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Bono and the boneheads hype the G8's African 'debt cancellation'

Jerry Mazza | July 03 2005

Maybe it was the slickness of it all, the "One Campaign To Make Poverty History" that raised my antennae. That advertising simplicity that can whitewash anything with star names like Bono, U2, Will Smith, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, Jaz Z, Stevie Woner, Madonna, Faith Hill, Marian Carey, Pink Floyd and more, plus Tony Blair, George Bush, even Nelson Mandela. Wow. Replete with a downloadable PDF kit from a "One Campaign" email to help you Organize Your Live 8 Party for July 2nd," just a few days before the G8 Summit and America's Declaration of Independence weekend. What a coincidence.

But definitely it was John Pilger's brilliant story in the Monday, June 27, New Statesman, "John Pilger isn't celebrating," that nailed my belief that something was rotten in Scotland, England, the USA, and with the G8's proposal to eliminate $55 billion African debt as a "victory for millions." The announcement, originally made on the front page of the June 12 Observer, quoted Bob Geldof, who said, "Tomorrow 280 million Africans will wake up for the first time in their lives without owing you or me a penny . . ." Right and I'll wake up as Eminem.

Pilger, going to the heart of the matter, said, "Africa's imperial plunder and tragedy have been turned into a circus for the benefit of the so-called G8 leaders due in Scotland next month and those of us willing to be distracted by the barkers of the circus: the establishment media and their 'celebrities.' The illusion of an anti-establishment crusade led by pop stars—a cultivated, controlling image of rebellion—serves to dilute a great political movement of anger. In summit after summit, not one significant 'promise' of the G8 has been kept, and the 'victory for millions' is no different. It is a fraud—actually a setback to reducing poverty in Africa. Entirely conditional on vicious, discredited economic programmes imposed by the World Bank and the IMF, the 'package' will ensure that the 'chosen' countries slip deeper into poverty." There's more, much more . . .

"Is it any surprise that this is backed by Blair and Brown, and Bush; even the White House calls it a 'milestone'? For them, it is a useful facade, held up by the famous and the naive and the inane. Having effused about Blair, Geldof describes Bush as 'passionate and sincere' about ending poverty. Bono has called Blair and Brown 'the John and Paul of the global development stage.' Behind this front, rapacious power can 'reorder' the lives of millions in favour of totalitarian corporations and their control of the world's resources." That sounded more like the truth than Geldof and Bono's bone-headed praise.

What was equally Wow was that so many cause-thirsty stars bought this crapola, and hopefully were not bought and paid for to boot. I mean there's that email the One Campaign sent me with handsome George Clooney on it along with the unforgettable Pat Robertson. Beneath a wedding band with "one" carved on it, the symbol of the "One Campaign To Make Poverty History." Boy these guys thought of everything, I thought, an ex adman myself. With Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Nelson Mandela on another email page, asking "President Bush to Fight Poverty." And overcoming "global AIDS and poverty." And telling in our party kit how, "8 Men Can Save Millions of Lives If We Raise the World's Voice as One."

The party kit detailed that the July 8 high "profile African Summit will take place in Scotland," (is that near Africa?), "hosted by Prime Minister Blair and attended by President Bush and the leaders of the eight richest nations (G8) in the world." The other six men are Jacques Chirac (France), Gerhard Schroder (Germany), Silvio Berlusconi (Italy), Paul Martin (Canada), Junichiro Koizumi (Japan) and Vladamir Putin (Russia), the heavies the boneheads are fronting for. These men, the party kit continued, "Will be making life or death for millions of people living in Africa. Because of this unique political opportunity, Bob Geldof, the originator of Live Aid, developed the concept of Live 8—nine huge outdoor concerts in each G8 capital on Saturday July 2nd just a few days before the G8 Summit." So when you read this page, the "huge," high-concept wheels will have started turning.

Everyone who will have bit this baited hook will, "create a wave of support, a mass lobby that will communicate to the G8 governments what they should do: develop a historic plan to work with African governments in fighting AIDS, extreme poverty and corruption. Through calls, letters, emails and mass media, YOU can use your voice to be the ONE that propels these world leaders to act." That's you, spelled y-o-u. YOU are empowered, and no longer the voiceless in the wilderness. Get it? It's an ad/pr textbook case in world hype.

As Pilger tells it, "The G8 communique announcing the 'victory for millions' is unequivocal. Under the section headline 'G8 proposals for HIPC debt cancellation,' it says that debt relief will be granted to poor countries only if they are shown to be 'adjusting their gross assistance flows by the amount given': in other words, their aid will be reduced by the same amount as the debt relief. So they gain nothing. Paragraph two states that 'it is essential' that poor countries 'boost private sector development' and ensure 'the elimination of impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign.'"

He goes on to say, "The '$55bn' claimed by the Observer comes down, at most, to £1bn spread over 18 countries. This will almost certainly be halved—providing less than six days' worth of debt payments—because Blair and Brown want the IMF to pay its share of the 'relief' by revaluing its vast stock of gold, and passionate and sincere Bush has said no. The first unmentionable is that the gold was plundered originally from Africa. The second unmentionable is that debt payments are due to rise sharply from next year, more than doubling by 2015. This will mean not 'victory for millions,' but death for millions."

In short, the fix is in. Back to you, John.

"At present, for every $1 of 'aid' to Africa, $3 are taken out by western banks, institutions and governments, and that does not include the repatriated profit of transnational corporations. Take the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thirty-two corporations, all of them based in G8 countries, dominate the exploitation of this deeply impoverished, minerals-rich country where millions have died in the 'cause' of 200 years of imperialism. In Cote d'Ivoire, three G8 companies control 95 per cent of the processing and export of cocoa, the main resource. The profits of Unilever, a British company long in Africa, are a third larger than Mozambique's GDP. One American company, Monsanto—of genetic engineering notoriety—controls 52 per cent of South Africa's maize seed, that country's staple food."

Wow, no wonder Pilger isn't celebrating. And maybe it's not too late for YOU to cancel that barbecue, the one that suggested you throw, to get all your friends behind the Godzilla world-wide, super-duper event to help the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

I hope you can cancel. Because you're going to feel lousy on July 4 when you hear what else Pilger has to say: "Blair could not give two flying faeces for the people of Africa. Ian Taylor at the University of St Andrews used the Freedom of Information Act to learn that while Blair was declaiming his desire to 'make poverty history,' he was secretly cutting the government's Africa desk officers and staff. At the same time, his 'Department for International Development' was forcing, by the back door, privatisation of water supply in Ghana for the benefit of British investors. This ministry lives by the dictates of its 'Business Partnership Unit,' which is devoted to finding 'ways in which DfID can improve the enabling environment for productive investment overseas and . . . contribute to the operation of the overseas financial sector."

But what reducing poverty, John?

"Poverty reduction? Of course not. Instead, the world is subjected to a charade promoting the modern imperial ideology known as neoliberalism, yet it is almost never reported that way and the connections are seldom made. In the issue of the Observer announcing 'victory for millions' was a secondary news item that British arms sales to Africa had reached £1bn. One British arms client is Malawi, which pays out more on the interest on its debt than its entire health budget, despite the fact that 15 per cent of its population has HIV. Gordon Brown likes to use Malawi as an example of why 'we should make poverty history,' yet Malawi will not receive a penny of the 'victory for millions' relief.'"

Ouch and Wow! I mean who could have engineered a scam like this? Getting the world to swallow this swindle by using a world of famous names, misguided by their own passion to do good or get more face time to sell more albums? Hey, why be cynical. Blame it on their passion. Unless you're Pilger.

Pilger thinks, "The charade is a gift for Blair, who will try anything to persuade the public to 'move on' from the third unmentionable: his part in the greatest political scandal of the modern era, his crime in Iraq. Although essentially an opportunist, as his lying demonstrates, he presents himself as a Kiplingesque imperialist. His 'vision for Africa' is as patronising and exploitative as a stage full of white pop stars (with black tokens now added). His Messianic references to 'shaking the kaleidoscope' of societies about which he understands little and watching the pieces fall have translated into seven violent interventions abroad, more than any British prime minister in half a century. Bob Geldof, an Irishman at his court, duly knighted, says nothing about this." Not exactly high praise for the whole lot.

Pilger adds, "The protesters going to the G8 summit at Gleneagles ought not to allow themselves to be distracted by these games. If inspiration is needed, along with evidence that direct action can work, they should look to Latin America's mighty popular movements against total locura capitalista (total capitalist folly). They should look to Bolivia, the poorest country in Latin America, where an indigenous movement has Blair's and Bush's corporate friends on the run, and Venezuela, the only country in the world where oil revenue has been diverted for the benefit of the majority, and Uruguay and Argentina, Ecuador and Peru, and Brazil's great landless people's movement. Across the continent, ordinary people are standing up to the old Washington-sponsored order. 'IQue se vayan todos! (Out with them all!) say the crowds in the streets." Ole to that, John. And . . .

"Much of the propaganda that passes for news in our own society is given to immobilising and pacifying people and diverting them from the idea that they can confront power. The current babble about Europe, of which no reporter makes sense, is part of this; yet the French and Dutch No votes are part of the same movement as in Latin America, returning democracy to its true home: that of power accountable to the people, not to the 'free market' or the war policies of rampant bullies. And this is just a beginning."

All I can add to this is that I hope I didn't ruin your One Party. And if I did, I probably did you a favor. Let's hope your July 2nd, 3rd and 4th are, were, will be you with the family, friends and neighbors, even some salvageable Republicans, enjoying the burgers and beer, corn on the cob, the potato salad, and what we like to think of as Old Glory waving from a summertime porch or a flagpole or invisibly in our hearts, where we'd like to keep it unsullied from the G8 boys and their G-men.

In fact, July 4th helps us celebrate the Declaration of our liberty from the Empire as well. The liberty that we had to fight for from 1763, with our first protests of taxation without representation, to open hostilities from 1775 to 1783, and then through the final shaping our country, constitution and government in 1789. In other words, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness didn't come without significant bloodshed, sweat and tears. Nor did we have any ad or pr agencies to spin us allies. Nor anyone but ourselves, and perhaps the dear French and some Indians, to get the Empire off our backs. And the same holds true today. So have a good Fourth and not a lousy One. And give the kids your love, wherever they are, in the backyard or ball fields, on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq. And don't forget to teach them the difference between truth and crapola. What they don't know can hurt them, a lot.

In the words of Jeremy Rifkin from "Capitalism's Future On Trial" in the June 22 Guardian: "Capitalism promised that globalisation would narrow the gap between rich and poor. Instead the divide has widened. The 356 richest families on the planet enjoy a combined wealth that now exceeds the annual income of 40 percent of the human race. Two-thirds of the world's population have never made a phone call and one-third have no access to electricity." And maybe just for a few minutes, we can turn off our cells this Fourth, bow our heads and renew a commitment to turn those numbers and our country around.

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