Featured Content, Daily Diary:
Salimah Ebrahim, June 27, 2002
It was a quiet summit.
Over the last two days the atmosphere in the Telus Media Centre has been uncharacteristically calm for a summit of this scope. The high anxiety and fast paced nature of last year's meetings in Genoa, was quite obviously missing from this year's version.
In part this was due to the structure of the summit itself- the division between Calgary and K- Country. This G8 meeting, whilst serving the leaders well, proved to be both an obstacle and source of frustration for those seeking information in the media. So alienated were journalists from the leaders and the events that transpired in Kananaskis that it was not uncommon to see many members of the media calling Toronto, New York or London to find out what was happening right here in Alberta. CNN, the BBC and the New York Times, were popular websites for those seeking alternatives to the missing component of direct briefings
It literally felt like two different worlds. To be quite honest, aside from the live feeds, fantastic hospitality and tech services that we were provided to us here in Calgary, when it came to information gathering, I might as well have been sitting on a beach in the Canary Islands.
Now, I understand the need for the leaders to get work done. But are these not democratically elected leaders? Closed door meetings with limited access for over two days between the eight of the most powerful men in the world hardly seems to scream of the transparency that the G8 so often preaches. Moreover, whilst it was frustrating that the leaders weren't in many ways accessible, major challenges presented themselves in the form of endeavouring to remain up-to-date.
Remember in the media, it is not good enough to get the news but to get it first.
For example, I attended a Russian briefing late on Wednesday evening, only to find out that the entire press conference would be conducted in Russian, with no translator or translation devices available. Literally, I was forced to wait out the conference in utter oblivion, until a kind reporter from Reuters in Moscow, sat down and shared with me his notes. Though I thanked him kindly, the fact remains that it was still second-hand information. At a summit of this scale, to be faced with these realities was very surprising.
Even President Jacques Chirac of France, whilst applauding the success and intensive use of video-conferencing technology this year in Alberta, also noted the lack of human contact. During summits, it is important to remember that it is the personalities of the leaders that often define the course of their discussions and the extent of their achievement. What one can gage when sitting across from a Prime Minister, President or Chancellor, is lost when filtered through television screens. Further, it becomes difficult for journalists to squeeze out one more question or participate in fact finding press scrums after the video-conference, as all that is needed to save the leader from the heat of the press is the "OFF" button on the remote control.
My Moscow friend in particular was disgruntled with the fact that he had flown across several continents to basically watch the G8 summit on TV. Late on Thursday afternoon I bumped into both Paul Knox and Heather Schofield of the Globe and Mail who also shared my sense of frustration with the architecture of this year's G8. Knox, in particular noted that a great deal of summit information sharing happens in the spontaneous "corridor meetings"- away from the cameras. Unfortunately, this year's summit in Calgary- Kaminski's allowed for no such dialogue.
Simply put: The leaders weren't happy with Genoa, and media wasn't happy with Kaminski's. There has to be a better way - or at least a compromise.
However, I did say in my first diary that at the end of the day, the G8 summit was about the issues and Kananaskis 2002 will go down in history as the launch pad for an ambitious and unprecedented partnership with Africa, designed to promote peace, security and sound economic management on the continent. Though there are many questions surrounding the details of financial commitments made, with respect to the flow of Overseas Developmental Assistance into Africa, and the extent to which HIV/AIDS has not been sufficiently addressed, the NEPAD partnership is as South Africa's President Tabo Mbeke outlined," a departure and not an arrival."
As a Kenyan, a Canadian and a concerned global citizen, I honestly believe that the Africa Action plan can and will work if the level of dedication to its implementation can retain the momentum generated here. The fact that next year's summit host - France - has already committed to ensuring that a continued focus is taken on Africa is a promising start. It's also about time.
As I write this final diary entry, around me summit volunteers have begun to take down the signs, roll up the carpets and pack up the tables. The clock on my computer here in the media centre reads just past 12 midnight.
The summit is officially over.
Looking outside I have a magnificent view of the Calgary Tower and in the streets, where there once were barricades and thousands of military personnel, the tourists and residents have once again returned to take back their city. This summit was nothing like I expected, but yet the best things in life never are. Throughout the week I had the opportunity to meet with fellow youth from around the world and share in discussion at the G6B, to mingle and express both my ideas and frustrations with my fellow colleagues in the media, to walk with world leaders and to share with all of you what life is really like behind the barricades.
So thank you for joining me this past week through the hi's and low's of the summit process. I want to leave you with some final thoughts. Over the last two years I have attended G8's, G-20's and G-7's, and through it all I most definitely have been challenged by the fight to determine what this all truly means. At the end of the day, putting all the elevated rhetoric aside, I still believe in this summit of eight. No matter what anyone says, because of today's announcement, the inception of a plan for Africa means that today a little boy in Nairobi will have more opportunity than he did yesterday. That in itself is something to be proud of.
I have learned a lot over these last few days simply from discussions with other journalists over a cup of coffee, a slice of cake or a plate of scrambled eggs. At Tuesday's "Stampede Party" put on for the media by the city of Calgary, I took pictures riding on a bull, listened to live country music with the Deputy Minister of Trade for the Russian Consul General and donned a cowboy hat with members of the BBC. It is a rare and unique experience and it is important to remember that the process of trying to better understand the human collective and engage in dialogue is not only the jurisdiction of protestors. We all have a right to voice our opinions: students, media, protestors, leaders and ordinary civilians.
In the end if you don't agree with those on either side of the barricades, it won't really matter and you won't make a difference if you don't make your voice heard. Contrary to popular belief, people are listening and we in the media are not all corporate agenda driven robots. Trust me.
Well, it is getting late here so I think I'm going to go downstairs to the dining hall and share a few more laughs and memories with the Telus Centre Gang. So, one last time, goodnight from Calgary, Alberta.
I think its time for me to head up to Kananaskis.