MAZI Articles

CFSC Analysis and Opinion: Looking At The G8 Summit Through The Prism Of CFSC

James Deane, the Consortium's managing director-strategy, analyses the G8 Summit and predicts what to expect from the U.N. Millennium Summit. His conclusion: Logic dictates it's time for CFSC to become a higher priority.

The G8 summit of July 2005 is over, and, on September 6, the U.N. Millennium Summit will kick off in New York. Unfortunately, neither meeting truly recognises the role of communication in fighting poverty and injustice.

Never has a G8 summit been subject to the degree of media and public interest as this 2005 meeting. The thought of a meeting of the world's richest countries gathered in the glare of an intense spotlight as they focus explicitly and principally on the issue of African poverty would have been barely imaginable a few years ago.

Edinburgh, close to the venue of the Summit, saw the largest march in Scotland's history, with quarter of a million people waiting patiently for up to eight hours to wend their way through the crowded streets of the historic city. More than 2 billion watched the accompanying Live 8 concerts"”although the absence of African musicians or leaders hardly achieved the events' awareness-raising goal.

Not Just Another Summit

The G8 meeting was not supposed to be just another well-meaning junket to express concern about Africa's fate.

The tone and ambition of the meeting were clear in the report of Tony Blair's Commission for Africa Report. (See Mazi 3.) For those who for years had been campaigning and working on these issues in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, the hope offered by the report was to achieve something fundamental: transforming the discussion and treatment of Africa in the West from an issue of charity to an issue of justice, enabling the people of Africa to make their own case, to shape their own agenda and to forge their own future.

The principal achievements of the G8 meeting on Africa have been well publicised:

· On debt, 18 of the world's poorest countries will receive significantly more debt cancellation, and others may qualify soon. While this was a confirmation of an agreement made in June by G8 finance ministers, it was an important step forward.

· Aid to Africa will increase by $25 billion over the next few years, more than double the amount of aid to Africa in 2004. While NGOs claim that not all this is new money, most have acknowledged that it is a major increase.

As the conference chair, Tony Blair, acknowledged, much less progress was made on trade, arguably the most crucial issue. Trade becomes the central focus for NGO campaigning as international attention now moves to the U.N. Millennium Summit in September, and then on to the next meeting of the World Trade organization in December 2005.

Going Beyond the Foundations for Progress

However, cancelling debt, increasing aid and fundamentally reforming the terms of trade as well as developing important measures on such issues as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis"”in ways that would give African countries a real chance of prospering"”were foundations for progress.

But they were not the only issues at stake.

The real prize was loosening the bonds of control the West has exerted over Africa for so many years, and enabling African countries to take responsibility for the future of their continent. This was one of the central arguments of the Africa Commission. Some progress was made on this issue at the G8. The final communiqué did, for the first time, include an explicit statement that poor countries should be able to choose their own economic policies and should not have to liberalise their economies to be eligible for assistance.

The G8 statement said: "It is up to developing countries themselves and their governments to take the lead on development. They need to decide, plan and sequence their economic policies to fit with their own development strategies, for which they should be accountable to all their people."

Growing Focus on Governance

While attention now shifts to the U.N. Millennium Summit in September and to progress made toward meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals, development agencies are digesting the G8's outcomes.

One obvious implication is the increase in resources that will be available to them. A second is, at least as a possibility, the ever-growing focus on decision making by developing country governments and the allied concern of donors wanting to ensure that, if governments are not to be accountable for their development expenditures to donors, accountability to their citizens must be both real and sustained.

Many of the G8 government pronouncements suggest little in the way of a slackening of control and conditions for development assistance. It remains to be seen just how real a transfer of responsibility from donor to government actually will take place.

Yet, there is a growing trend toward investing development assistance in budget support to developing country governments, rather than in donor-defined projects. The trend is to develop good-governance programmes that can replace donor accountability with popular accountability.

Clearly, communication for development in general, and communication for social change programmes, principles and methodologies in particular, will see growing interest, relevance and application, as development agencies explore how the people with the most at stake in development can hold their government's actions accountable.

It is remarkable how communication that enables people to express and make their voices heard in the development processes is not already a high priority. And it's extraordinary how limited the focus currently being invested in such strategies by most development agencies.

This may be beginning to change"”and it certainly will change in the next months and years. Good-governance programmes, so long focused mainly on such issues as public management reform, government institutions, the rule of law and managerial competence, will increasingly focus on issues of participation. In the words of the Commission for Africa Report: "African participation is required broadly, from the project to the national or international level."

Focusing on Communication"”For Real Change

The role of communication for social change in enhancing and creating such participation is likely to be central.

This change will be a logical extension of the strategies that donor and development agencies are undertaking to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals. It is a logical consequence of the commitment they have made to invest in African and developing country leadership.

Such change will take time, however, because such a focus on communication is almost totally absent from the current mainstream debates on development. While issues of culture, participation, voice and communication were highlighted consistently throughout the Africa Commission report, they were almost entirely absent from the text of the G8 communiqué.

Similarly, in the report prepared for the U.N. Millennium Summit by Jeffrey Sachs and his colleagues, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the main strategic input for the summit on such issues as democracy and participation are, relatively speaking, only tokens.

Sachs sets out six types of capital that poor people must have to escape from extreme poverty. They are:

1) Human capital that ensures basic health

2) Business capital

3) Infrastructure, such as roads and water supply

4) Natural capital of healthy soils and environment

5) Public institutional capital of law and basic government services, and

6) Knowledge capital of technical understanding to keep it all in motion.

However, as Dr Anthony Barnett of Opendemocracy.net (www.opendemocracy.net) argues: what is missing from Sachs's list is the capital of democratic citizenship, the capacity--both cultural and institutional--to claim power and challenge both fatalism and corruption.

In most current development debates, including the Sachs report, there is much emphasis on listening to and promoting the "voices of the poor." And there is much increased investment in consulting with, and listening to, the poor people by development agencies.

But what continues to be ignored is the role of media and of communication in enabling the people with the most at stake in development outcomes to express their voice in the public arena.

As communication for social change practitioners, it is urgent that we convey the increasingly compelling arguments for a dramatic prioritisation of media and communication strategies in development. And development agencies must treat these arguments far more seriously.


Click here to return to MAZI 4