Leading article: Converting people power into political action


It was a performance that more than lived up to its billing. Bob Geldof's Live8 extravaganza created a truly global spectacle. Some two billion people are estimated to have tuned in from around the world. And the event has sent a clear message to the leaders of the richest nations, who convene this week for the G8 summit in Scotland: the citizens of the developed world expect urgent action to alleviate the crushing poverty of the African continent.

The question now is: what next? How can this unprecedented display of people power be converted into political action? Mr Geldof is right to argue that a heavy burden of responsibility lies on the shoulders of those eight leaders who will sit around a table in Gleneagles this week. The leaders of the rich world have the potential to improve vastly the quality of life of millions of Africans. Eradicating the suffocating debts of the world's poorest nations is the least that can be expected. African governments are weighed down by £170bn of debt, most incurred under previous, corrupt regimes. A debt relief deal has been agreed upon already by the G8 finance ministers. But there is scope to go further this week. The G8 leaders should commit themselves to a much more comprehensive write-off.

Then there is the vexed topic of aid. The European Union has agreed to double its overseas aid budget, but the United States remains much more cautious. There is a legitimate question as to whether aid - direct payments from rich nations to poor African governments - is actually the best way to proceed. And there is compelling evidence that some aid money simply ends up in the Western bank accounts of corrupt African leaders. But it is also true that without some injection of foreign capital, many African nations will never be able to make even the most basic steps forward. They need money to prevent their people dying of killers such as Aids and malaria. They need funds to build roads and to educate their children.

What is more, the developed world is often simply looking for excuses not to live up to its responsibilities regarding aid. Now is the time to make it abundantly clear to President George Bush that America, in particular, can afford to contribute much more and that it has a moral duty to do so.

Yet Africa's poverty will never be eradicated by direct intervention from the rich nations of the world. Debt relief and aid are necessary, but they are only a part of the solution. The real key to "making poverty history" lies in enabling Africa to fulfil its enormous potential. The most practical thing that the rich nations of the world can do is permit Africa to trade with the rest of the world on an equal basis. Africa's economy is largely agricultural. It will never achieve sustained economic growth unless the rich world eliminates the payments and export subsidies it gives to its own farmers. The G8 must commit itself to tackling such iniquities as the European Common Agricultural Policy and the US Farm Bill. It has been suggested that the G8 is likely to put off any sensitive discussions on trade until December. But whatever happens, this issue must not be permitted to slip off the agenda. The key to allowing Africa to help itself is global free trade.

Thanks to Saturday's concerts, the call for change now has an unprecedented global and democratic mandate. But it would be fatal to assume that, because of the degree of media coverage in Britain and other rich countries, the job is done - far from it. It is worth noting that in Africa itself these concerts barely made an impression. The priority for everyone who took part in and supported Live8 is now to ensure that change is delivered. All eyes turn to Gleneagles.

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