Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Remember Make Poverty History, anyone? It seems a long time ago that some 200,000 people flocked to Edinburgh on 2 July to rally G8 leaders as part of an unprecedented global justice campaign. That same day, Bob Geldof organised free music concerts in nine countries worldwide under the Live 8 banner. The demands were straightforward and reasonable: rich countries should boost overseas aid in line with 35-year-old unmet promises; cancel completely the debts of the 62 poorest countries; set binding dates for the abolition of subsidies and other protectionist support to Northern farmers; and stop forcing liberalisation and privatisation on poor countries, whether in international trade negotiations or as conditions of aid and debt deals.
Six days later, in the shadow of the 7 July bombs that ripped through central London, the Gleneagles summit ended to a chorus of rock star cheers. ‘This has been the most important summit there ever has been for Africa,’ Bob Geldof confidently stated at the post-summit press conference. ‘There are no equivocations. Africa and the poor of that continent have got more from the last three days than they have ever got at any previous summit … On aid, ten out of ten. On debt, eight out of ten. On trade … it is quite clear that this summit, uniquely, decided that enforced liberalisation must no longer take place,” he said, before finishing with a flourish. ‘That is a serious, excellent result on trade.’ Bono, voice cracking with emotion, concurred: ‘We are talking about $25 billion of new money … The world spoke and the politicians listened.’
Assembled journalists and campaigners broke into spontaneous applause; the next day’s media coverage led with Geldof’s ‘mission accomplished’ verdict. But as the millions who signed up to Make Poverty History and Live 8 no doubt rejoiced, inside the upper echelons of MPH all hell was breaking loose. ‘They’ve shafted us,’ a press officer from a UK development NGO screamed down the phone. Indeed they had. Moments earlier, Kumi Naidoo, the veteran South African anti-apartheid campaigner and current chair of MPH’s international umbrella, the Global Call to Action against Poverty (G-CAP), had delivered the coalition’s official response: ‘The people have roared but the G8 has whispered. The promise to deliver [more aid] by 2010 is like waiting five years before responding to the tsunami.’
Having pored over leaked drafts of the G8 communiqué into the early hours, MPH officials knew that the G8’s announcements on aid, trade and debt were not only grossly inadequate to help poor countries reach the UN’s millennium development goals by 2015. They were also completely bogus – and they had briefed the rock stars to that effect. More than half of the promised $50 billion in aid – which wouldn’t kick in until 2010 – wasn’t really new money at all, but a dishonest amalgam of old pledges, future aid budgets and debt relief. And despite agreeing that ‘poor countries should be free to determine their own economic policies’, only Britain had announced it would no longer tie overseas aid to free market reforms – a promise it would instantly break in the G8 debt deal. The US, in contrast, had made it immediately clear at Gleneagles that aid increases would require ‘reciprocal liberalisation’ by developing countries. Worse, as Yifat Susskind, associate director of the US-based women’s human rights organisation, Madre, explains, Bush’s ‘millennium challenge account’, specifically praised by Bono and Geldof, ‘explicitly ties aid to cooperation in the US’s “war on terror”‘.
The much lauded June G7 (G8 minus Russia) finance ministers’ ‘$55 billion’ debt deal, in which 18 countries – 14 of them African – would receive ‘100 per cent multilateral debt cancellation’, with 20 more countries soon to follow, was a similar pop star-veiled deception. In reality, the G7 had only agreed to take over the debt repayments of those countries to just three of world’s 19 multilateral creditors – the IMF, World Bank and the African Development Bank (ADB) – meaning they would continue to be saddled with crippling debts owed to the other 16.
What’s more, the $55 billion figure would in reality be worth little more than $1billion a year – the amount paid out in annual interest payments to the World Bank, IMF and ADB by the 18 countries as a whole. To put this in context, African countries alone have a staggering $295 billion official debt stock, having already paid back $550 billion in interest on a total of $540 billion in loans between 1970 and 2002. In 2003, developing countries paid out a crippling $23.6 billion in debt servicing.
Despite the G8’s promise that debt relief would be ‘unconditional’, the 18 countries selected had just completed nine years of neoliberal structural adjustment under the IMF/World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) scheme, which has typically increased poverty and inequality at the same time as privatising and liberalising large swathes of their economies. The 20 countries additionally earmarked for debt cancellation must now also submit to the HIPC process. Incredibly, for every dollar received in debt relief, poor countries will receive an equivalent dollar reduction in aid.
As Eric Toussaint, of the Belgium-based Committee for the Abolition of the Third World Debt (CADTM), argues: ‘This precious funding will only be returned if countries meet “specific policy criteria” – more long years of privatisation and liberalisation that increases school fees, health-care costs and VAT, removes subsidies for basic products and creates unfair competition between local producers and transnational corporations, all of which hurts the poor. For Geldof to stand there and say that conditionality is over was a complete lie.’
The same is true of trade. Contrary to Geldof, the G8 did not decide that from now on rich countries would no longer force through neoliberal trade policies in developing countries ahead of 6 December’s World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Hong Kong. According to Martin Khor, of Third World Network, the influential international research and advocacy body based in Malaysia: ‘The G8 summit did not indicate any change of heart from the aggressive campaign their negotiators are pursuing in talks to rapidly open up the developing countries’ agricultural, industrial and services sectors.’
All in all, despite nearly a year of intense lobbying and campaigning for G8 countries to change course in order to meet the UN’s millenium development goals, Gleneagles, in the words of Christian Aid’s Claire Melamed, was a ‘grave disappointment’. Senegalese economist Demba Moussa Dembele, of the African Forum on Alternatives, puts it more forcefully: ‘People must not be fooled by the celebrities: Africa got nothing.’
Given this assessment, Geldof and Bono’s misrepresentation of the G8 deal at the post-summit press conference came as a severe blow to many within MPH. Helped by four British Muslim suicide bombers in London, the rock stars ensured that the issues of Africa, poverty and development disappeared from the media spotlight within days of the summit’s end. Four months on, and despite the disaster of the G8 for worldwide efforts to eradicate poverty, the silence of MPH is deafening.
Contrary to appearances, however, the coalition has not disbanded. In fact, it has decided to carry on as a campaigning movement after the Hong Kong WTO ministerial meeting in December. Inside the coalition, moreover, there is anything but silence. In the depressing aftermath of Gleneagles, the political disagreements that gripped MPH during the spring and summer months (revealed in July’s Red Pepper) between the powerful grouping of government-friendly aid agencies and charities effectively running MPH, led by Oxfam and including CAFOD, Save the Children Fund and Comic Relief, and the more progressive yet smaller NGOs like War on Want and the World Development Movement, have escalated. But this time, the unhappiness at how MPH has been manoeuvred so closely to New Labour by leading charities and celebrities stretches way beyond the coalition’s radical fringe.
‘The campaign has been too superficial,’ argues Christian Aid’s head of policy, Charles Abugre. ‘Numbers have been more important than politics and we have placed too much emphasis on celebrities with strong connections to those in power. Consequently, a serious occasion was turned into a celebration of celebrities.’
In July, Red Pepper reported how critical policy positions and stances agreed within the coalition were being lost in the ‘public messaging’ thanks to the efforts of Oxfam and film-maker Richard Curtis. Instead of criticising Blair and Brown, MPH spin doctors and their cast of celebrities were going out of their way to praise them. The news that MPH was organising a massive demonstration in Edinburgh on the eve of the G8 was quickly corrected by MPH spin doctors as a ‘walk … to welcome the G8 leaders to Scotland … The emphasis is on fun in the sun.’
Since then, Red Pepper has learned that right up until the early hours of 8 July, members of MPH’s coordinating team were having to face down a desperate last-ditch effort from within to secure a positive civil society reaction to the G8 communiqué. According to one insider, this came after weeks of internal pressure on some NGOs to ‘clear delicate stories with the Treasury’, and attempts by Justin Forsyth, Oxfam’s former policy chief turned Downing St special advisor, to pressure leading NGO officials ‘to refrain from criticising the government’ as it became increasingly obvious that the Gleneagles outcome would not be ‘historic’. Following Forsyth’s anger at Kumi Naidoo’s negative assessment of the G8 at the post-summit press conference, the pair had to be ‘physically separated’ backstage.
The debate is most intense over the organisation of Live 8, which to many has come to symbolise the damaging behaviour of Geldof, Bono and Richard Curtis. ‘There were millions of people watching the concerts, but what was the analysis? What was the message?’ asks Charles Abugre, who believes Make Poverty History’s methodology set the tone for the Live 8 whitewash. ‘It was one of handouts and charity, not one of liberation defined by Africans themselves or the reality that we are actually resisting neo-colonialism and neoliberalism ourselves.’
While much has been written in the mainstream press about how Live 8 came to happen, there has been little coverage of how bitterly most MPH members still feel about the concerts, which were secretly organised behind their backs by Geldof and Curtis with the full knowledge of Oxfam, Comic Relief and the Treasury. This is not just because they completely overshadowed MPH’s own rally in Edinburgh on 2 July. Campaigners feel that Live 8 and Geldof hijacked the MPH campaign for a very different cause. Their focus was not on global poverty, but Africa. And their demands were not those of MPH, but of the Commission for Africa, a government-sponsored think-tank whose members, hand-picked by Blair and Brown, were described by Professor Paul Cammack, writing in these pages, as a ‘web of bankers, industrialists and political leaders with connections to the IMF and the World Bank, all committed to spreading the gospel of free market capitalism’.
The coalition’s anger at the Live 8 organisers has intensified over revelations about their paternalistic treatment of African campaigners and their relationship to corporations operating in Africa. Firoze Manji, the co-director of Fahamu, an African social justice network and member of G-CAP, recounts how the African coalition had already planned a concert in Johannesburg in early July to be held in one of the townships to encourage maximum participation of the people who suffer the greatest effects of globalisation and neoliberal policies. However, according to Manji, a private meeting in London of Oxfam GB, Curtis, Geldof and Kumi Naidoo, G-CAP chair and director of Civicus, the South African-based global alliance for citizen participation, unilaterally cancelled the original concert in favour of the Live 8 event, throwing the African coalition into disarray. The concert, which cost some $500,000 to stage, was attended by just 4,000 people.
Back in Britain, having excluded African artists from the main London concert, saying Live 8 was ‘not a cultural event’ and only musicians with more than four million record sales could play, lest people would ‘switch off’, Geldof eventually gave his blessing to ‘Africa Calling’. This was a hastily arranged, low-key Live 8 concert in Cornwall featuring African artists that was attended by just 5,000 people. Scandalously, the corporate sponsors assembled by the organisers included: Nestlé, accused of exploiting the HIV/Aids epidemic in Africa to sell more milk substitute products to infected mothers; Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mining corporation, widely condemned for its longstanding record of human rights and environmental abuses across the global South; and Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, whose export-led agenda, according Mike Lewis of the UK’s Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), is ‘fuelling conflicts across Africa, with catastrophic impacts on development, and diverting spending away from health and education’.
There is now growing pressure coming from inside the coalition to distance itself from the celebrity set. This has particularly angered Oxfam, and insiders believe that the aid agency will now lead a break away split from MPH, taking Comic Relief and Bono’s charity, Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa (DATA), with it. Given Oxfam’s avowedly free trade solutions to third world poverty, and, along with Comic Relief’s Richard Curtis, Bono and Geldof, its leadership’s uncomfortably close relationship to New Labour, this scenario could be an encouraging development for efforts to realign MPH in the direction of the global justice movement.
But it will not be enough. The failure of MPH to achieve its political demands cannot be laid at the door of Oxfam, Geldof and company alone. By being too dependent on corridor-lobbying, celebrities and the media, by failing to give voice and ownership of the campaign to Southern social movements, by watering down the radical demands agreed upon by hundreds of grassroots movements, from both the South and North, at the World Social Forum, and by politically legitimising the G8 summit, the campaign was doomed from the start.
Ten out of ten on aid, eight out of ten on debt? More like G8 – Africa nil.
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee