Bentley Allan, G8 Research Group
3 July 2005, Edinburgh, Scotland
A G8 Counter-Conference co-hosted by World Development Movement, War on Want, Friends of the Earth Scotland and People & Planet.
On Sunday July 3rd, three days prior to the commencement of the 2005 G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland four non-governmental organizations (NGOs): World Development Movement, War on Want, Friends of the Earth Scotland and People & Planet co-hosted a counter-conference to raise awareness about the purported links between the G8 and corporate interests.
The goal of the counter-conference, according to one of the organizers, was to "go beyond the Make Poverty History campaign" and show that in order to eradicate poverty, global power relations must fundamentally change . Throughout the conference the prominent theme was that poverty is a result of the structure of the international system and that "real issues" cannot be addressed simply by reducing the debt of less developed countries and increasing aid.
During the opening session, entitled "Challenging Privatisation," the British journalist George Monbiot warned that beneath the well-intentioned projections of the G8 countries and the mainstream media is an insidious underbelly of privatisation that will adversely affect the economic and social well being of the global south. He asserted that even the Commission for Africa report promotes deregulation of the economy and other measures that produce a good investment climate for multinational corporations. However, to Monbiot this amounts to little more than "neo-colonialist" action that inevitably puts profit before people. He also stated that he was let down by the Live 8 campaign; stating that the neo-liberal agenda can absorb moderate demands, like decreasing the debt, without making the fundamental changes necessary to raise the global south out of poverty.
Trevor Ngwane, an activist from South Africa, stated that South Africa was the most unequal country in the world and strongly condemned the recent experiments in water privatization within the country. According to Ngwane, and the African National Congress party's original Freedom Charter, the people of South Africa should collectively own the mineral wealth of the country. He criticized the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) as a plan that upholds the neo-liberal agenda. In his view, NEPAD contains too many provisions that encourage privatization. This privatization cuts the public subsidization of agricultural goods in Africa, while placing African goods in direct competition with subsidized goods from other countries. He highlighted the injustice of making poor people pre-pay for their water.
The second session of the conference featured Walden Bello and Samir Amin speaking on how to challenge the rules of Global Trade. Amin charged that the system is not as liberal as one might think, asserting that the World Trade Organization (WTO) regulates the global economy in a comparable fashion to a centralized government. He advocated for the subversion of trade rules to the needs of people and called for an international audit of global politicians and businessmen, which he claimed would uncover the shady deals and corrupt practices of corporations and governments. Bello charged that the WTO has made it illegal for countries to use development strategies that previously enabled the economies of certain Asian and Latin American countries to grow. According to Bello, these economies were able to grow because they could protect their infant industries by implementing tariffs and subsidies until their economies were prepared to face global competition. However, now the WTO has made such protectionist measures illegal and this fundamentally disadvantages African nations.
Other sessions featured speakers on Climate Change and Challenging Corporate Power. The loudest cheers of the day came when Caroline Lucas stated that the media coverage forgot the 250 000 people on the streets in Edinburgh marching for the Make Poverty History campaign, focusing instead on Bob Geldof"s Live 8 concerts.
The members of the audience bemoaned the fact that the media coverage of the events that took place on July 2nd focused on Bob Geldof"s Live 8 concerts and not on the people who marched on Edinburgh with the Make Poverty History Campaign. They complained that Geldof oversimplifies the message and "dumbs it down" for the general public.
The voices and opinions expressed at this counter-conference are indeed beyond the mainstream voices that are incorporated in the official outreach dialogue of the G8. While representatives from the Make Poverty History campaign and various NGOs have been involved in talks with the UK G8 Presidency, the groups hosting this event presented a very different view of the ways in which to approach the problems of African development and climate change.
Nick Dearden, Campaigns Officer for War on Want, in an interview with G8 Information Centre Policy Analyst, Bentley Allan, stated that there is little reason to educate G8 leaders, as they know the complexity of the problems. He believes that the real problem is the imbalance in global power relations. To Dearden, society changes when civil society forces the change. When asked why groups like his put on these types of events, if they indeed have little interest in educating leaders, Dearden responded that the purpose is to give activists hope and to strengthen civil society .
When prompted, Dearden admitted that he believes that individuals like Geldof and other pop stars that engage the G8 leaders do raise awareness, but they know little about the actual issues themselves. He harshly criticized Geldof"s response to the debt relief package released after the G8 finance ministers meeting. Whereas Geldof praised the deal, Dearden would have liked him to denounce the conditions attached to the debt relief. In this way, Dearden believes that Geldof legitimates the minimal actions of the G8 leaders, rather than pushing them to make further commitments .
Indeed, the news coverage has not captured that Edinburgh is alive with activists of all stripes with many different ideas on how to approach global issues.
 Interview with Nick Dearden, Edinburgh, Scotland. 3 July 2005.
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