Don't forget Gleneagles

So, in an instant, the pages of history were reordered. London bomb coverage, pages one to 16; Africa and climate change, pages 17 to 18. If the bombers wanted both to mark the G8 summit and push it into seeming irrelevance by blowing something up, then that was mission accomplished.
But Africa was not, is not and will not be irrelevant.

The last two major African cities I have visited are Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. If you walk out of central Dar a little way up the coast, there’s a lush, tree-studded promontory where the villas grow bigger. And there, they say, pointing, is still the United States embassy.

In London, just after 10.30am on August 7 1998, a car bomb exploded near the main gate: 12 dead, 85 injured. Almost simultaneously, Nairobi was shaken to its roots by another massive blast. Because the US embassy in Kenya was stuck in the heart of the city the toll was rather different: 213 dead, about 4 000 injured.

But one thing, from Kenya to Tanzania, remained constant. Almost every one of those who died—a few embassy workers but, overwhelmingly, ordinary shoppers, commuters, tradesmen and beggars — were African. The attacks (relatively early Osama bin Laden, long before 9/11) murdered or devastated the very people who had most to gain at Gleneagles.

Let’s not pretend that the front pages of terror and the inside stuff from G8 are separate. They’re not. Many more innocent Kenyans died that August 7 than Londoners on July 7—and one question you need to ask is how many more will die, not from the bombs but from the distraction of this destruction.

What did Africa carry away from Gleneagles? Figures on paper again: $40-billion in debt relief, $50-billion a year in aid by 2010, tough new policies on access to Aids treatment, some fine words and good intentions on trade. Was it enough? No. But it was also something real, rather than nothing.

Gleneagles did more to give Africans a chance to help themselves and save themselves than any initiative that had gone before. Credit to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown, among others: they did well.

What emerged last Friday morning was life, not death; more life than a thousand bomb attacks could threaten. And we need to hang on to that, and to the momentum that Live 8 helped give to our longest week.

The Kenyans I talked to a few weeks ago were glad about the G8 agenda, glad to be a focus of attention. But their first, instinctive glance wasn’t outside, to the dollars and euros flooding in, but inside, to the probity and efficiency of their government. They wanted to feel that the money would trickle down, not seep away into distant bank accounts. That, if you will, is the new mood of the continent: a feeling that Africa, in greed and dictatorship, has been letting itself down—and a determination to do much better.

Was Gleneagles really a sideshow buried by flying glass? Only if you don’t connect. Did it make poverty a less oppressive chapter of all our histories? Only if we think that blowing up people is more important than leaving them to starve. Only if we put Africa in one neat little box of concern and forget the hundreds of Africans the terrorists murdered. Only if we’re prepared to turn a blind eye to violent despotism where it surfaces.

Four bombs blasting away did the macabre trick. Aid business was scurried through and sidelined. If it sinks into forgetfulness now many more innocents will die than the bombers can touch. And history? Let’s try to make 7/7 as much a date of hope as a shudder of despair—because, as the smoke clears, it was high atop page one.—

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