Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Africa and the G8 in Italy: Broken Promises and Worsening Poverty

Africa and the G8 in Italy: Broken Promises and Worsening Poverty

Imperialist states continue to place blame on the continent for economic woes

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

This year's Group of 8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy once again demonstrated the failure of capitalist economic policies to bring genuine development to the African continent. Even though the final day of the summit involved dialogue around industrialized states providing aid to Africa for agricultural programs, the fact that previous pledges of $50 billion made at the 2005 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland have not been met, made African leaders even more sceptical about the role of Europe and the United States in the future of the continent.

With the current economic crisis having a devastating impact on African states, the continuation of the status-quo will widen further the income gap between the western capitalist states and the countries who have emerged from colonial and semi-colonial rule. The declining standard of living and increasing poverty rate in Africa will result in more job losses, greater food insecurity and social instability.

ActionAid spokesperson Meredith Alexander said of the L'Aquila Summit that: "Although the G8 leaders reaffirmed their Gleneagles promises this week, their own accountability report does not even acknowledge how far off track they are. This suggests that the Gleneagles promises are increasingly unlikely to be met. It is another failure for the world's poor." (Independent, July 11)

Alexander pointed out that the G8 leaders stated they will report next year on progress toward meeting the objectives of the United Milennium Development Goals set for 2015 to significantly reduce poverty throughout the world, but this approach is merely designed for "moving the goalposts" since the previous promises will not be realized.

United Nations figures indicate that the number of people who are malnourished around the world has risen since 2007 and by the conclusion of 2009, the number is expected to reach an estimated total of 1.02 billion, which will reverse the declines seen since the 1960s. Consequently, the world economic crisis is effectively eliminating the limited progress made since the triumphs of the national independence movements during the 1960s and 1970s.

Jeremy Hobbs of the British-based aid organization Oxfam said of the G8 Summit that: "For Obama it was 'yes we can.' For Berlusconi's G8, it's 'no we won't. This summit has been a shambles, it did nothing for Africa, and the world is still being cooked. Canada 2010 [the next G8 meeting] is the end of the road for the G8--all the promises they have made are due. They have 12 short months to avoid being remembered as the ones who let the poor and the planet die."(Independent, July 11)

Joanne Green of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development did welcome the pledge made toward agricultural assistance by the G8 but went on to say that any new offers should be granted in addition to the existing committments already made from the Gleneagles Summit in 2005. She also stressed the need for aid to go directly to the African farmers and not to agribusiness companies.

"Tonight one billion people will go to bed hungry because the food system that rich countries have created isn't working. Climate change will only increase the vulnerability of poor people as land and water are degraded. Supporting small-scale farmers is vital, so that they are less reliant on the peaks and troughs of the global food market and the multinational players who dominate, Green said." (Independent, July 11)

Robert Fox, the executive director of Oxfam Canada said in a blog on July 8 that "Performance on aid varies greatly among G8 members but together they fall $23 billion short of the target they set in 2005. The result? At least three million lives have been lost--women who die needlessly in childbirth; children who fall victim to preventable diseases; persons with AIDS who lives are cut short because they could not get treatment." (, July 8)

Fox continues by pointing out that "Journalists also complain it's difficult to sift through the G8 commitments to see which are real and which are spin; what is new or additional money and what is recycling a previous unmet promise. The devil is in the details and reporters need to dig to find out if there's any substance behind the rhetoric."

The Crisis in Capitalism and Its Impact on Women

The declining economic and social conditions in Africa and other so-called developing countries will inevitably have a damaging impact on efforts aimed at achieving gender equality. If there is an increase in assistance for agricultural production, it is necessary to ensure that the bulk of resources allocated go directly to women. In many African countries, women are responsible for 80% or more of the production of food.

Sabina Zaccaro, in an article published by the Inter Press Service Agency states that "The problem is funding. According to the World Bank, the economic crisis and the new rise in food prices could lead to 2.8 million more children dying by 2015 if no concrete action is taken. Sixty billion dollars are needed over the next five years to fight infectious diseases and strengthen health systems in the developing world." (IPS, July 8)

Consequently, if there is no direct attention paid to the plight of women and children in the current crisis in global capitalism, there will be more people driven into poverty through shrinking incomes, increases in infant mortality, malnutrition and the decline in labor productivity.

Obama's Message in Ghana Places Blame on the Victims of Neo-colonialism

In the aftermath of the G8 Summit in Italy, U.S. President Barack Obama flew to the west African state of Ghana for an official visit. Media pundits proclaimed that this was his first trip to Africa since taking office, yet his speech in Cairo, Egypt recently was totally overlooked.

These corporate media statements reveal the ongoing racist notions of two Africas, one north of the sahara and so-called sub-saharan Africa. These colonial created divsions and categories have been rejected by the progressive forces on the continent. The African Union (AU) despite all of its challenges, did hold serious discussions at its summit in Libya between July 1-3 around creating greater economic, political and military cooperation on the continent.

Obama's visit to Ghana was well received by both the government and the people. The symbolic return home of the first president of African descent of the United States was well taken. Nonetheless, the substance of Obama's message did not represent a real departure from the traditional post-independence approach to United States foreign policy towards Africa.

The bulk of Obama's remarks criticized corruption and inefficiency on the part of African states with implications that these problems were the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment. Yet very little reference was made to the legacies of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism as the real source of underdevelopment among various African states.

The president visited the slave castle at Cape Coast where he reflected on the tragedy of the Atlantic slave trade which went on for four centuries. However, in his address before the Ghana parliament, he stated that although colonialism created division and conflict on the continent, this could no longer be viewed as a major impediment to African progress.

Obama's remark that "the economic problems in Zimbabwe could not be blamed on the west," a statement that received a cool response from parliamentarians, totally missed the mark in regard to the ongoing unequal relations that continue to exist between former colonial states and the imperialist countries. In Zimbabwe, the revolutionary African National Union, Patriotic Front and the western-backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions have formed an inclusive government, yet the United States and the United Kingdom continues to maintain economic sanctions.

Although Ghana was praised for its ostensible progress related to the notions of "good governance", this state, which achieved national independence from Britain in 1957, fell victim to U.S. imperialist intervention after President Kwame Nkrumah sought to place pan-africanism and socialism as the principle objectives of the nation's domestic and foreign policy. The coup against Nkrumah in 1966 was financed and engineered by U.S. imperialism through the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Since 1966, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have sought to remake Ghana in the image of the west. Consequently, it is not surprising that the Obama administration selected this country for the president to visit as opposed to other states such as Sudan and Zimbabwe which have taken a more independent line towards the U.S.

In placing the majority of blame for economic and social problems in Africa on the governments and people themselves, it provides a rationale for the failure of the G8 in regard to honoring its commitments to provide development assistance to the continent.

An article published in the Malaysian Star by Martin Khor took up this issue of "good governance" as a prerequisite to economic development. Khor says that "President Obama compared Kenya to South Korea, saying that both countries once had the same per capita income but Kenya remains poor while South Korea had become an economic powerhouse.

"The implication of all this is that East Asian countries like South Korea did well because they had good governance and democracy while African countries have lagged behind because of undemocratic practices and bad policies. The assumption of the G8 Summit, and of President Obama, are correct only to a limited degree--South Korea's development, for example, took off while the country was under dictatorship."

Khor continues by pointing out that "Of course governance and good policies are crucial elements. But any comparison between the developments in Africa and East Asia must take into account that most African countries were unfortunate enough to come under the influence of World Bank and IMF conditionalities, whereas most East Asian countries did not and were free to adopt their own policies.

"The decline in agriculture in many African countries was due to the structural adjustment policies of the IMF and World Bank. These countries were asked or advised to dismantle marketing boards and guaranteed prices for farmers' products; phase out or eliminate subsidies and support such as fertiliser, machines, agricultural infrastructure, and reduce tariffs of food products to very low levels," Khor continued. (The Star, July 13)

Consequently, the rhetoric of Obama is not fundamentally different than what has been advanced through successive U.S. administrations. What is needed is an independent domestic and foreign policy based on the needs of African people themselves, and not the policy imperatives of the U.S. and European imperialists.

From the G8 to the G20 in Pittsburgh

Plans are now underway for the convening of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in September 2009. The G20 represents the attempt by the imperialists to broaden the discussions around economic issues to involve not only the so-called High Income Countries (HICs) but to also engage other states such as China, Brazil, South Africa, etc., which are former colonial and semi-colonial states that have experienced economic development resulting from the evolving international division of labor and economic power.

The fact that the High Income Countries are facing grave economic difficulties provides openings for workers and the oppressed in both the developed and developing regions to open up dialogue and plan joint efforts to tackle the main forces behind the crisis in capitalist globalization. Anti-imperialists, social justice advocates and other mass organizations are mobilizing to come to Pittsburgh in order to advance an alternative agenda that places the workers, nationally oppressed and women at the center of any development program.

Efforts must be made to involve broad forces in the demonstrations surrounding the G20 Summit. Special appeals should be made to the African-American, Latino/a, Asian-American, LGBT communities and other oppressed groups to attend and participate fully in the resistance efforts.

Rank and file workers should be encouraged to come to Pittsburgh and to put forward an agenda that transcends and refutes the failed "buy American" sloganeering that has lead nowhere in regard to preserving workers' jobs and homes in the United States. It is only when the workers and oppressed in the United States recognize the common interests they have with the plight of the peoples of the developing world that a real international movement can be built that will effectively end capitalism and imperialism and create the conditions for socialism on a worldwide scale.

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