife. Zenawi, president for 14 years, refused to announce the election result immediately, banned all demonstrations and took control of the country's army and police. So on the 6 June, a demonstration of students from Addis Ababa university, protesting about the election, was fired on by police. In all 22 people were shot dead and 600 arrested. Zenawi issued a statement accusing the opposition of inciting violence and calling the demonstrators "destructive forces who wish to plunge our country into terminal crisis". Is this what Blair calls "good governance"?
Of the seven other African commissioners - four are bankers and/or have multiple businesses. For instance Tidjane Thiam from Ivory Coast is a director of Aviva insurance after working for the World Bank and McKinsey and Co. Fola Adeola is director and founder of the Guaranty Trust Bank in Nigeria. Then there is Linah Mohohlo, the governor of the bank of Botswana, plus William S Kalema from Uganda, founder of the "Private Sector Foundation" an umbrella of 42 Ugandan "business associations", and chairman of the Development Finance Company of Uganda and several other businesses, including a commercial bank, a leasing company and a mortgage company as well as being managing director of Simba Blankets, a director of Multichoice Uganda and on the board of East Africa Breweries Ltd. KY Amoako from Ghana is presently Executive Secretary of the African arm of the UN. The other UN-connected commissioner is the Tanzanian, Anna Tibaijuka of UNCTAD
Non-African commissioners were: Michel Camdessus, former head of the IMF, Honorary Governor of the Bank of France and Chirac's representative for Africa, presumably representing the EU; Ji Peiding, vice chair of China's Foreign Affairs Committee, presumably representing Hong Kong/China; Canada's minister of finance who was notorious for implementing drastic public sector cuts; and for the US, Nancy Baker, a former Republican Senator for Kansas.
What would such a bunch come up with, when asked to propose solutions for Africa's ills?
Imperial Blairism for Africa
This commission finally produced a long-winded review of the "new Africa". We are told that this is an Africa which is no longer so plagued by civil wars, but the numerous on-going and unresolved conflicts caused by poverty are simply ignored - for instance in Ivory Coast, Liberia and Niger. Never mind, this is also an Africa which is no longer plagued by dictatorships (actually most of Africa's dictators have been duly "elected" and are buying British weapons as never before). This is an Africa where aid is now "effectively" used (as if it was not always used, but never stretched far enough to be "effective").
What is more, there is technological revolution! To quote from the section "Through African eyes": "The mobile phone is creating virtual infrastructures [no option since there isn't much real infrastructure] and raising the possibility of unthought-of transformations in African culture, infrastructure and politics: studies show that when 20% of a population has the ability to exchange news and ideas through access to cellphones and text messaging, dictatorial and totalitarian regimes find it hard to retain power." One would like to see these "studies" which imply that all that is needed to turn African countries into solid bourgeois democracies is the "cellphone"!
In fact cellphones in Africa have indeed "created opportunities" in the informal sector. The lucky owner of one - as long as he is close enough to a mast - can now rent its "services" out to everyone in the neighbourhood, since most people are far too poor to buy their own!
As for the revival in religion in many parts of Africa this is put in a positive light: "Religion, particularly Islam and Christianity offers a way to plug into globalisation". The example is used of the lack of postal service in Congo, which means people have to leave their letters in the Catholic Church to be passed on, as it has one of the only remaining national infrastructures. Thank heavens for that! Or Ethiopia again, where "the government recently secured a ruling from the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which gave farmers permission to work on the 160 days a year which had previously been thought (...) a sin; agricultural productivity has since risen by more than 25% a year." The farmers must be delighted.
This is only a taste of the report's anecdotal "Argument" for Africa, much of which reads like a naive tale from the old British Empire written for the benefit of English missionaries.
The answers to Africa's problems which come out of such a panel of "Commissioners" are predictable. Trevor Manuel will not have provided the truth (which his government denies) on the consequences of water privatisation in Madlebe in Kwazulu-Natal in 2000, where villagers, who could not afford water meters, went to a dirty river to collect water and got cholera as a result - this caused the biggest outbreak of this water-borne disease in the country's history.
No, these bankers and champions of the private sector and entrepreneurship assert that a private sector-led growth, supported by "partnership" with the rich countries and buttressed by increased debt relief and aid, would help the African countries "unleash" their entrepreneurs - little businessmen and especially businesswomen, who will be the spur to the economic growth which is so far lacking! In fact their recipe is to create little Thatcherite, or rather Blairite, enclaves in the poor world - run by pliable friends of imperialism. In their dreams.
The good, bad and ugly
Blair's grand plan for Africa involves, of course, the enforcement of "good governance", democracy and accountability - the absence of which, along with "corruption", has been blamed for much of the failure of past aid efforts.
As for the criteria for deciding which countries have good governance, or not, on the basis of how democratic they are, this is wholly open to question.
Uganda is a one-party state, has its army engaged in putting down a rebellion in the north, and yet time and again it "qualifies" for more relief and aid! Nothing to do with the fact that President Museveni has been one of the most pliable pawns in Britain's imperialist game within its sphere of African influence, of course! Likewise for the President of Botswana, who opened his country to the De Beers diamond barons, which he runs as their proxy. Or Nigeria, run by democratically elected and recycled military dictator President Obasanjo. But as long as he guarantees Shell's oil exploitation and devastation, all is well in hell.
Anyway, even if "democratic reforms" in these poor countries have resulted in elected leaders, in practice, they are just elected dictators. Otherwise, they could never stay in power, while enforcing an order which condemns the overwhelming majority of their populations to a permanent state of extreme deprivation. The only way they can and do stay in power, is by brute force, not by consensus! Their "cabinet" is their army and police force, and their means is the repression and the imprisonment (and often torture) of all dissenters.
Sure, it is a fact that many Third World dictators (usually trained in Sandhurst, England, or West Point, New York) have filched money and taken bribes to build up large bank balances in London, Switzerland, lately Bermuda and other tax havens for the super-rich. But this is petty cash compared to the sums that the "respectable" multinationals have stolen from the populations they exploit and the countries whose resources they loot.
They can talk about dictatorship and corruption. It is sheer hypocrisy. These companies would not be able to plunder Africa without a strong "policeman" in the form of a military state to keep the poor mass under its heel. It is also for this purpose that they sell weapons, helicopters and armoured vehicles to African governments, so that they have the means to repress their own populations. Oil workers in Nigeria can testify to this. Nor would there be corrupted leaders if these companies were not trying to beat their competitors by offering bribes in exchange for a promise of the procurement of a contract or a monopoly position.
Besides, corruption at the lower levels of the state machinery is yet another by-product of poverty. When an army or police force does not get paid it takes its pay from the population at gun-point. This is "normal life" in some parts of "democratic" Nigeria today.
This, of course, makes a farce of all this talk about "partnership". The "partners" in African governments are no more nor less than co-opted intermediaries who are necessary to impose western interests. And these interests often have drastic consequences for the populations. Most of them are an extension of the old colonial plunder of raw materials, or basic crops, whereby places like Mali, for instance, were devastated through soil exhaustion due to the cultivation of peanuts. The devastation of the Niger Delta by Shell is another example which springs to mind.
But talking about "good governance", it is worth noting that the Commission on Africa's report exposes Blair's own "bad governance". Indeed, it states that the rich countries should stop selling arms to Africa. But doesn't this government still sponsor arms fairs in Africa? Is Blair, whose government delivers arms export licences, going to stop all British arms sales to Africa and other poor countries - sales which have increased fivefold since he came to power? Not likely!
Isn't trade a matter of balance of forces?
According to the World Bank's Global Development Finance Report in 2003, Sub-Saharan Africa offers "the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world." But of course the investment is minimal compared to returns. As for returns, the most "exciting" field for investment today, according to a recent Financial Times survey, is diamonds, two-thirds of which come from Africa.
This is what the rich countries mean when they speak of developing "trade" with Africa. Would De beers be prepared to give back even a part of its profits - made over almost a century and a half, to benefit the poor?
Of course, Blair argues that he can solve everything. He is going to the next meeting of the Doha round of World Trade talks in Hong Kong, in December, to argue for "fair trade". But at whose expense? The expense of Tate and Lyle, BP, Shell?
What does "fair trade" mean in a society, where all the technology, the skills, the heavy industry is concentrated in the hands of a few hundred multinationals, which have a larger income than most poor countries and, therefore, the means to dictate to them what they want? Since the only objective of these companies is to rake in the highest possible profits for their shareholders, how can they be expected not to use this relationship of forces to their advantage, by selling their goods at the highest possible price and buying local products at the lowest possible cost? Isn't this exactly what these multinationals do, thereby allowing banks like Standard Chartered or Barclays and companies like Unilever, De Beers or Shell, to line the pockets of their shareholders with hefty dividends, and keeping the City happy? And isn't Blair's primary aim to keep the City happy and uphold the interests of British capital in every possible way? Who does Blair think he is kidding?
Of course, "fair" in Blair's mouth has a very specific meaning, which has nothing to do with fairness. Because the kind of "fair trade" that Blair really advocates is, in fact, "free" trade - that is "free" for the companies which rule the world market - in other words the complete end of tariff barriers in the rich countries, ostensibly so that the poor countries can sell their goods in the rich countries' markets. But these things work both ways. And the unfavourable balance of forces that put these countries at the mercy of imperialist companies would still remain just as unfavourable and the main beneficiaries of this so-called "fair trade" would be these companies.
Of course, the rich countries could easily afford the possible social cost of removing tariff barriers completely - if only by paying a living wage to those who would lose their jobs as a result, out of the profits of big companies. But the poor countries, which already cannot cater for the needs of their populations, would not be able to face any additional social cost, whether it is caused by the removal of tariff barriers itself or by subsequent ups and downs of the world prices of raw materials, for instance. In many poor countries, Blair's "fair trade" would mean increased poverty, as it has already been the case, for instance, in countries, where local staple food production has been replaced by industrial export agriculture. And hungry Kenyans cannot eat tea or flowers.
The only cause of poverty - capitalism
It is not for nothing that leaders of imperialist countries like Blair can afford to resort to this kind of demagogic posturing, by hijacking the banner of debt cancellation - a banner which, in the past, used to be the preserve of NGOs, Third Worldist currents, not to mention currents belonging to the revolutionary left. The Blairs of this world can afford such demagogy because it cannot put into question the social organisation of the planet, which is the real cause of the impoverishment of the Third World.
No matter how much debt relief is granted, even if the entire debt of African countries was really cancelled - or that of the whole Third World for that matter - the poor countries would still continue to slide inexorably into deeper poverty, simply because it would not stop the imperialist looting of the planet.
The existence of the Third World - that is of an impoverished majority among the planet's population - is as much a prerequisite for the existence of capitalism as, in the rich countries, is the existence of a working class, which has no option other than to be exploited by the bosses. Maintaining this level of impoverishment in the Third World is as much a question of life and death for capitalist profit, as it is to maintain the continuing existence of a casual workforce in the rich countries.
Expecting the governments of the rich countries - i.e. the trustees of their respective capitalist classes - to really combat poverty is expecting them to deprive their multinationals of the profits they can draw from looting the poor countries and bleeding their populations. It is expecting them to fight the very capital that they represent and to saw the branch on which they sit. This is just day-dreaming.
All this show-business organised around the G8 and its alleged programme of debt reduction has a reason. It is nothing but fool's gold, designed to deceive those who are sincerely concerned about the fate of the Third World and to conceal the fact that the G8 and all similar international gatherings, are, to use a well-known phrase, "thieves' kitchens", in which the imperialist masters of the world try to overcome their rivalries in order to reach some sort of agreement over their joint plundering of the rest of the planet.
Those who are serious about fighting poverty in the Third World, but also here, will not fall for this popstar circus. They will understand that poverty can only be defeated by fighting and eventually overthrowing the social organisation that generates it.
There is one point on which Blair and his mates in the G8 keep insisting and on which they are right, albeit unwittingly. It is when they state that there will be "help for those who help themselves". This is true, but not in the way they mean it. Changes will only be brought about in this society when the working people and poor of this planet take upon themselves the task of, not just abolishing poverty, but also the causes of poverty - this worldwide capitalist system, which requires the exploitation and impoverishment of the overwhelming majority of the planet's population, in order to feed the luxurious appetites of a tiny capitalist minority. Then poverty will be history.