Bruce Anderson: Misery, terror and the failures of the G8

A million new small businesses would be far more beneficial than a billion dollars in aid
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The Independent Online

As a result of the London bombing, everyone lost sight of the G8. This is unfortunate. Vulgar Marxism cannot explain Islamic terrorism. Al-Qa'ida and similar organisations have plenty of middle-class recruits, but there is a connection between misery and terror. Failed states do not produce contented peoples; the G8 was supposed to address state failure.

This is where the American influence on world affairs is so refreshing. In Europe, we have grown accustomed to failed states. There is even a tacit coalition between the liberal left and the cynical right. The lefties bleat that we must not judge Africans by our standards, and that it is all our fault. The right snarl that it was absurd to think that Africans could ever live up to our standards; it is all their fault. One group insists that we must not impose our notions of democracy and freedom; the other, that it would be impossible.

To Americans, that is unacceptable. As the natural condition of mankind is progress, any obstacles must be temporary and should be removed. Democracy and freedom are absolutes: universally applicable and a universal entitlement.

The Americans are often accused of acting in their own interests, and clumsily to boot. That is true. They are clumsy, and they do pursue their own well-being. So they should. If Americans come to believe that they can only be safe if they leave no state behind, it would be excellent news for the world's poor.

The G8 brought no such news. There were not enough measures to promote trade liberalisation. Partly because of low wages, but also as a result of entrepreneurial instincts which even appalling governments have not eradicated, Africans could enjoy competitive advantages if they had access to world markets.

First, they need access to their own markets. There should be one invariable condition before any Western nation even contemplates talks about talks on aid. The potential recipient government must remove any restrictions which make it difficult for its citizens to sell their labour or start businesses. If those barriers were lifted, there would be a rapid increase in economic growth, and human happiness.

It is less clear that the G8 will promote either. Its body language was all wrong. Corrupt and incompetent African leaders who watched the proceedings are unlikely to have concluded that they had to change their ways. If the Western donors did turn stingy, Bob Geldof would come to the rescue. Swiss bank account suffering from malnutrition? Encourage a few pop singers to converge on Hyde Park, saying "fuck'' and committing mass emotional blackmail.

Africa cannot find salvation among the electric guitars. It has to discover its own route to a better life. One essential is a continent-wide campaign of economic and political dissidence encouraged by the West; an African equivalent to the Helsinki process, which helped to undermine the Soviet Union. Needless to say, any African government which persecuted the dissidents would be denied all aid and subjected to sanctions.

Africa will never work until Africans can work. A million new small businesses would be far more beneficial than a billion dollars in aid. At present, African self-help is almost an oxymoron. It is contemptible that no African leaders are prepared to condemn Mugabe; that apart from the courageous Zimbabwean opposition, there is no mass movement in Africa demanding action to make Mugabe history.

The G8 will do nothing to correct this. It is more likely to encourage clientitis, a form of moral debility which affects vast swaths of the continent: the political equivalent of Aids. Its symptoms are the belief that if Africa has problems, it is someone else's duty to solve them.

Apropos of Aids, the Americans have been criticised for insisting that anti-Aids funding should be linked to efforts to combat prostitution. Many Western liberals have a Victorian spinster's reluctance to face the facts of life. You can have rampant prostitution. You can have a drive to reduce Aids. You cannot have both.

On Aids, the Americans are right, as usual. On Africa in general they may be less right, for once. There are worrying signs that the Bush administration is ready to accommodate naive liberals. Even Paul Wolfowitz may be guilty of this. He ought to remember that a neo-conservative president of the World Bank has one over-riding challenge, to tell Africa to get on its bike.

On Africa, the G8 was unconvincing. On global warming, it was platitudinous. Its deliberations are easy to summarise. There seems to be a problem, so perhaps something should be done.

There was slightly better news in Britain. The PM has asked Andrew Turnbull, the retiring Cabinet Secretary, to conduct a review of policy on nuclear power. This is wholly unnecessary; a typically Blairite exercise in procrastination by review. We know what needs to be done about nuclear power; ensure that we have a lot more of it. But if there has to be a review, Sir Andrew is a good choice to run it. A man with an unsentimental intelligence, he is to tree-hugging what John Prescott is to English grammar.

But at least the G8's energy deliberations were harmless. There was no attempt at a Kyoto II. Nothing said at Gleneagles will obstruct the development of a sensible energy policy.

There was one topic on which the politicians were silent. In former days, when the G8 was the G5 or even the G3, and the participants believed that they could manage currencies, there would have been a prolonged discussion about the world economy. The vital question would have been raised; how long can the American-Chinese economic symbiosis continue? At present, China finances the US's deficit, while US demand drives Chinese economic growth and the global economy. Can this last, or will America eventually face a fiscal crisis? If that were to happen, could it be resolved without a global recession?

There may have been one reason why the Gleneagles agenda did not include America's fiscal laxity. No one knows the answer. For some years, my Republican friends have assured me that America will grow its way out of the deficit. America is growing, but large deficits seem to stretch into the indefinite future. America has already rewritten the laws of economics; if they still applied, there would already have been a crisis. But are we merely dealing with a crisis postponed? If so, that is bad news for all of us, and especially for the Africans. If the only way to deal with the US deficit is a slump, they will slump hardest.

That is another reason for them to do everything possible to take their own economic destiny into their own hands.

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