Aid with One Hand; Guns with the Other


Q&A With Issa Shivji On The G8

July 7, 2005

Global leaders like UK prime-minister Tony Blair have been vocal in stating that 2005 is a year where progress must be made on Africa's development. The G8 summit - an opportunity for rich world leaders to put their heads together and change the global development machinery - is now underway in Gleneagles, Scotland. Debt relief, aid flows, global trade and climate change are on the agenda of one of the highest profile G8 meetings ever. But well-known African commentator Issa Shivji is not optimistic that this summit will produce significant changes for the millions of people trapped in poverty.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: There has been a deluge of promises and debate around issues of aid and debt ahead of this G8 summit. What, if anything, can Africans expect from world leaders this time around?

ISSA SHIVJI: Little. Promises based on utterly wrong premises yield little beyond further humiliation of the African people as permanent beggars. Debt and aid belong to the same system, the system of exploitation of African resources. "Aid as imperialism" is as true today as it was thirty years ago when Teresa Hayter wrote a book with that title.

PN: Reading the various media reports around the G8 there is a very real sense that it is all about Tony Blair's plans for Africa, or Gordon Brown's promises, or what George Bush is or isn't prepared to do. Why is it that African voices seem to be so sidelined in events that are so crucial to their lives?

IS: Truly African voices have been and are being sidelined. This is the show of the very people who plan poverty in the first place! Poverty in Africa, both historically and in contemporary times, is due in no small measure to the exploitation and plundering of its resources by Western multinational capital. The crucial point for me is not that the Africans have little say in Blair's and Brown's plans but that Africans have lost all voice in controlling their own resources, their own destiny.

PN: What is the relevance of Blair's Commission for Africa report, the G8 event and the various other initiatives taking place during 2005? How should African people engage with these initiatives?

IS: Isn't it a cruel irony that a leader of a country that followed Bush into destroying a developing country (Iraq) and that has increased its arms sales to Africa fourfold in the last four years should be spearheading the fight against African poverty? If this is not cyncism, what is it? Commissions on Africa have been many but this was the first time in recent history that it was established and led by the very people whom we used to call 'neo-colonialists'! It is African leaders who like poodles dance to the tune; the African people in their villages have little time to engage in such dances!

PN: Tony Blair's plans for Africa are presented as being anti-poverty, but critics argue that they mask age-old policies that will continue the exploitation of Africa. What's so wrong with Blair's - and by extension - the G8 approach to ending poverty?

IS: As I said, the very premises are wrong. The underdevelopment of Africa and the resultant poverty are the outcome of a long historical process of exploitation of the continent by Western imperialism. That relationship continues today in an even more blatant form as the resources of Africa - from mineral to bio-resources - are siphoned off through various mechanisms that we associate with globalization: the so-called free trade, and various other associated policies such as privitisation and marketisation of the African economy. So while Africa's economies get integrated in global circuits, African people get marginalised. One hates to be cynical but it is literally true that while Blair gives aid with one hand to reduce poverty, he sells arms with another to kill the poor.

PN: Once again, African leaders will attend the summit and be granted an audience with G8 leaders. Are African leaders getting anything substantive in return and are they correct to engage in this way? What should they be doing which they are not doing?

IS: We shouldn't forget that Africa and generally the people of the South are on the defensive. The confidence and arrogance of the nationalist period has been defeated. Imperialism has assumed a more offensive and aggressive posture. African leaders today are more compradors than nationalists. So long as African leaders seek legitimacy from their imperial masters rather than their own people they will continue to appear with bowls in hands at the doorsteps of the G8.

PN: The G8 development approach is largely based on building Africa through a free market economy that attracts foreign investment and trade. What would an alternative development agenda for Africa look like?

IS: There is no doubt in my mind that we, in Africa, have to develop a nationalist, a Pan-Africanist vision, both political and developmental. And this vision has to be in opposition to the domination of imperialism, read globalisation, just as the nationalist vision in the last century was in opposition to colonialism. More than ever before we need Nkrumahs and Fanons who saw in African unity and in the unity of the oppressed people and exploited classes a counter-force, which would be the harbinger of an alternative vision and an alternative path of development.

PN: Plans are afoot to create a human white band around Edinburgh as a symbol of demands for trade justice, debt cancellation and more and better aid. What is your assessment of these mobilisations?

IS: I do not wish to be cynical of the well-intentioned who would want to bring the "plight" of Africa to the world stage. But I would like to see much more and in a more sustained fashion the well-intentioned people with red bands surrounding Edinburgh and highlighting without ambiguity and prevarication the pillage of Africa; pillage through trade, investment, debt and dubious policies.

PN: What is the most effective action that organisations in Africa should take today that will make a significant impact on the relationship between our countries and the G8?

IS: Ultimately, the liberators of Africa will be Africans themselves. Organisations in Africa have to sink their roots among their own people and free themselves of this dependency syndrome. We have to organise and mobilise for a second independence in every sense of the world. Fundamentally, the relationship between Africa and G8 is an unequal exploitative relationship. That is the fundamental premise which should be our point of departure.

About the Author: Issa Shivji is Professor of Law at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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