Repeating Past Mistakes?

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This page last updated

As the previous page in this section has noted, public pressure at G8 Summits and elsewhere have helped bring some of these issues to the fore. Yet,

  • Partly due to poor media coverage, lack of full democratic accountability of the rich country leaders, and a number of other factors, not much has actually been done, despite rhetoric.
  • The rich countries remain in controlling position, demanding (some might say bribing) poor countries to follow certain practices.
  • At the same time, the underlying causes of poverty and unequal trade are never brought up (for it would show the rich countries causing too much injustice to the poor.)

Will this Summit also be accompanied by a lot of media coverage but a repitition of past practices?

On this page:

  1. Change must come from within, too
  2. Small concessions are not the full deal; they are only the beginning

Change must come from within, too

Various African commentators have noted that while public protest in the West is welcome, real change will have to come from within. That is,

  • There is a risk that even the protests will be along the lines of telling Africans how to get out of their problems
  • Instead, what Africa nations really need is to be allowed to stand on their own feet and be allowed to solve their own problems, and where needed, as an equal to outsiders provding much-welcomed assistance.
  • Aid is not a matter of charity; it is justice (as much of the poverty, debt and resulting deaths of millions is due to unfair debt imposed by former imperial and colonial countries on newly independent states to repay colonial costs).
  • If that outside assistance, even from protesters, is more like prescriptions and continually implies that Africa cannot help itself, then it feels like old colonial style paternal attitudes, which would not be as welcome.

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Small concessions are not the full deal; they are only the beginning

The whole G8 Summit, Live 8 concert and public interest comes at a time when a campaign to Make poverty history is fully underway. Yet, as Jubilee Research warns, short term achievements that might be possible at the G8 must not mean that deeper issues be forgotten or missed, and is quoted at length:

While debt cancellation, fairer trade regulations, and the delivery of pledged aid would certainly do much to alleviate poverty, we must not forget that it is only a first, though essential, step on a much longer journey. The existence of unsustainable debt burdens, trade injustice and aid dependency are the results of a global economic system and a financial architecture precisely designed to favour the wealthy, and to ensure the survival of the existing structure of rich country dominance. If we are really and definitively to make poverty history we will have seriously to address this imbalance of power, and reverse the present flow of wealth from South to North by reforming the global economy in a way that prevents the current gross misallocation of resources.

Such a project would entail much more fundamental changes than those currently demanded by the MPH coalition.

... It is also vital that the concessions they do win are not perceived to be more generous than is actually the case. As the media swallow the government’s hype about the relatively small concessions which are on the table, it is imperative that the organisations and celebrities backing the campaign do not succumb to the temptation to claim victory and exaggerate the likely benefits.

... Such misguided hype is profoundly damaging.... If the general public is persuaded that such limited measures will transform the lives of the poor, it seems inevitable that their failure to do so will generate serious disillusion, and intensify the perception that further action would merely be throwing good money after bad.

... By wrongly convincing the wider public that debt cancellation has been substantially achieved, allowing such hype to go unchallenged plays into the hands of the G8 governments, who have no real interest in freeing developing economies from aid dependency and thus restoring autonomy to their governments. If MPH campaigners go along with such efforts to placate their constituency rather than to resolve the problems at which their campaign is addressed, the movement will be in danger of being hijacked by the very establishment it exists to criticise.

... small concessions must not be popularly misconstrued as mission completed triumphs, or interpreted as having attained the far more ambitious aim of making poverty history. Should this happen, the triumphs will not just be limited, but also short-lived.

Susanna Mitchell, High Hopes and Small Concessions; Can Make Poverty History really make poverty history?, Jubilee Research, June 28, 2005

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
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  • Last updated:

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Document revision history

Added a section about how concessions so far are small, and only the beginning.