Aid issue can't be pushed aside

Monday, July 18, 2005


Written by Scott Piatkowski

It didn’t take long for Fox News – the audiovisual equivalent of the National Enquirer with a far-right ideological agenda thrown in – to decide what to make of last week’s horrific bombings in London, England. As the details of the bombings were coming in, Fox News hosts Brian Kilmeade and Stuart Varney had the following on-air exchange (transcript courtesy of Media Matters, an excellent news monitoring website):

Kilmeade: And he [British Prime Minister Tony Blair] made the statement, clearly shaken, but clearly determined. This is his second address in the last hour. First to the people of London, and now at the G8 summit, where their topic Number 1 – believe it or not – was global warming, the second was African aid. And that was the first time since 9/11 when they should know, and they do know now, that terrorism should be Number 1. But it's important for them all to be together. I think that works to our advantage, in the Western world's advantage, for people to experience something like this together, just 500 miles from where the attacks have happened.

Varney: It puts the Number 1 issue right back on the front burner right at the point where all these world leaders are meeting. It takes global warming off the front burner. It takes African aid off the front burner. It sticks terrorism and the fight on the war on terror, right up front all over again.

Kilmeade: Yeah.

As simplistic as their line of argument is (and, regrettably, they weren’t the only ones following that line last week), there’s actually a lot more there than meets the eye. It’s wrong on so many levels.

Let’s start with the arrogant assumption that terrorism exists in a world of its own, separate from – believe it or not – environmental degradation, and the needs of the developing world. Without having conclusively identified those who perpetrated last week’s attack, let alone determining their motives, it would be foolhardy to attempt to draw any direct links. But, in general, the kind of policies that lead to the accelerated destruction of the planet and an inequitable distribution of the world’s abundant resources offer a fertile breeding ground for terrorism.

What I find particularly galling about the suggestion that confronting terrorism should once again trump every other concern facing global leaders is that those leaders never really gave more than token consideration to meeting the needs of Africa or combatting global warming. It’s not as if the G8 leaders, meeting in Scotland at the time of the bombings, were going to make any ground announcement about increasing aid to Africa or solving global warming (indeed, in the latter case – believe it or not – the United States is still refusing to acknowledge that human activity is the principal cause of climate change).

The promise of increasing aid to 0.7 per cent of each country’s gross domestic product isn’t a new one. In was first proposed by former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson over thirty-five years ago and received nearly unanimous support at the time. The only reason that it is still being discussed as a goal is that it still hasn’t been met (except by Norway, Sweden and Demark).

Canada has actually substantially decreased its aid to GDP ratio since the Liberals came to power in 1993. We now allocate just over two per cent of GDP, and our Prime Minister can’t even bring himself to repeat the 0.7 per cent promise, let alone develop a plan to finally keep it. It’s true that the House of Commons did give recently unanimous approval this spring to an NDP motion calling for Canada to meet its previously agreed upon aid target and the amended budget did add half a million dollars to our aid budget. But, Paul Martin and Ralph Goodale are now all but completely dismissing the idea of reaching the 0.7 per cent target by 2015 – ten years from now and forty-five years after the target was first adopted. Of the member countries of the G8, all but the United States and Russia have committed to reaching 0.7 per cent by 2015, but Goodale has been reduced to whining that “those are very, very large commitments” and expressing doubts about whether the Europeans will actually meet them.

Africa is not a poor continent because it lacks natural resources or because its people possess some sort of collective character flaw. It is a poor continent primarily because of the misguided and punitive economic policies of the industrialized countries and their agents, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (and, obviously, war and disease have played a large role in keeping it poor). Agricultural policies that see European countries subsidize their cows at twice the daily amount that the average African lives on are just one example of the perverse priorities of developed nations. As well, money always seems to be available to start a war, but not to create a more just economic system. Discussion on how to remedy Africa’s poverty has been long overdue, and it was just getting underway. Stopping that discussion now in reaction to a terrorist action would be a huge mistake. And, suggesting that that terrorist action “works to our advantage” by sweeping other uncomfortable issues off the table is simply obscene.

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