Friday, July 08, 2005

The 64 million dollar question


Make poverty history – or make dictators history?

Sokwanele Comment: 7 July 2005

Banner - 'Make Mugabe History'

A banner erected along a main road in Scotland, a short distance from where the G8 leaders are meeting. This and the image below was sent to Sokwanele by an activist in the UK who asked that we let Zimbabweans know that "we are listening and we care about what is happening to innocent Zimbabweans".
Leaders of the world's richest 8 countries have gathered at Gleneagles in Scotland to discuss two matters of global significance - how to protect planet earth from irreversible environmental damage, and how to rescue the African continent from debilitating and dehumanizing poverty. While acknowledging that the two issues are inter-related, and in no way wishing to detract from the importance of the first, our main concern here is with the second issue.

The poverty issue has been highlighted in recent weeks by an international campaign under the banner "Make Poverty History", which culminated in the Live 8 concert and mass marches of last weekend. In Scotland alone a crowd of some 225,000 people marched behind banners calling for debt relief, more aid and improved trading terms for Africa. The Live 8 concert brought together an impressive international ensemble of singers and bands, and it is estimated that 5 billion people around the world watched the spectacle on television. Enough to make the point to the world leaders gathered at their plush resort in Scotland that there is enormous interest in the topics under discussion, and great expectations that significant moves will be made to rescue Africa from the debt trap.

A great deal of international lobbying has already been done in preparation for the summit on the issue of debt relief, and a clear consensus seems to be emerging among the most technologically advanced and wealthy nations that Africa deserves a break. At a popular level in the West there is massive support for debt cancellation, and some governments have already pledged to write off all, or a significant part of, historic debts and to increase the level of aid to the continent. There has been noticeably less offered in the way of what in the longer term is of greater importance to the economies of Africa, namely improved trading terms. Nonetheless there remains a considerable amount of goodwill and a clear determination to help lift Africa out of poverty. The discussion is already down to specifics in many cases and the economies of the most indebted countries have been closely examined to determine where and how debt relief should be applied.

The one country in Africa which has been conspicuously omitted from the discussion is of course Zimbabwe. The reasons for this are obvious. The Zimbabwean economy is in terminal decline. All the economic indices are negative. Plummeting industrial and agricultural output, soaring inflation, unemployment and national debt - all combine to give Zimbabwe the unenviable reputation of having the fastest shrinking economy in the world. Surely a prime candidate for international aid - except, as we all know, this is a man-made crisis......

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