Between the Lines Q&A

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 8, 2002

G8 Summit Meeting Pledges $6 Billion to Africa,
but with Neoliberal Economic Policy "Strings" Attached

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Deep in the forest of the Canadian Rockies, leaders of the world's eight major industrialized nations met to discuss a range of issues including poverty in Africa, farm subsidies and nuclear weapons security in the former Soviet Union. The G-8 summit ended on June 27 with a conditional pledge to commit $6 billion a year in additional aid to the impoverished people of the African continent, but only to governments that adopt strict neoliberal economic policies and other reforms favored by the U.S. The plan, dubbed the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD, has many critics who regard the aid package as little more than a form of economic colonialism where nation states are forced to adopt policies rejected in the West and which have dramatically failed in Argentina and dozens of other developing nations.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien had consciously located the summit meeting in remote Kananaskis, Alberta to insulate world leaders from the tens of thousands of protesters that have regularly dogged G8 and international financial institution meetings in recent years. Social justice activists from North America and beyond, however, did gather in nearby Calgary and Canada's capital city Ottawa, to demand an overhaul of the global economic system, which they assert only serves the narrow interests of corporations and their wealthy allies.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Kevin Danaher, co-founder of the human rights group Global Exchange, who examines the recently concluded summit meeting, the aid pledged to Africa and the demands of the movement fighting for global social justice.

Kevin Danaher: The situation is so bad in Africa that they (the G-8 nations) had to at least genuflect in the direction of the crisis. Just to give you a sense, there's about 5,000 people a day dying in Africa just from AIDS alone. There are more children dying from AIDS in Africa each year than there were children who died during the entire Holocaust. So when you put it in global moral terms, you've got to think of the way we feel toward the "good Germans," who didn't do anything to rise up against the Nazis when they were slaughtering millions of people.

This is going on right now and a lot of it is preventable, particularly the transmission of AIDS from pregnant mothers to their children. There are effective drugs in existence, but they're very expensive; poor people can't afford them, and of course the drug companies backed by the U.S. government and the World Trade Organization, are saying, "Hey, you've got to pay full price to these pharmaceutical companies because they have these patents, the legal right to monopolize the sale of these life-saving drugs.

So there's a huge global battle that's been brewing about this and the G-8 lowered the drawbridge enough to let four African heads of state from Nigeria, Senegal, Algeria and South Africa to address them, in addition to Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations. They were basically pleading and they came on their knees literally with this program NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development. And unfortunately it has this acronym NEPAD, because that's what you need to implement this thing.

Basically it's in a sense Africa's capitulation to the conquest of the global economy by neoliberalism. That is, subject everything to the dominance and control of big corporations. As shareholders, those of your listeners who have a lot of stock in WorldCom or Enron, will know how much we can trust the big corporations on the notion that foreign investment, Wall Street, is essential for development. All you have to do is look at Argentina.

Argentina has a very well-developed economy, high literacy rate, great agricultural infrastructure, industry, and they're in this massive economic crisis. They shouldn't have an economic crisis, but they followed policies written by millionaires in Washington and Wall Street. A piece of that is that the economic package that's usually referred to as structural adjustment -- when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund implement it -- where you must subordinate your local "mom and pop" main street economy to the needs of big global capital. And it just hasn't worked.

So these African leaders got a hearing at this Kananaskis meeting of the G-8 and the leaders said, "Oh yeah, we'll think about throwing some aid your way." But the way it works is, it goes in at the top and then the assumption is it's going to trickle down to the grassroots. It doesn't. Aid money put in at the top of the hierarchy will not make it down to the grassroots. The only way it's going to get to the grassroots, is if it goes in directly from people like us to the grassroots, people to people. That's why the motto here at Global Exchange is "building people-to-people ties."

Between The Lines: In terms of the G-8 industrial nations policy toward Africa, what could and should these great powers in the world do to alleviate poverty in Africa that they're not doing currently?

Kevin Danaher: If they wanted to, they could cancel the foreign debt of sub-Saharan African countries. Most of (these countries) will never be able to repay these debts anyway. South Africa's $20 billion in foreign debt was taken up by the white minority government; the black majority was oppressed by those loans. If they were to cancel the foreign debt of sub-Saharan Africa, the IMF and the World Banks could almost do this on their own, it wouldn't even be a blip on Wall Street. The U.S. federal government debt, $6 trillion, is three times the size of all Third World government debt, not just Africa. All Third World government debt combined is about $2 trillion. U.S. federal government debt is $6 trillion.

So we have no legitimacy going to the Third World saying, "Oh you're in debt, you've got to follow these policies, pull in your belt." It gives hypocrisy a bad name. So we’re undermining our own credibility in the world with these policies. It would be much better to have a heart and think if the children dying were our children. That's what this struggle is about, to redefine the word "our" in "our children" to not mean "the two girls that live in my house that I write checks for," but "every child on the face of the earth is my child." And I have to feel that in my heart good policies will come from that.

Contact Global Exchange by calling 1-(800) 497-1994 or visit their Web site at:

Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending July 12, 2002.

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