"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Monbiot on Bono, Lennon and McCartney

"An aura of sanctity is descending upon the world's most powerful men. On Saturday the finance ministers from seven of the G8 nations (Russia was not invited) promised to cancel the debts the poorest countries owe to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The hand that holds the sword has been stayed by angels: angels with guitars rather than harps.

Who, apart from the leader writers of the Daily Telegraph, could deny that debt relief is a good thing? Never mind that much of this debt - money lent by the World Bank and IMF to corrupt dictators - should never have been pursued in the first place. Never mind that, in terms of looted resources, stolen labor and now the damage caused by climate change, the rich owe the poor far more than the poor owe the rich. Some of the poorest countries have been paying more for debt than for health or education. Whatever the origins of the problem, that is obscene.

You are waiting for me to say but, and I will not disappoint you. The but comes in paragraph 2 of the finance ministers' statement. To qualify for debt relief, developing countries must "tackle corruption, boost private-sector development" and eliminate "impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign".

These are called conditionalities. Conditionalities are the policies governments must follow before they receive aid and loans and debt relief. At first sight they look like a good idea. Corruption cripples poor nations, especially in Africa. The money which could have given everyone a reasonable standard of living has instead made a handful unbelievably rich. The powerful nations are justified in seeking to discourage it." (1)

"The real danger at the G8 summit is not that the protests will turn violent - the appetite for that pretty well disappeared in September 2001 - but that they will be far too polite.

Let me be more precise. The danger is that we will follow the agenda set by Bono and Bob Geldof.

The two musicians are genuinely committed to the cause of poverty reduction. They have helped secure aid and debt-relief packages worth billions of dollars. They have helped to keep the issue of global poverty on the political agenda. They have mobilised people all over the world. These are astonishing achievements, and it would be stupid to disregard them.

The problem is that they have assumed the role of arbiters: of determining on our behalf whether the leaders of the G8 nations should be congratulated or condemned for the decisions they make. They are not qualified to do so, and I fear that they will sell us down the river.

Take their response to the debt-relief package for the world's poorest countries that the G7 finance ministers announced 10 days ago. Anyone with a grasp of development politics who had read and understood the ministers' statement could see that the conditions it contains - enforced liberalisation and privatisation - are as onerous as the debts it relieves. But Bob Geldof praised it as "a victory for the millions of people in the campaigns around the world" and Bono pronounced it "a little piece of history". Like many of those who have been trying to highlight the harm done by such conditions - especially the African campaigners I know - I feel betrayed by these statements. Bono and Geldof have made our job more difficult." (2)

"The idea, swallowed by most commentators, that the conditions our governments impose help to prevent corruption is laughable. To qualify for World Bank funding, our model client Uganda was forced to privatize most of its state-owned companies before it had any means of regulating their sale. A sell-off that should have raised $500m for the Ugandan exchequer instead raised $2m. The rest was nicked by government officials. Unchastened, the World Bank insisted that - to qualify for the debt-relief program the G8 has now extended - the Ugandan government sell off its water supplies, agricultural services and commercial bank, again with minimal regulation.

And here we meet the real problem with the G8's conditionalities. They do not stop at pretending to prevent corruption, but intrude into every aspect of sovereign government. When the finance ministers say "good governance" and "eliminating impediments to private investment", what they mean is commercialization, privatization and the liberalization of trade and capital flows. And what this means is new opportunities for western money."

"Geldof and Bono's campaign for philanthropy portrays the enemies of the poor as their saviours. The good these two remarkable men have done is in danger of being outweighed by the harm."

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/
2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/hearafrica05