Sickening is the best word to describe the hypocrisy between what G8 nations do and say with regards to Africa.
Last summer, the Canadian media was abuzz with reports on how Canada and the rest of the G8 were going to help Africa. Before the G8 met the media was full of stories on the proposed New Partnership for African Development, allegedly an African led initiative that the G8 was going to help implement. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was repeatedly hailed for his commitment to Africa’s less fortunate.
Skeptics denounced the government’s claims as a diversionary stunt, aimed at drawing attention away from the growing criticism of the G8 and its undemocratic nature.
It turns out that the skeptics were not far off the mark. One year later and Canada has only given $70 million of its well-publicized, though still meager, $500 million in extra aid to Africa.
Similarly, the G8 nations have done little in terms of reducing agricultural subsidies that undermine Africa’s agricultural exports.
Bush’s recent complaints about how Europe is causing famine in Africa by rejecting Genetically Modified foods demonstrates not his care for the starving but his debt to the biotechnology industry. GM foods do little in terms of increasing yields. However, they have potential environmental and health effects. Further, they increase the cost of food production, which will disadvantage small-scale African farmers.
Likewise, Bush’s recent plan to give $15 billion worth of aid to combat Aids illustrates his commitment to the pharmaceutical industry not his commitment to those suffering with Aids. It was after all the Bush administration that recently blocked access by poor nations to life saving medicines at the World Trade Organization. Even more telling, this US aid is conditional upon countries accepting American exports of Genetically Modified food!
This should come as no surprise. The vast majority of G8 assistance is tied aid, which is usually set up in a manner to further African dependency. In fact, a central component of NEPAD is the exchange of debt relief and ‘aid’ for the further opening of African economies.
The ideologically driven governments of the G8 feel that the past 20 years of intense privatization/liberalization throughout African economies has been insufficient. According to the G8 more will do the trick.
Yet, the results thus far have been awful for most Africans. Deprivation has proliferated. Even according to standard economic figures the liberalization/privatization process has been unsuccessful.
Africa makes up approximately 13% of the world’s population, however, it accounts for only about 2% of world trade (Montreal Gazette). Foreign direct investment into Africa is even more negligible, between 1% and 2% of the world’s total (Le Monde).
Still, G8 governments demand that Africa further liberalize its economics. Ostensibly the reason is to bring Africa into the world economy. The problem is, however, that Africa is already overly dependent on the world economy. As of 1990, the ratio of extra-regional trade to GDP for Africa was 45.6 per cent while it was only 12.8 per cent for Europe and 13.2 per cent for North America (these statistics have not changed significantly throughout the century) (Monthly Review). Therefore, as a percentage of GDP, Africa is more integrated into (dependent on) the world economy than are Europe and North America.
Nevertheless, the G8 through the IMF, WB and now NEPAD continue to push African countries to further liberalize their economies. Even though countries that prosper, almost without fail, pursue auto-centered (inward looking) economic policy. As do all G8 nations.
Instead of calling for any more opening up of African economies or dumping GM foods, G8 nations seriously concerned about the welfare of Africans would eliminate Africa’s debt. Approximately, eighty per cent of this debt is held by public institutions (the Canadian government, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank etc…) Debt held by individual members of the G8 could be alleviated unilaterally. Similarly, G8 countries control 48% of the IMF and 46% of the WB, resulting in de facto control over all debt held by these institutions (Montreal Gazette). The elimination of African debt would not even gravely harm the IMF or the WB. It would, however, save thousands if not millions of lives.
Not coincidentally, Uganda the country that has received the most debt assistance in recent years also happens to be one of the only African countries where Aids has declined sharply from a high of around 20% of the population to 6% (National Post). Nevertheless, the same G8 cou! ntries that claim to have African poverty alleviation on their agenda, when its politically expedient, have done little about the debt crisis that soaks up billions of dollars across the continent.
This must change.
Surveys consistently demonstrate that the majority of North Americans want an increase in their countries aid, when told the actual amount given. Nevertheless, politicians beholden to big business and warped by ideology, continue to disregard their electorates’ desires, which undermines domestic democracy and is tantamount to a death sentence for many Africans.
Yves Engler is a Montreal area activist currently working on a book about activism at Concordia University. he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bianca Mugyenyi is a Ugandan recently returned to Montreal.