Like thousands of British who had assembled at the meadows in Edinburgh two days before the G-8 Summit officially began at the Gleneagles resort in Scotland, this writer was amazed at the perseverance, determination and patience of the people who had lined up for a peaceful march snaking its way through the city. Carrying placards, banners and wearing mostly white, they waited for the police to give the thumbs up signal to move. Such was the enthusiasm to make their voices heard that they braved the slow movement of the march. It took us nearly three and a half hours to traverse not more than 100 metres and yet people were clam and cheerful. An estimated 250,000 people took part in the peaceful march.
For those who assembled in Edinburgh, the peaceful march was the only democratic way to express their anguish at the faulty global policies exacerbating hunger and poverty. Unfortunately, the world leaders who swear in the name of democracy are the first ones to turn a blind eye to the traditions of democracy once they are in power. This is exactly what happened at Gleneagles. Democracy no longer means hearing and protecting the voice of the masses. As the G-8 clearly demonstrates, democracy is all about protecting and strengthening the stock markets.
A last minute gesture by Japan provided the G-8 countries some saving grace. Japan agreed to fill the gap to raise the aid packet to Africa to US $50 billion by the year 2010. Like all other policy decisions that emanate from the rich economies this too came with strings attached. "Private enterprise is a prime engine of growth and development," the communiqué issued at the end of the Summit said. In other words, the G-8 leaders allowed the private sector to join the World Bank/IMF to continue the plunder of Africa. As Peter Hardstaff from the World Development Movement (WDM) summed it up: "Ask not what we can do for the poor, but what the poor can do for us".
Time and again, the emphasis shifted to global trade and investment. More than writing off the outstanding debt (surpassing some US $295 billion for Africa) and providing aid, trade was projected as the right approach to growth. With no commitment to do away with the huge agricultural subsidies being provided by the OECD countries, equal to US $321 billion a year, the development paradigm being suggested for some of the world's poorest countries will only multiply poverty and hunger. Farm subsidies for the wealthy in their own countries are almost six times what has been promised as aid for Africa.
Numerous studies have shown how agriculture subsidies are being used to destroy farm livelihoods in the developing countries, thus posing a serious threat to food sovereignty. Except for lip-service to do away with export subsidies, nothing tangible and date-bound is being spelled out. At the same time the thrust on private investment is meant to push the genetically modified food industry into Africa. With Europe refusing to accept GM foods on conditions of human and environment safety, the G-8 leadership is finding ways and means to find a market for the unwanted genetically manipulated food. Africa therefore is the perfect food dump.
Such an approach runs counter to achieving food self-sufficiency. What the G-8 leadership refuses to accept is that the only way out of darkness for Africa is to strengthen its agriculture so as to emerge food-secure. Africa will have to follow the same approach that the two most populated countries - India and China - followed in the early 1970s. Both the countries closed the national borders and provided the right kind of policy mix that enabled farmers to produce more. The rest is history.
If a third of the planet's population could emerge out of starvation and hunger by restructuring domestic policies that ensured food self-sufficiency, Africa too will have to follow the same approach. Never before has such a huge mass of people been lifted out of poverty and hunger without ensuring food self-sufficiency, and never in future the same Herculean task can be accomplished by privatisation and agribusiness. Coupled with the right kind of domestic policies, food self-reliance is the only way to Make Hunger History, the title of a lively event in Edinburgh. Once hunger is abolished, poverty too will become history; this was the powerful message at Gleneagles.
But the leaders might as well have been playing on the links. Riding on the swelling public opinion in support of the Make Poverty History campaign, G-8 leaders arrived at the Gleneagles resort with a simple task: sow the seeds of hope for the billions living in abject poverty and destitution. Instead, they opted to uphold the commercial interests of big businesses and transnational corporations. Except for making empty statements about the shameful scourge of poverty and the need to bring ailing Africa back into the fold of economic development, the international community failed to take any significant step. The message at the end of the G-8 Summit is very clear: Africa will have to live on hope.