Beware the 'Brownwash'

Britain is painting a misleadingly flattering picture of its commitments to do more in the fight against poverty in Africa, a leading development group said on Tuesday.

“The British government is very good at PR [public relations], at spinning what really is going on,” Peter Hardstaff from the World Development Movement (WDM) told IPS at Gleneagles on the eve of the G8 summit.

Leaders from the Group of Eight most powerful industrialised nations (United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and the Russian Federation) are meeting at this golf resort in Scotland from Wednesday until Friday.

Host Britain has declared that the development of Africa will be a priority at the summit, along with efforts to contain climate change.

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has been leading statements calling for more action for aiding development in Africa, but activists are calling it “Brownwash”.

“The idea that the British government is somehow supporting talk of doing more for Africa is erroneous,” Hardstaff said.

“Britain has not accepted the fundamental demands of the Make Poverty History campaign. It talks a good game on debt cancellation and trade justice, but it is failing to deliver.”

Make Poverty History (MPH) is an international coalition of non-governmental organisations, faith groups and charities campaigning for a more just global trade system, debt relief and more effective international aid.

As a part of the European Union, Britain is working to “get poor countries to open up their markets, and to privatise services like provision of water,” Hardstaff said.

“As a part of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, it is forcing poor countries to privatise and to liberalise their economies in exchange for aid and debt relief.”

Britain has, on some issues, taken some steps ahead of others, Hardstaff admitted.

“It agreed this year to stop demanding privatisation and liberalisation of local markets in exchange for British bilateral aid. No other country has done that.”

But Britain continues to push a different line as a part of the EU and of the World Bank and the IMF, he said.

British bilateral aid last year added up to $7,8-billion, about 10% of the global aid package.

Britain made a strong projection of its commitments to Africa through the Commission for Africa.

“But it has yet to be seen whether the recommendations have a great deal of influence,” Hardstaff said, adding its recommendations for democratisation of institutions involved in the development of Africa have been ignored.

One example, he said, is the way Paul Wolfowitz was appointed to head the World Bank. “It was a continuation of a stitch-up between the United States and the EU, where one gets to appoint the head of the World Bank, and the other the head of the IMF. We have to see how many more of those recommendations will be ignored”.

But the British government continues to project itself as a champion of the poor and of Africa in relation to other G8 leaders, the WDM says.

“The demands of the Make Poverty History campaign are not an ‘a la carte’ menu or wish-list from which Britain can pick a few, ignore the rest and proclaim themselves MPH-approved,” Hardstaff said in a statement earlier.

“Rhetoric about the need to save Africa as we approach the G8, no matter how passionate and heartfelt, must not act as a smokescreen for inaction. Tony Blair wearing a white wristband does not constitute a policy commitment to stop forcing African countries to open their markets in return for access to ours.”

Make Poverty History is encouraging people to wear a white wristband to express concern about global poverty and raise awareness of the issue.

The WDM accused the British government of attempting to shift the focus entirely onto the failings of other G8 nations while not addressing areas where its own policies are still failing Africa.

Earlier on Tuesday, activists from the Brighton wing of the WDM occupied a 50m crane in Edinburgh, capital of Scotland, to call for an end to the British government’s attempt to co-opt the aims of the Make Poverty History campaign. They hung a huge banner from the crane demanding, “No more Brownwash”.

The WDM said Britain’s resolve would be tested on the basis of real commitments on development.

Britain has backed 100% debt cancellation but only currently for 18 countries, and with strings attached, according to the group.

The Make Poverty History campaign is demanding 100% cancellation for 62 countries “without any damaging economic conditions, specifically privatisation, deregulation and opening up developing country markets”.

Meanwhile, South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said Africa needs a timetable from the developed world for the removal of agricultural subsidies, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reports. Manuel was speaking in London ahead of the G8 meeting.

Manuel told the national broadcaster that manufacturing gains were unlikely for Africa, leaving growth in agriculture as a key element for lifting much of the continent out of poverty.

Seven African leaders, including President Thabo Mbeki, are in Scotland to observe the G8 proceedings. - Sapa, Sapa-IPS

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