Starting to make poverty history?

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EU commision Press Conference on "Buildin...
Bob Geldof: Do they know its Christmas?

What few people, including Bob Geldof, saw coming was the global financial crisis. As we draw close to the end of 2010, I was looking back on what people had to say about poverty in Africa in 2005. Bob Geldof for example, the aclaimed organiser of Live Aid and Live 8, who at the end of 2005 wrote for The Economist on how he “sees signs of progress in Africa” projecting a vision of the world from 2006 and beyond.

Bob Geldof is something of a paradox: once punk-rocker, and now elder-statesman of rock-royalty. We should celebrate people having the ability to change. If change wasn’t possible, it would be thoroughly depressing…just imagine what this would mean about Africa’s future and the burden the world would forever need to carry.

The key source of hope in Geldof’s article rested on the flurry of activity that came out of 2005 with promises of change. These included Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, Band Aid 20, Live 8, Make Poverty History and the jewel in the crown: the Gleneagles G8 Summit.

His caution seemed almost unnecessary, but now reads prophetic:

We must worry that the G8 governments, especially the Germans and Italians, do not backslide on their promises. So much also depends on the willingness of African governments to use the new resources effectively. It is a matter of urgency that both of these contingencies are monitored and reported on.

Despite its earlier rhetoric, the G8 (“Group of Eight” major economies) has fallen short of its pledges made at Gleneagles in 2005 to increase the quality and quantity of their aid and “keeps failing the tests it [the G8] sets itself” as was observed in September 2010 by Jeffrey Sachs and Steve Killelea in a report titled Holding G8 Accountability to Account. Just over 40% of the US$25 billion promised to Africa has been met. To put that into perspective, more money was spent on stimulus packages to ailing banks in the US during the 2007-2010 global financial crisis than has been delivered in aid to Africa across history.

The United Nations has unique convening power but has been seen many times over the last 60 years as unable to enforce commitments. Will the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) present a similar disappointment to the outcome of the 2009 Copenhagen United Nations Climate Change Conference? What will happen in 2016 if the 2015 time horizon for the MDG is failed to be achieved?

As 2010 draws to a close, how ought we to respond? Are the challenges insurmountable? Impossible? We need more than just hope to be able to report in 2015 that we are “starting to make poverty history”.

 

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