After billions tuned into this weekend’s Live 8 concerts and hundreds of thousands protested in the streets for debt relief, increased aid, and trade justice, leaders of the world’s richest nations will begin a three-day summit in Gleneagles, Scotland on Wednesday. We speak with veteran reporter John Chiahemen, chief Southern Africa correspondent for Reuters and we go to Scotland to speak with sociology professor David Miller. [includes rush transcript]
In the wake of the Live 8 concerts calling on the world’s richest countries to Make Poverty History, the Group of 8 Nations begins its three day summit tomorrow in Gleneagles Scotland. African poverty and global climate change are at the top of the agenda, yet it is unclear how much action will come out of the meetings.
France, Russia and major environmental groups are calling for British Prime Minister and G8 chair Tony Blair to draw up a binding agreement on climate change that would set emissions targets. But President Bush says the United States will reject any plan that operates on the Kyoto Protocol model in requiring rich countries to limit fossil fuel emissions. President Bush also said in an interview aired yesterday on ITV that he is not going into the meetings with any sense of obligation to Tony Blair.
- President George Bush, interview on ITV:
“Tony Blair made decisions on what he thought was the best for the people of Great Britain. I made decisions on what I thought was best for Americans. I really don’t view our relationship as one of quid pro quo. I view our relationship is one of strong allies and friends, working together for the common good.”
The Gleneagles summit follows a series of highly publicized free concerts in the G8 eight countries, as well as South Africa, that called for action to address poverty in Africa. The Live 8 concerts organized by rock musicians Bob Geldof and Bono reached an audience of three billion via television and webcasts. The Make Poverty History coalition is calling on the G8 to double aid to Africa, fully cancel external debt, and deliver trade justice.
- Nelson Mandela, former South African president speaking at the Johannesburg Live 8 concert on Sunday
“In a few days time, the leaders of the G8 nations will meet in Scotland. They will face perhaps the most critical question that our world has had to face. How do we remove the face of poverty from our world? So much of our common future will depend on the actions and plans of these leaders. They have a historical opportunity to open the door to hope and the possibility of a better future for all. History and the generations to come will judge our leaders by the decisions they make in the coming weeks.”
Yesterday police in Edinburgh arrested up to one hundred protesters in demonstrations leading up to the G8 meetings. Scottish authorities say that among those arrested were “key” anarchist suspects. A report on Indymedia.org said the police acted to “trap and taunt a group of peaceable people.”
- John Chiahemen, chief Southern Africa correspondent for Reuters. During his twenty-five years of reporting, he has covered liberation struggles in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and Namibia as well as civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was in Johannesburg for the Live 8 concert.
- David Miller, professor of Sociology at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. He is the co-editor of the recently released book “Arguments Against G8.”
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush also said in an interview aired yesterday on ITV that he is not going into the meetings with any sense of obligation to Tony Blair.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Tony Blair made decisions on what he thought was the best for the people of Great Britain. And I made decisions on what I thought was best for Americans. And I really don’t view our relationship as one of quid pro quo, as I view our relationship as one of strong allies and friends working together for the common good.
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush. Well, the Gleneagles summit follows a series of highly publicized free concerts in the G8 countries, as well as South Africa, that called for action to address poverty in Africa. The Live 8 concerts organized by rock musicians, Bob Geldof and Bono reached an audience of 3 billion people via television and webcast. The Make Poverty History Coalition is calling on the G8 to double aid to Africa, fully cancel external debt and deliver trade justice. Former South African President, Nelson Mandela, spoke at the Johannesburg Live 8 concert Sunday.
NELSON MANDELA: In a few days’ time, the leaders of the G8 nations will meet in Scotland. They will face perhaps the most critical question that our world has had to face: How do we remove the face of poverty from our world? So much of our common future will depend on the actions and plans of these leaders. They have a historical opportunity to open the door to hope and the possibility of a better future for all. History and the generations to come will judge our leaders by the decisions they make in the coming weeks.
AMY GOODMAN: That was former South African President, Nelson Mandela, at the Live 8 concert in South Africa. We’re joined by John Chiahemen, chief Reuters correspondent for southern Africa, who flew in last night from the Live 8 concert in South Africa. Welcome to Democracy Now!
JOHN CHIAHEMEN: Thank you, Amy. Good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: What was it like?
JOHN CHIAHEMEN: Fantastic. And, of course, as you mentioned and as your clip showed, the appearance of Mandela was the icing on the cake. He is very frail now, and he did make the point that he retired earlier this year, and he cannot retire in peace when there’s all of this poverty around. So, he has been coming out for all sorts of good causes, including this one. He walked in, and the atmosphere was electric. And he went on to speak about his own views about poverty, and he made one important statement, which is that ending poverty is not a question of charity, it is an issue of justice, and he went on to even warn that not doing anything about it would amount to genocide against humanity. And these are views Mandela has held very strongly over time.
AMY GOODMAN: You have been covering these trade issues, and you’re the chief Reuters correspondent in southern Africa. What is the response of these countries? What role are they playing in this G8 summit?
JOHN CHIAHEMEN: You talk of the African countries?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
JOHN CHIAHEMEN: I think the key countries that have played a key role over the past five years are South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Senegal. The leaders of these four countries were the spearhead of a new program in Africa now that is part of the whole plan to roll back poverty. It’s called a New Partnership for Africa’s Development. The idea is that African governments will improve their own housekeeping; that is, embrace democracy, embrace human rights, embrace good governance. In return for that, they would expect aid, trade and debt relief from the rich countries, and because of the spearhead role in this, they have attended the last, I believe, four or so is G8 summits, and this has been part of the pressure they have been putting on these rich nations through bilateral negotiations and through a common front at the G8, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the phone by David Miller, Professor of Sociology at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. He is the co-editor of the book, Arguments Against G8. There were a number of arrests this weekend at the lead-up protests against the G8. Can you describe the scene on the ground there, David Miller?
DAVID MILLER: Well, I’m currently speaking to you from the center of Edinburgh where protests were going on yesterday. This morning only an hour ago, court cases were held against the protesters who were arrested. What happened yesterday was that there were a small number of autonomous protesters, some dressed up as clowns who describe themselves as the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army — I’m not making that up — and they were — had been doing impromptu demonstrations in the center of Edinburgh, and they were, as soon as they appeared, surrounded by overwhelming police presence, intimidatory police presence, riot police, police on horseback, three vanloads of dogs.
And as a result of this, it led to all sorts of trouble. The police are saying that there was violence from the protesters. There’s been very little evidence of violence from the protesters. The best that the chief constable could come up with was that [inaudible], rocks and other material was thrown at them, well, as far as they can tell from the press — the television footage. The other material includes some bedding plants which were torn up from a local park when the protesters were corralled into Princes Street Gardens in the center of Edinburgh.
There’s a real worry here that the over-the-top and intimidatory police presence is about trying to stop people from protesting, trying to scare people off from protesting. We had on Saturday the biggest demonstration in Scottish history in Edinburgh, a quarter of a million people marching against the G8 leaders for the end of poverty. It’s clear that they’re scared by the number of people on the streets, and they want to intimidate us from doing any further demonstrations.
Tomorrow, there will be the most significant demonstration of the week, which will be the demonstration to the gates of Gleneagles Hotel; for those of your listeners who don’t know, Gleneagles isn’t actually a place, it’s just simply a resort for the rich, a golf club, shooting range, archery, falconry, etc. It’s a five-star hotel and they’re starting off the summit tomorrow with a sumptuous banquet, so we have got a quite worrying situation actually on the ground in Edinburgh at the moment, which is that the police have been attacking demonstrators, and we’re worried that that will happen tomorrow at the demonstration at Gleneagles, which is planned as a mass, peaceful demonstration supported by a wide range of trade unions and others.
AMY GOODMAN: John Chiahemen, the cancellation of the debt for a number of countries that the G8 announced in advance of the summit, how significant was that?
JOHN CHIAHEMEN: Well, it is a start. And I think the countries that were affected and all of the campaigners for debt cancellation, debt relief, saw this as a start. It’s not the end. There were 18 countries that were on that list or 16 of them, most of them in Africa. But there were a number of other significant countries in Africa that were left over, that felt they were indeed victim of their own success, countries like Kenya, which because they’re not doing that badly economically, they did not get on this list this time. But you also know that following on that, the Paris Club has also announced a significant debt deal with Nigeria, which would amount to something like $20 billion.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the Paris Club.
JOHN CHIAHEMEN: The Paris Club is the government to government lenders. A lot of countries owe their debts to multilateral lenders like the World Bank, the African Development Bank. The 18 that were given some debt relief were in fact those who owed the multilateral lenders, as opposed to the Paris Club, which is government lenders.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor David Miller, the major arguments in the streets right now are demands of the eight men in a room, the G8, that will be meeting at the resort?
DAVID MILLER: Well, I think I have to disagree with the previous comment, really. I mean, there’s been in Edinburgh this morning a launch of an alternative Commission for Africa reports, featuring a wide range of African activists: Trevor Ngwane from the Soweto Anti-Privatization Campaign; Samir Amin, the world famous economist has been here; [ inaudible ] Musumba from Jubilee South; and a wide range of other African campaigners here to say that, on the contrary, that NAPAD and Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa does not and will not help Africa, and actually that there’s a problem with the debt relief which is being given. The debt campaigners have been here this morning, as well, and they have been complaining, not that it’s only a start and it’s not enough, but there actually, there’s a problem with the debt relief which is being given, which is that it’s being given only to the HIPC countries, highly indebted poor countries and it’s being given universally with drawstrings attached. That is, there’s small amounts of debt relief, which are given to African countries which sign up for liberalization of their markets or privatization of the public services, privatization of health, education, water services. And that this is a — this is really the advancement of the I.M.F. and the World Bank agenda to extort the resources from Africa, allow multinational corporations in to steal those resources and to force African countries to privatize their health care systems and other public services. So this is an agenda which is a neo-liberal agenda. The countries which were mentioned as being the good children of the neo-liberal agenda, it’s certainly the case; South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Senegal have been to the forefront of the neo-liberal agenda, but they’re not supported by their people, and there’s a real democratic deficit there. What — when Blair and Bush talk about good governance and lowering debt relief for good governance, what they mean is not what you and I might mean by good governance, which — of which [indaubible] something of which we would all approve; what they mean is good governance for the multinationals. They mean privatization, liberalization and the further creating — further exacerbating of the problems of inequality in Africa. So, activists and campaigners here who fundamentally reject the position of the G8 leaders and are concerned that any deals that they do reach will simply harm Africa further.
AMY GOODMAN: Sociology Professor David Miller, speaking to us from Glasgow. John Chiahemen is in the studio with us, chief Reuters correspondent from Southern Africa.
JOHN CHIAHEMEN: Well, Amy, just to make a very quick comment on what Professor Miller said, I think it brings to the point we have been making, and I have talked to a broad range of people in Africa in the lead up to the Live 8 and the G8, I think what is coming out is that debt relief aid alone is not an ideal package for Africa. There’s a lot happening in Africa today. And I think the focus of the world should not just be on the negatives, like the crippling debt, like the conflict, like the disease. There are some good stories coming out of Africa that are not being told. Africa is making a remarkable progress on the front of business and is becoming a big investment destination, and this is where the effort of many African leaders now are turning. They don’t want to rely just on trade — on aid. They want the countries that are rich, the companies to come and invest. If you talk to an ordinary person on the streets of Senegal, of Nigeria, what they tell you is that we want these companies to come and invest in our countries so that our young people stay in Africa, don’t go to the Europe or America to look for jobs, and there has been a significant improvement in investment in telecommunications throughout Africa, 15 billion — 15 million telephone lines in Africa in 2000; today there are about 65 million. Nigeria alone is moving from less than a million telephone lines in 2000 to 20 million lines at the end of this year, and they’re targeting to double that. And this is coming from an investment that’s making a difference to the lives of the people. And this is the story that we are increasingly at Reuters telling the world and which a lot of African countries would like told.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Miller.
DAVID MILLER: Well, I mean, I really feel that Reuters shouldn’t be telling this story. I mean, this indicates Reuters playing an appalling propaganda role for the west. I mean, what you’re talking about here is investment opportunities for western transnationals to come into Africa to exploit the resources, to privatize the services and to take the money back. The campaigners who have been here who represent a very wide range of African NGOs, from Jubilee South, from the Anti-Privatization Forums in Ghana and South Africa, in Zambia, in Kenya, are all unilaterally opposed to Commission for Africa and opposed to opening up Africa to the transnational corporations, which is what these agreements are about. It’s certainly not the case that the investment in the out start is a good thing, because what happens then is you have even more inequality. You have the appalling situation where kids in Tanzania have to pay to go to school; many of them, though, can’t afford to go to school. The reason they have to pay to go to school is because the IMF has forced the country to privatize its education system.
AMY GOODMAN: John Chiahemen, very quick response.
JOHN CHIAHEMEN: Well, I am just speaking about what I have learned on the ground talking to ordinary Africans on the street. They’re getting jobs. They’re getting back to work. And I think it’s making a difference that we can see, investment, more trade is what a lot of them say they need.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. We’ll continue to follow what is happening in the G8, John Chiahemen is the chief Reuters correspondent for southern Africa; David Miller, Professor of Sociology, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, co-editor of the book Arguments Against G8.