Leaders from the world’s richest nations are gathering today for the G8 summit at 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. We speak with Salih Booker of Africa Action and we go to Scotland to speak with Demba Moussa Dembele, a coordinator of the Forum for African Alternatives. [includes rush transcript]
Leaders from the world’s richest nations are gathering today for the G8 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland. The activities for the G8 leaders will begin with a dinner hosted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth tonight. Official business begins tomorrow. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is hosting the three-day meeting with debt relief, increased aid for Africa and climate change at the top of the agenda.
Police have agreed that an anti-G8 protest march near the venue in Scotland can go ahead as planned, after tense talks with organizers. Police had earlier called off the march, after clashes with protesters prompted fears for public safety.
March organizers–who want a peaceful protest–gave police an ultimatum to permit the march in Auchterarder or face a mass protest in Edinburgh.
The G8 leaders are under increasing pressure to deliver an accord after public campaigns to highlight the plight of Africa. Blair has been pushing a plan to double aid to Africa to $50 billion a year, open world markets to African goods and cancel debt. The UN estimates that in Africa 300 million people live on less than $1 dollar a day and fewer than half of all children finish primary school.
Meanwhile, African Union heads of state and government met for a 2 day summit in Libya and publicly urged all G8 nations to cancel more debts and end trade-distorting subsidies. AU spokesman Adam Thiam confirmed that the contents of the "common position" statement had all been adopted by the heads of state.
Beyond Africa, tensions have surfaced between the UK and US leaders’ strikingly different approaches to global warming. Blair wants an agreement among the leaders on the scientific threat posed by global warming highlighting the urgent need for action. However, Washington refuses to agree to any plan with specific targets for reducing carbon emissions, which scientists say cause the earth to heat up. Washington says such an agreement would ruin the economy. Three weeks ago, leaked drafts showed the US negotiators had demanded removal of all references to the urgency of climate change from the summit’s final accord.
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined on the phone from Scotland by Demba Moussa Dembele, coordinator for the Forum for African Alternatives, a member of the Jubilee South organization in Senegal. We’re also joined in Washington, D.C., by Salih Booker, Director of Africa Action. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s start with Demba Moussa Dembele. Tell us what is happening on the streets in Scotland.
DEMBA MOUSSA DEMBELE: In the streets of Scotland I think there have been clashes since this morning — early morning around 6:00-7:00 a.m. between demonstrators and the police. And I think it will go on the whole day because demonstrators are determined to go all the way to Gleneagles and deliver their message to Mr. Blair and his guests about all of the subjects you talked about: global warming, debt, trade, poverty, not only in Africa, but around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: How specifically will Senegal be affected?
DEMBA MOUSSA DEMBELE: Senegal is among the 18 countries that normally should benefit — I put it to you in quotes — from what G8 finance ministers said about a month ago to cancel 100% its debt. But I must tell you in Senegal itself, the president and the finance minister have been very cautious. There was no jubilation, because they think there will be conditions for this cancellation, and they’re waiting to see the fine details of that promise before maybe making a final judgment.
So from our standpoint as civil society organizations, we don’t think it will be making a difference because this promise of cancellation is not an outright cancellation. It will be cancellation maybe within the next 30 or 40 years because some of the World Bank and IMF debts are for 40 years, so it is a long-term process. It is not something that’s happening now, and that’s what is as here in Scotland that campaigners from around the world who are gathering here said, that — it doesn’t make any difference in the lives of ordinary citizens, and I think in Senegal that will be the same.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined, in addition to Demba Moussa Dembele, who is speaking to us from Scotland, who comes from Senegal with the Forum for African Alternatives, Salih Booker in Washington, DC, of Africa Action. From this side of the Atlantic, the US side, can you talk about the US role in what’s happening at the G8, Salih Booker?
SALIH BOOKER: Well, the Bush administration, of course, has been very reluctant to accept any of the initiatives being proposed by Prime Minister Blair, modest as they are. But the US has agreed on the initial cancellation of debt proposals for 18 countries that Demba referred to. Now, 14 of those countries are in Africa, but the majority of African countries will not benefit even from the limited debt proposals in discussion in Gleneagles. And that means that African countries will continue to spend more paying for debt service than they will be spending on health or education for their own citizens in the years to come, unless the G8 agree to what the African Union has demanded, which is 100% debt cancellation for all African country debts, which are estimated at over $300 billion presently.
And there is a double standard in play here, as well. The US government has been adamant about the urgent need to cancel Iraq’s external debts, calling them illegitimate debts and odious debts because they were loans made to an unrepresentative despot. Well, most of Africa’s debts are equally odious debts. And last year rich countries cancelled more in one day of Iraq’s external debts than they have cancelled of African debts in over 10 years. So clearly on debt, the global justice movement will continue to work and demand a complete cancellation of all these illegitimate and odious debts. And again, as Demba pointed out, there is a sort of trick at play here which is for every dollar in debt that is cancelled to any of these 14 African countries, they will also lose a dollar in new International Development Association loans which were used to recycle those debts. So there may not be any net gain to those countries receiving debt cancellation, unless there’s equally a significant and radical increase in development assistance, as well as trade reforms that can benefit African farmers.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking Salih Booker, Africa Action, and Demba Moussa Dembele, Coordinator for the Forum for African Alternatives. Demba, from your position, can you describe the scene there, and can you describe who has come from around the world to protest outside the G8 forum?
DEMBA MOUSSA DEMBELE: I think I can say that people came from all countries from the south, the global south, from Europe, from the United States. And it’s what we call the global justice movement, people who have been campaigning on issues of debt, of trade, of human rights, people who want to see a different world, people who want to see the G8 countries listen to what the world is asking for, I mean, a more just and equal world in which developed and developing countries can have a fair say and try to solve the problems facing our humanity, not just eight gentlemen meeting every year deciding for the rest of the world for five and a half billion people. That’s unacceptable. That’s why those demonstrators came from all over the place, from Europe, from Africa, from Asia, Latin America, from the United States, of course, Australia, Japan. So they came from all over the world.
We — just in the debt campaign coalition we were people from the five continents, and we all agreed on a single message, this cancellation, this promise of cancellation, is not what we are demanding. We are — our fundamental demands remain: outright debt cancellation for all countries of the south, the end to IMF and World Bank conditionalities, the repatriation of stolen wealth from the south. We think if those demands are met, then we can see some changes. Unless they are met, we will not, you know, we will not stop fighting for justice and for a more inclusive world, and that’s why we are all here, and we’ll be staying here until Friday to see what’s going to happen in Gleneagles, and they will hear from us whether — even if the police — there are 10,000 police or even more in the streets to prevent demonstrators from approaching the site. But they will hear from us because all the news media are here and are reporting on what’s happening in the streets and elsewhere, so we will be here, and they will hear from us.
AMY GOODMAN: Demba, your response when the media reports the protest turned violent?
DEMBA MOUSSA DEMBELE: Yes, some of the protestors, of course, attacked the police, and it has been going on even before today. Two days ago here in Edinburgh, there were clashes in downtown Edinburgh until late at night. So it has been going on for quite some time, but today it’s a big rally for all of those who are protesting against legitimacy of G7 itself and against all of those policies that we think are just behind the objective poverty that we see everywhere, especially in Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: Salih Booker, the difference that is being made of the approach of Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, and President Bush on issues from global warming to dealing with Africa.
SALIH BOOKER: Well, particularly on this issue of increasing official development assistance to Africa, Tony Blair is trying to get firm commitments from other rich country leaders to double their assistance to Africa and to commit to providing 0.7% of gross national income in international development assistance by the year 2015. So it is an effort to significantly increase what rich countries are providing poor countries, not only in Africa, in development assistance.
President Bush has claimed falsely that the United States has tripled its aid to Africa. That’s simply not the case. And he has also made very clear that he’s not interested in a multilateral institution as a vehicle for mobilizing these resources and disbursing these resources. Instead he has created his own unilateral model, this thing called the Millennium Challenge account announced three years ago to distribute funds to those countries that are favored by Washington. Now it’s three years since he announced it and yet not $1 has arrived on the street anywhere in Africa, though agreements have been signed with the island nations of Madagascar and Cape Verde.
So there’s a difference on the amounts, there’s a difference on the vehicle for delivery. But I think what’s critical is we need to remind ourselves, even while there are differences among the G8 countries, who are the G8 countries? Essentially these are the seven richest countries in the world: Britain, the US, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Japan, plus Russia, which is invited for other reasons. It’s not one of the richest countries. But these countries combined control the institutions of global governance: the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organization. And while they represent only 1/8 of the world’s population, they represent some 70% of the world’s income and consume equally the vast majority of the world’s resources. So, in short, they represent a sort of international version of minority rule or global apartheid, if you will.
And so what the global justice movement has been demanding is an end to these structural inequalities. The global justice movement is not just seeking further largesse or charity from the richest countries, but seeking an end to these structural imbalances that allow a tiny minority of rich countries to make decisions that affect the lives of billions of poor people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, as well as in the Northern Hemisphere.
AMY GOODMAN: Salih Booker and Demba Moussa Dembele, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Salih Booker is Director of Africa Action. Demba Moussa Dembele, Coordinator of the Forum for African Alternatives, the Jubilee South member group in Senegal.