Why I Wear a White Wrist Band

Make Poverty History

The Bare Bones of the Issue

“In this new century, millions of people in the world’s poorest countries remain imprisoned, enslaved and in chains. It’s time to set them free.” Nelson Mandela adds his voice to Make Poverty History (MPH), Trafalgar Square, February.

It’s time alright. Edinburgh is about to buckle under the biggest anti-poverty movement this planet has ever witnessed.

Why now? Because the UK is hosting the G8 summit July 6-8. The eight most powerful men on earth meet in a luxury hotel in Gleneagles. The same month, the UK assumes presidency of the EU. This puts Tony Blair et al in pole position to influence other rich nations – and the global financial institutions they control.

You won’t get near the hotel – subject to fortress-like security and fenced in by a £1 million ‘ring of steel’. But you can be part of a MPH demo in Edinburgh, on Saturday 2 July. Unless you’d prefer to watch Live8 on television, that is.

Who are the G8? Depending on your politics and level of cynicism, it’s either an informal coalition of the world’s eight richest governments, set up to tackle global ‘challenges’ – or a self-appointed ‘rich club’ bent on running the world for the benefit of its members (France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, Russia, and the UK).

Contrary to recent media coverage, Make Poverty History isn’t about celebrities or white rock stars. It’s a people’s movement; a coalition of more than 400 campaigning organisations, trade unions etc – committed to solidarity with the world’s poorest people.

It’s a cry from the grassroots saying enough is enough. That we won’t accept the needless deaths of 30,000 children each day or the global economic order that has locked 2.8 billion people into grinding poverty.

Things must change and CAN change. Less than two centuries ago, in the UK, slavery was legal, young kids worked in factories and down mines, working-class people worked punishing hours seven days a week in appalling conditions.

In the US, 50 years ago, racial segregation was condoned or accepted as a necessary evil. Then Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. The result of her radical and brave action is now history.

What is Make Poverty History calling for? Summed up: trade justice, the cancellation of unpayable debt and more and better aid. These reforms would ease misery caused by HIV/Aids and lack of access to food, safe water, sanitation, healthcare and education.

The issues can be complex but the statistics speak for themselves:

  • Unjust trade rules are robbing the world’s poorest people of £1.3 billion a day – 14 times what they get in aid.
  • Developing countries are paying $100 million a day in servicing their debts.
  • Between 1980 and 1992, developing countries paid back, in interest, three times their original debt – but their debt burden increased.

Progress is being made. Gordon Brown is said to have brokered a deal wiping out $50 billion of debt for selected countries. But we should be sceptical. Promises can be broken. And this is just the start of what is needed – the total amount needing wiped is $2.4 trillion!

Previous debt ‘forgiveness’ has come with strings attached – poor countries ‘encouraged’ to slash subsidies to their workers, open up their markets to foreign competition and invite in multinationals.

Much has been made of corruption in Africa. A fair point, but one overlooking that Western banks fell over themselves to make loans to corrupt regimes – ironically some were Cold War allies. And the banks did very nicely thank you. Interest payments aside, rich elites in poor countries siphoned money into Western accounts where they were recycled into new loans! And if any other cynicism is lurking nearby which might persuade your conscience to sit passively, don’t let it. Email us if you’ve got questions and we’ll give you few other routes to run down but the road map to Edinburgh.

In the business world, lenders take equal responsibility for bad loans. Individuals are made bankrupt; slates wiped clean. Make Poverty History wants the same for poor countries – with safeguards in place to ensure that ordinary people prosper from the freed-up money.

Edinburgh isn’t about handouts for Africa. It’s about justice and dignity for all.

The young Nigerian novelist Helen Oyeyemi wrote recently of her schooldays in London: ‘I’ve exchanged glances of mixed embarrassment and defensiveness with another African pupil, while classmates earnestly expressed their wishes to “help feed the Africans”.’

Written by Jon Stanhope

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