Live 8 Concert organisers hope to mobilise over 5.5 billion people on the 2nd of July, in order to call G8 leaders to implement a package that will, according to Live 8 organisers, double aid to countries in need, drop the debt and make the trade laws fair. The concerts, which have the support of both the Make Poverty History coalition, and a number of politicians such as Tony Blair, and Nelson Mandela, are presented as a unique and simple opportunity to effect change for the developing world.
The Live 8 initiative has not been without controversy. Three Monkeys Online invited George Monbiot, the author of influential works such as The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain, and one of the most vocal critics of Live 8, to discuss the initiative.
Live 8, as opposed to Live Aid twenty years ago, calls for people to give their political support to an initiative, rather than donations. As such it puts issues such as third world debt, aid, and trade laws on the agenda. Surely that’s a good thing?
Well, it's a good thing in that it's mobilising a very large number of people, and that it has pushed the issue of Africa, and poverty, debt, aid, and trade right onto the top of the political agenda. All of that is good, and I don't doubt that.
The bad thing comes in the way in which this campaign has been pitched. We hear that Bob Geldof has told artists not to criticise George Bush from the stage. I would have thought that that quite limits their scope. He and Bono have also gone around the world flattering, and speaking very sweetly to Blair and Bush and all the powerful people whom they hope to influence, which is all very well, but what they have done is to create a narrative which says that the G8 is there to help. If only we can persuade them to be a little bit kinder towards the poorer nations, then that will sort the problem out. What we don't hear is the extent to which the G8 is doing harm. The impression that we get is that the G8 has been set up to deal with world poverty, not set up to enhance the power of the wealthiest 8 nations, or more specifically the leaders of the wealthiest nations. That aim is 180 degrees opposed to the aim of sorting out world poverty, and if you look at the actual aims these individual countries pursue, you find they are amongst the principal reasons for the continuing poverty in Africa and elsewhere.
The problem is that they are being presented as the potential bringers of charity, rather than being presented as the cause of the problem in the first place.
The initiative has focussed primarily on debt relief and boosting aid. While they do include trade reform, in your opinion is the emphasis wrong? Should more focus be on trade reform?
It has been bringing in all three areas of debt, trade, and aid, and I'm glad it's been doing that. There has undoubtedly been an emphasis on debt cancellation, though. It's not necessarily a bad thing. We definitely need to see debt cancellation, but what I've been really disappointed by is the response, particularly of Geldof and Bono, to the debt cancellation package announced by G7 finance ministers a couple of weeks ago. They welcomed it, in Geldof's case as a major victory for the campaigners, and in Bono's case as a little piece of history in the making, yet what that contained were things called 'conditionalities', the things that poor countries must do in order to qualify for that debt relief, which are as onerous, as burdensome as the debt itself is. The conditionalities amount to having to open up their economies to trade, to flows of capital, having to privatise their public services, all the things which have caused so many of Africa's problems already. They'll have to do more of that to qualify for debt relief. I was extremely disappointed when I saw those glowing statements of recommendation by Geldof and Bono, unqualified by the powerful statements that we should have heard calling for debts to be cancelled unconditionally. There is no justification whatsoever for putting conditions on the cancellation of debt.
But surely ‘conditionalities’ are important. We can argue over what ‘conditionalities’ are ethical, for example the imposition of neo-liberal policies may be unethical, but the imposition of a free press, ombudsmen etc may be beneficial and important to a society emerging from poverty. Surely some ‘conditionalities’ can be justified?
I can quite understand that some conditions are appropriate when you're giving aid, and those conditions should ensure that aid is not misspent, that it doesn't end up buying private planes for Presidents, or ending up in someone's Swiss Bank account. I can totally understand that, but when it comes to debt relief, putting conditions on it effectively amounts to saying 'we will stop punching you in the face, if you give us your crown jewels'. It's an extortion racket. Debt is widely acknowledged as being unfair – the levels of debt that the poorest nations have to pay. It's been paid off many times over already in terms of very high interest rates. The money the poor are deemed to owe the rich surely pales into insignificance beside the money the rich should owe the poor in terms of the resources we've looted, the labour we've stolen, the damage we're doing to those countries in terms of climate change. So the moral case for saying we abandon the debt without any conditions is absolutely clear. The moral case for putting conditions on debt relief are the same as those for extortion, for saying we'll continue beating you up unless you give us your country's resources.