Not His Shtick

by matttbastard

Stephen Harper has a prescription for China:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned China Friday to remain on good behaviour because the coming Olympics will put the nation under massive scrutiny.

“I think when you open your country to the world that way and ask every television camera in the world to come in, I would think it would be in your own self-interest to make that image as positive as it can be,” he told reporters at the end of the meeting of the G8 group of industrialized countries.

[…]

“My view is that as that country grows in importance, it will face increasing pressure,” he said.

“It will face increasing pressure from the world community on issues of democratic development and human rights, on issues like climate change and environmental protection, and on issues of corporate social responsibility, in particular the responsibility of Chinese enterprises and commercial activities in the Third World.”

Physician, heal thyself:

Leaders of the world’s wealthiest countries, and Stephen Harper in particular, endured a blast Friday from anti-poverty activists and rock stars who said they have let down Africa by failing to back up their promises for increased aid.

The criticism came after leaders of the group of eight industrialized countries agreed to recommit themselves to doubling aid, but failed to agree on a specific timetable for how they would pay for it.

Mr. Harper was singled out for special criticism by Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, for hampering the effort.

“I said some years ago that the world needs more Canada and I meant it and I was looking for leadership,” he said. “I can’t believe that this Canada has become a laggard.”

[…]

Mr. Geldof noted last week that the anti-poverty group DATA, with which he is deeply involved, has reported that Canada has earmarked only $160-million in aid to Africa for 2007, when an increase of $623-million would be needed for Canada to stay on track to meet its commitment to double aid.

“A man called Stephen Harper came to Heiligendamm; Canada stayed at home,” Mr. Geldof said.

NDP leader Jack Layton also assailed Harper in a party press release, accusing the PM of “turning Canada into an international embarrassment”:

“Mr. Harper calls himself a ‘bridge-builder,’” said NDP Leader Jack Layton. “Yet, on climate change, on development aid for Africa, and on the rising nuclear threat, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are burning their bridges with the rest of the world on every critical G8 issue.”

So much for needing more Canada; judging by the near universal embrace by Western powers of the willfully indifferent neo-liberalism espoused by Harper and the Conservatives, it would seem that there are too many nations taking our example. No matter the amount pledged (and actually delivered), most Western aid to developing nations is paternalistic, ineffective and, in many instances, counterproductive. Why? It’s the trade imbalance, stupid:

Two years after Gleneagles, a year after St Petersburg, it is striking how little the discourse around Africa has changed. G8 leaders, NGO activists and African leaders all seem to agree that aid is pivotal to Africa’s turnaround. Germany’s chancellor and host of the G8, Angela Merkel, has joined the club – promising that this time the G8 will redeem its pledge to double aid to Africa by 2010.

This approach rests on a studied evasion about why so much aid to Africa in the past has failed to deliver transformation. It thus seems more concerned to salve consciences than to bring real change. It also ignores the lively debate that is raging behind the scenes and in public forums about whether aid is really effective as an instrument of development.

A thirty-year veteran of the World Bank, Phyllis R Pomerantz contributes one valuable view to this argument (see Aid Effectiveness in Africa: Developing Trust between Donors and Governments [Lexington Books, 2004]). Pomerantz attributes much of aid’s ineffectiveness in Africa to donors’ failure to pay attention to culture. Monologue and one-way impositions, donor paternalism, and insensitivity undermine the trust, mutual respect and understanding that should, in Pomerantz’s view, underpin aid relationships.

Pomerantz would like to see donors pay more attention to African traditions and conditions. She is aiming for trusting relationships that underpin shared purpose, commitment, reliability, transparency, and familiarity.

Such a vision – which is echoed from a different direction by Michael Edwards in his openDemocracy article on the reinvention of “development” – seems very far from the cold calculations of summit talks where the paternalism of the discourse about aid is reinforced by hypocrisy over a second potential route to African development: trade. Here, the contradiction between the rhetoric of free and equitable trade and the reality of subsidies and preferential agreements is all too established. As the United Nations human-development report of 2005 says: “The world’s richest countries spent just over one billion dollars for the year 2005 on aid for agriculture in poor countries, and just under one billion dollars each day of that year for various subsidies of agricultural overproduction at home.”

Every day that rich countries continue to block African food exports or flood African markets with subsidised imports, they emaciate African producers and further reduce the continent’s capacity to trade its way to wealth and prosperity.

This G8 summit holds out the prospect of more hand-wringing about rich-country subsidies, but probably very little action. It is far easier to make aid promises (whether fulfilled or not) and then claw them back with an unjust trade regime; it’s called give and take.

Fairness: it’s not the G8’s–or Stephen Harper’s–shtick.