In the run up to the recent UK General Election there was a very interesting report on the BBC.
Tony Blair's New Labour Party had an answer to the hole it was in.
The problem? Blair & Co. had not just alienated large numbers of ordinary voters (don't forget, less people finally voted for Blair in 2005 than voted for Labour when it lost to Margaret Thatcher!), they'd also alienated large numbers of Labour's own members - sickened by a leadership in hock to Lord Sainsbury, hellbent on a destructive lovefest with Dubya, and too arrogant to bend an ear to anyone other than the rich and powerful.
The answer? The BBC journalist explained that Blair & Co. had come up with a winning formula which they were going to use to rebrand - not, you understand, by fundamentally changing their agenda, but by adding an element which their research showed would appeal both to many of their unhappy supporters and to many of their critics outside the Party. The magic ingredient? Placing a big emphasis on development.
Post-election it has unfolded like a dream and it now seems highly likely that Bush and Blair, and the other G8 leaders, may soon be bestriding the international stage in the guise of the saviours of Africa to the accompanying blaze of publicity generated by the Live8 concerts.
As public relations goes, it's about as good as it gets. But when it comes to development both Bush and Blair have established and disturbing agendas. In the case of GM, for instance, one only has to look to the roles taken by USAID and Britain's Department for International Development to see how aid is deliberately being used to promote a corporate strategy of GM entry.
As a recent report from GRAIN shows, U.S. financial help and agricultural support are used to steer governments into opening their countries to GM crops. "USAID is not the neutral international aid agency looking to help countries assess the implications of GM crops. Instead, they're out to spread GM crops for the benefit of US corporations - pure and simple," GRAIN reported.
Look too at how the Bush administration wrapped itself in the cloak of African hunger when it launched its WTO complaint over GM on behalf of its hungry, erm... corporations. Just as with Blair and Bush, association with Africa helps achieve a better profile. This in turn can be used globally to lessen market barriers to GM products.
None of the following articles have a word to say about GM but they're all useful reminders of the problems presented by the entrancing global spectacle of the "saving" of Africa.
More on USAID:
More on DfID
1.A truckload of nonsense
2.Bards of the powerful
3.The myth of Saint Bob, saviour of Africa
1.A truckload of nonsense
The G8 plan to save Africa comes with conditions that make it little more than an extortion racket
The Guardian, June 14, 2005
An aura of sanctity is descending upon the world's most powerful men. On Saturday the finance ministers from seven of the G8 nations (Russia was not invited) promised to cancel the debts the poorest countries owe to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The hand that holds the sword has been stayed by angels: angels with guitars rather than harps.
Who, apart from the leader writers of the Daily Telegraph, could deny that debt relief is a good thing? Never mind that much of this debt - money lent by the World Bank and IMF to corrupt dictators - should never have been pursued in the first place. Never mind that, in terms of looted resources, stolen labour and now the damage caused by climate change, the rich owe the poor far more than the poor owe the rich. Some of the poorest countries have been paying more for debt than for health or education. Whatever the origins of the problem, that is obscene.
You are waiting for me to say but, and I will not disappoint you. The but comes in paragraph 2 of the finance ministers' statement. To qualify for debt relief, developing countries must "tackle corruption, boost private-sector development" and eliminate "impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign".
These are called conditionalities. Conditionalities are the policies governments must follow before they receive aid and loans and debt relief. At first sight they look like a good idea. Corruption cripples poor nations, especially in Africa. The money which could have given everyone a reasonable standard of living has instead made a handful unbelievably rich. The powerful nations are justified in seeking to discourage it.
That's the theory. In truth, corruption has seldom been a barrier to foreign aid and loans: look at the money we have given, directly and through the World Bank and IMF, to Mobutu, Suharto, Marcos, Moi and every other premier-league crook. Robert Mugabe, the west's demon king, has deservedly been frozen out by the rich nations. But he has caused less suffering and is responsible for less corruption than Rwanda's Paul Kagame or Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, both of whom are repeatedly cited by the G8 countries as practitioners of "good governance". Their armies, as the UN has shown, are largely responsible for the meltdown in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has so far claimed 4 million lives, and have walked off with billions of dollars' worth of natural resources. Yet Britain, which is hosting the G8 summit, remains their main bilateral funder. It has so far refused to make their withdrawal from the DRC a conditionality for foreign aid.
The difference, of course, is that Mugabe has not confined his attacks to black people; he has also dispossessed white farmers and confiscated foreign assets. Kagame, on the other hand, has eagerly supplied us with the materials we need for our mobile phones and computers: materials that his troops have stolen from the DRC. "Corrupt" is often used by our governments and newspapers to mean regimes that won't do what they're told.
Genuine corruption, on the other hand, is tolerated and even encouraged. Twenty-five countries have so far ratified the UN convention against corruption, but none is a member of the G8. Why? Because our own corporations do very nicely out of it. In the UK companies can legally bribe the governments of Africa if they operate through our (profoundly corrupt) tax haven of Jersey. Lord Falconer, the minister responsible for sorting this out, refuses to act. When you see the list of the island's clients, many of which sit in the FTSE 100 index, you begin to understand.
The idea, swallowed by most commentators, that the conditions our governments impose help to prevent corruption is laughable. To qualify for World Bank funding, our model client Uganda was forced to privatise most of its state-owned companies before it had any means of regulating their sale. A sell-off that should have raised $500m for the Ugandan exchequer instead raised $2m. The rest was nicked by government officials. Unchastened, the World Bank insisted that - to qualify for the debt-relief programme the G8 has now extended - the Ugandan government sell off its water supplies, agricultural services and commercial bank, again with minimal regulation.
And here we meet the real problem with the G8's conditionalities. They do not stop at pretending to prevent corruption, but intrude into every aspect of sovereign government. When the finance ministers say "good governance" and "eliminating impediments to private investment", what they mean is commercialisation, privatisation and the liberalisation of trade and capital flows. And what this means is new opportunities for western money.
Let's stick for a moment with Uganda. In the late 80s, the IMF and World Bank forced it to impose "user fees" for basic healthcare and primary education. The purpose appears to have been to create new markets for private capital. School attendance, especially for girls, collapsed. So did health services, particularly for the rural poor. To stave off a possible revolution, Museveni reinstated free primary education in 1997 and free basic healthcare in 2001. Enrolment in primary school leapt from 2.5 million to 6 million, and the number of outpatients almost doubled. The World Bank and the IMF -which the G8 nations control - were furious. At the donors' meeting in April 2001, the head of the bank's delegation made it clear that, as a result of the change in policy, he now saw the health ministry as a "bad investment".
There is an obvious conflict of interest in this relationship. The G8 governments claim they want to help poor countries develop and compete successfully. But they have a powerful commercial incentive to ensure that they compete unsuccessfully, and that our companies can grab their public services and obtain their commodities at rock-bottom prices. The conditionalities we impose on the poor nations keep them on a short leash.
That's not the only conflict. The G8 finance ministers' statement insists that the World Bank and IMF will monitor the indebted countries' progress, and decide whether they are fit to be relieved of their burden. The World Bank and IMF, of course, are the agencies which have the most to lose from this redemption. They have a vested interest in ensuring that debt relief takes place as slowly as possible.
Attaching conditions like these to aid is bad enough. It amounts to saying: "We will give you a trickle of money if you give us the crown jewels." Attaching them to debt relief is in a different moral league: "We will stop punching you in the face if you give us the crown jewels." The G8's plan for saving Africa is little better than an extortion racket.
Do you still believe our newly sanctified leaders have earned their haloes? If so, you have swallowed a truckload of nonsense. Yes, they should cancel the debt. But they should cancel it unconditionally.
2. Bards of the powerful
Far from challenging the G8's role in Africa's poverty, Geldof and Bono are giving legitimacy to those responsible
The Guardian, June 21, 2005
"Hackers bombard financial networks", the Financial Times reported on Thursday. Government departments and businesses "have been bombarded with a sophisticated electronic attack for several months". It is being organised by an Asian criminal network, and is "aimed at stealing commercially and economically sensitive information". By Thursday afternoon, the story had mutated. "G8 hackers target banks and ministries", said the headline in the Evening Standard. Their purpose was "to cripple the systems as a protest before the G8 summit." The Standard advanced no evidence to justify this metamorphosis.
This is just one instance of the reams of twaddle about the dark designs of the G8 protesters codded up by the corporate press. That the same stories have been told about almost every impending public protest planned in the past 30 years and that they have invariably fallen apart under examination appears to present no impediment to their repetition. The real danger at the G8 summit is not that the protests will turn violent - the appetite for that pretty well disappeared in September 2001 - but that they will be far too polite.
Let me be more precise. The danger is that we will follow the agenda set by Bono and Bob Geldof.
The two musicians are genuinely committed to the cause of poverty reduction. They have helped secure aid and debt-relief packages worth billions of dollars. They have helped to keep the issue of global poverty on the political agenda. They have mobilised people all over the world. These are astonishing achievements, and it would be stupid to disregard them.
The problem is that they have assumed the role of arbiters: of determining on our behalf whether the leaders of the G8 nations should be congratulated or condemned for the decisions they make. They are not qualified to do so, and I fear that they will sell us down the river.
Take their response to the debt-relief package for the world's poorest countries that the G7 finance ministers announced 10 days ago. Anyone with a grasp of development politics who had read and understood the ministers' statement could see that the conditions it contains - enforced liberalisation and privatisation - are as onerous as the debts it relieves. But Bob Geldof praised it as "a victory for the millions of people in the campaigns around the world" and Bono pronounced it "a little piece of history". Like many of those who have been trying to highlight the harm done by such conditions - especially the African campaigners I know - I feel betrayed by these statements. Bono and Geldof have made our job more difficult.
I understand the game they're playing. They believe that praising the world's most powerful men is more persuasive than criticising them. The problem is that in doing so they turn the political campaign developed by the global justice movement into a philanthropic one. They urge the G8 leaders to do more to help the poor. But they say nothing about ceasing to do harm.
It is true that Bono has criticised George Bush for failing to deliver the money he promised for Aids victims in Africa. But he has never, as far as I can discover, said a word about the capture of that funding by "faith-based groups": the code Bush uses for fundamentalist Christian missions that preach against the use of condoms. Indeed, Bono seems to be comfortable in the company of fundamentalists. Jesse Helms, the racist, homophobic former senator who helped engineer the switch to faith-based government, is, according to his aides, "very much a fan of Bono". This is testament to the singer's remarkable powers of persuasion. But if people like Helms are friends, who are the enemies? Is exploitation something that just happens? Does it have no perpetrators?
This, of course, is how George Bush and Tony Blair would like us to see it. Blair speaks about Africa as if its problems are the result of some inscrutable force of nature, compounded only by the corruption of its dictators. He laments that "it is the only continent in the world over the past few decades that has moved backwards". But he has never acknowledged that - as even the World Bank's studies show - it has moved backwards partly because of the neoliberal policies it has been forced to follow by the powerful nations: policies that have just been extended by the debt-relief package Bono and Geldof praised.
Listen to these men - Bush, Blair and their two bards - and you could forget that the rich nations had played any role in Africa's accumulation of debt, or accumulation of weapons, or loss of resources, or collapse in public services, or concentration of wealth and power by unaccountable leaders. Listen to them and you would imagine that the G8 was conceived as a project to help the world's poor.
I have yet to read a statement by either rock star that suggests a critique of power. They appear to believe that a consensus can be achieved between the powerful and the powerless, that they can assemble a great global chorus of rich and poor to sing from the same sheet. They do not seem to understand that, while the G8 maintains its grip on the instruments of global governance, a shared anthem of peace and love is about as meaningful as the old Coca-Cola ad.
The answer to the problem of power is to build political movements that deny the legitimacy of the powerful and seek to prise control from their hands: to do, in other words, what people are doing in Bolivia right now. But Bono and Geldof are doing the opposite: they are lending legitimacy to power. From the point of view of men like Bush and Blair, the deal is straightforward: we let these hairy people share a platform with us, we make a few cost-free gestures, and in return we receive their praise and capture their fans. The sanctity of our collaborators rubs off on us. If the trick works, the movements ranged against us will disperse, imagining that the world's problems have been solved. We will be publicly rehabilitated, after our little adventure in Iraq and our indiscretions at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay. The countries we wish to keep exploiting will see us as their friends rather than their enemies.
At what point do Bono and Geldof call time on the leaders of the G8? At what point does Bono stop pretending that George Bush is "passionate and sincere" about world poverty, and does Geldof stop claiming that he "has actually done more than any American president for Africa"? At what point does Bono revise his estimate of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as "the John and Paul of the global-development stage" or as leaders in the tradition of Keir Hardie and Clement Attlee? How much damage do Bush and Blair have to do before the rock stars will acknowledge it?
Geldof and Bono's campaign for philanthropy portrays the enemies of the poor as their saviours. The good these two remarkable men have done is in danger of being outweighed by the harm.
3.Andy Kershaw: The myth of Saint Bob, saviour of Africa
He has carved out his reputation by an opportunistic attachment to Africa's suffering
The Independent, 17 June 2005
Having shot himself in one foot over the original line-up for Live8, Bob Geldof is now aiming the barrel squarely at the other. Wednesday's announcement that African bands will, after all, be invited to perform at a Live8 event - the Africa Calling concert at the Eden Project - compounds the insult to the continent Geldof purports to help. The arrangements are getting more farcical by the day.
Geldof's arrogance is breathtaking. First, he dismisses the idea of having Africans on his bill since, supposedly, they are not big enough draws. Now, outrageously, he is planning to corral the Africans into Cornwall rather than allow them to appear on the same stage, on equal terms, with their European and American counterparts. And I thought apartheid was dead ...
At the recent Hay-on-Wye literary festival, Geldof was questioned over my attack in this paper on his failure to include Africans on the Live8 bill. His response showed that either he had not read my criticisms or, more likely, he twisted my words deliberately.
I, and several other prominent figures in the music business, have never called for an all-African line-up - I called for a mix of African and Western talent at every venue, a better representation by musicians from the continent to which he was supposed to be drawing attention. All that is needed is a smattering of Africa's finest across all five concerts. This would have been so much less patronising to Africa and could have done so much for African self-esteem.
Yet Geldof seems to believe that listening is a weakness. Despite demands from many quarters that an event which petitions world leaders not to neglect Africa should include, erm ... some Africans, Geldof did precisely that with his original Live8 bill. Now, his compromise is to ghettoise the Africans in the West Country.
I am delighted the Live8 organisers have now heeded my call to stage one of the concerts for Africa in Africa. The announcement of the line-up has been delayed while sponsorship is drummed up. This is, reportedly, because the organisers have only allocated a total budget of one tenth the hourly budget of the London show - tossing the Africans crumbs from the table of Europe's rock aristocracy.
Over the last couple of days, I have spoken to a number of African artists and their managers. They are deeply upset by the arrogance of an event meant to unify the world in support of their nations. They discussed a boycott or an alternative showcase concert on the same day, but, reluctantly, many have agreed to turn up in Cornwall.
They feel Geldof is holding a gun to their heads: it's this or nothing. He might as well put up signs around the lanes leading to the Eden Project saying, "Grateful Darkies This Way ..."
Geldof justifies this exclusion by Bob's First Law of Television: the worldwide audience will switch off instantly at the sight of an African swinging an electric guitar. This is offensive to Africans and insults all open-minded viewers and listeners, wherever they may be tuning in.
How dare Geldof presume the audience will react negatively? Perhaps quite a lot of viewers would enjoy a few African bands and may even find them refreshing after watching hours of clapped-out, over-familiar rock stars. Geldof also claims that, in the end, it all comes down to pulling power, ignoring the fact that several of the top African artists sell many more copies of their albums globally than some of those names on the Live8 bill.
Furthermore, to claim that African artists would be a television turn-off reveals Geldof's meagre knowledge of the continent with which he affects such empathy. Not all Africans live in mud huts without electricity, Bob. Millions of them have televisions. Those African viewers may themselves feel inclined to turn off when faced with a Live8 contemptuous of their finest talents.
I am coming, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Live8 is as much to do with Geldof showing off his ability to push around presidents and prime ministers as with pointing out the potential of Africa. Indeed, Geldof appears not to be interested in Africa's strengths, only in an Africa on its knees. A supreme manipulator of his own public image - who might have drawn admiring whistles from "Mother" Theresa in this regard - he has carved out a reputation, and created the myth of Saint Bob, by his attachment only to Africa's suffering.
And, as with the Albanian obscurantist, Geldof is a self-appointed champion of the wretched and downtrodden who is, simultaneously and incongruously, mesmerised by the rich, the powerful and those with A-list celebrity status. If Geldof has genuine empathy with the continent he claims to champion, he wouldn't be telling Africa's world-beating performers that they're not worthy to share a stage with himself and his tedious friends.
The author is a broadcaster and BBC Radio 3 presenter