Africa's new best friends

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Jul 14 16:41:04 BST 2005

Almost makes me proud to know the guy!
And to have Geldorf (demoted from 'Saint' to 'Angel of Death') congratulate
Blair on the 'wonderful' debt relief plan takes the biscuit!

Africa's new best friends,,1521387,00.html
The US and Britain are putting the multinational corporations that created
poverty in charge of its relief

George Monbiot

Tuesday   July      5, 2005

The Guardian

I began to realise how much trouble we were in when Hilary Benn, the
secretary of state for international development, announced that he would
be joining the Make Poverty History march on Saturday. What would he be
chanting, I wondered? "Down with me and all I stand for"?

Benn is the man in charge of using British aid to persuade African
countries to privatise public services; wasn't the march supposed to be a
protest against policies like his? But its aims were either expressed or
interpreted so loosely that anyone could join. This was its strength and
its weakness. The Daily Mail ran pictures of Gordon Brown and Bob Geldof on
its front page, with the headline "Let's Roll", showing that nothing either
Live 8 or Make Poverty History has done so far represents a threat to power.

The G8 leaders and the business interests their summit promotes can absorb
our demands for aid, debt, even slightly fairer terms of trade, and lose
nothing. They can wear our colours, speak our language, claim to support
our aims, and discover in our agitation not new constraints but new
opportunities for manufacturing consent. Justice, this consensus says, can
be achieved without confronting power.

They invite our representatives to share their stage, we invite theirs to
share ours. The economist Noreena Hertz offers, according to the commercial
speakers' agency that hires her, "real solutions for businesses and
individuals. Hertz teaches companies how to be smart and avoid the
frictions that surface when corporate interests conflict with private life
... the political right is not necessarily wrong." Then she stands on the
Make Poverty History stage and calls for poverty to be put at the top of
the agenda. There is, as far as some of the MPH organisers are concerned,
no contradiction: the new consensus denies that there's a conflict between
ending poverty and business as usual.
The G8 leaders have seized this opportunity with both hands. Multinational
corporations, they argue, are not the cause of Africa's problems but the
solution. From now on they will be responsible for the relief of poverty.

They have already been given control of the primary instrument of US policy
towards Africa, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The act is a
fascinating compound of professed philanthropy and raw self-interest. To
become eligible for help, African countries must bring about "a
market-based economy that protects private property rights", "the
elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment" and a
conducive environment for US "foreign policy interests". In return they
will be allowed "preferential treatment" for some of their products in US

The important word is "some". Clothing factories in Africa will be allowed
to sell their products to the US as long as they use "fabrics wholly formed
and cut in the United States" or if they avoid direct competition with US
products. The act, treading carefully around the toes of US manufacturing
interests, is comically specific. Garments containing elastic strips, for
example, are eligible only if the elastic is "less than 1 inch in width and
used in the production of brassieres". Even so, African countries'
preferential treatment will be terminated if it results in "a surge in

It goes without saying that all this is classified as foreign aid. The act
instructs the US Agency for International Development to develop "a
receptive environment for trade and investment". What is more interesting
is that its implementation has been outsourced to the Corporate Council on

The CCA is the lobby group representing the big US corporations with
interests in Africa: Halliburton, Exxon Mobil, Coca-Cola, General Motors,
Starbucks, Raytheon, Microsoft, Boeing, Cargill, Citigroup and others. For
the CCA, what is good for General Motors is good for Africa. "Until African
countries are able to earn greater income," it says, "their ability to buy
US products will be limited." The US state department has put it in charge
of training African governments and businesses. The CCA runs the US
government's annual forum for African business, and hosts the Growth and
Opportunity Act's steering committee.

Now something very similar is being set up in the UK. Tomorrow the Business
Action for Africa summit will open in London with a message from Tony
Blair. Chaired by Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, the head of Anglo American, its
speakers include executives from Shell, British American Tobacco, Standard
Chartered Bank, De Beers and the Corporate Council on Africa. One of its
purposes is to inaugurate the Investment Climate Facility, a $550m fund
financed by the UK's foreign-aid budget, the World Bank and the other G8
nations, but "driven and controlled by the private sector". The fund will
be launched by Niall FitzGerald, now head of Reuters, but formerly chief
executive of Unilever, and before that Unilever's representative in
apartheid South Africa. He wants the facility, he says, to help create a
"healthy investment climate" that will offer companies "attractive
financial returns compared to competing destinations". Anglo American and
Barclays have already volunteered to help.

Few would deny that one of the things Africa needs is investment. But
investment by many of our multinationals has not enriched its people but
impoverished them. The history of corporate involvement in Africa is one of
forced labour, evictions, murder, wars, the under-costing of resources, tax
evasion and collusion with dictators. Nothing in either the Investment
Climate Facility or the Growth and Opportunity Act imposes mandatory
constraints on corporations. While their power and profits in Africa will
be enhanced with the help of our foreign-aid budgets, they will be bound
only by voluntary commitments: of the kind that have been in place since
1973 and have proved useless.

Just as Gordon Brown's "moral crusade" encourages us to forget the armed
crusade he financed, the state-sponsored rebranding of the companies
working in Africa prompts us to forget what Shell has been doing in
Nigeria, what Barclays and Anglo American and De Beers have done in South
Africa, and what British American Tobacco has done just about everywhere.
>From now on, the G8 would like us to believe, these companies will be
Africa's best friends. In the name of making poverty history, the G8 has
given a new, multi-headed East India Company a mandate to govern the

Without a critique of power, our campaign, so marvellously and so
disastrously inclusive, will merely enhance this effort. Debt, unfair terms
of trade and poverty are not causes of Africa's problems but symptoms. The
cause is power: the ability of the G8 nations and their corporations to run
other people's lives. Where, on the Live 8 stages and in Edinburgh, was the
campaign against the G8's control of the World Bank, the International
Monetary Fund and the UN? Where was the demand for binding global laws for
multinational companies?

At the Make Poverty History march, the speakers insisted that we are
dragging the G8 leaders kicking and screaming towards our demands. It seems
to me that the G8 leaders are dragging us dancing and cheering towards theirs.

"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery" [TG]

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