• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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BusinessDay

G8 living dead?

Our biggest takeaway from G-20 summit, why it matters to Nigeria

Phillip Isakpa

This column has conspicuously stayed away from the subject of international diplomacy on Africa, since treating the subject two weeks in a row, at the time of the G20 in London at the beginning of April. This is in part because the layers of hypocrisy surrounding the subject tend to become oppressive, but also because one knew, not without foreboding, that the subject would inevitably come up again at the time of the G8 Summit in Italy this month. I wrote in April, quoting Lord Owen, that the G8 is bankrupt, in view of the ascendancy of the more balanced and representative G20 summits. With a measure of temerity, I suggested that the G8 was joining the ranks of the international living dead, without any illusion that anyone would seriously think of abolishing it. Lord Owen said that only the Americans had the clout to call off the party, and despite the frivolities of Signor Berlusconi, no-one was going to risk offending the Italians in that way.

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So it has proved, although, with cynical subtlety, the Italian Prime Minister decided four weeks before the Summit to change the venue from the plush resort island of La Maddalena in Sardinia (where several hundred million Euro had already been spent on up-grading the surroundings) to the more austere setting of L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region which had been hit by an earthquake earlier in the year. Although there was apparently still a slight risk of earthquakes in the area, which triggered contingency plans for evacuation (astonishing, but this was the throw of a gambler), the venue of the Yellow Flame Police Academy, refurbished to accommodate heads of state, as well as conference facilities, had more security advantages. Not only did it make the Summit, in the words of Berlusconi more solemn and serious, but was intended to discourage anti-globalisation demonstrators who might have felt it to be bad taste to show up in L’Aquila. The chaos was reportedly considerable, but everything happened more or less as intended, and it was, according to commentators, a respite for Berlusconi from the recent barrage of sex scandals. But it still had the air of being yet another exercise in smoke and mirrors.
In fact, the presence of US President Barack Obama gave this meeting more credibility than it otherwise might have had, especially as he used the occasion to commit the US to significant concessions on climate exchange. Even if these do not meet all the current pressures, they still represent a significant move away from the obscurantism of George W Bush. Otherwise the Summit produced the expected notional commitment to global free trade via the Doha round (by next year, we are told), but matters on which there was disagreement, such as Iran, were swept under the carpet.
There was also the question of aid to Africa, which is an old perennial at such summits, whatever their dimension. Where it had been treated somewhat peremptorily at the G20 in April, with the nebulous NEPAD (represented by its Chair Meles Zenawi) speaking for Africa, in L’Aquila there were eight African presidents as guests for a one-day discussion of the subject, accompanied by a civil society chorus of complaints at G8 members non-performance. All that this led to was a little knuckle-rapping for those who had fallen short of pledges made at past summits (notably Berlusconi himself whose delivery was so far only 3 per cent of the pledges of Gleneagles in 2005) as well as a new pledge for $20bn for food security. It seems that all summits have to come up with a fat pledge in order to make an impact, but few of the Africans knew what it would mean for them even though such a move had been trumpeted in advance.
But the problems of attendance still preoccupy. At least the Chair of the African Union (AU) Muammar Gaddafy, tents and all, was able to be there as of right where he had been conspicuously absent from the G20 in London, and one noted that he was able to have a meeting with Gordon Brown. The absurdity of the issue of who gets a place at the table was seen in the demeaning way in which both Presidents Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and Umaru Yar’Adua of Nigeria had to lobby to get a place. There is something basically false here, and the new global reality was pin-pointed very simply by Brazilian President Lula da Silva, when he told the French daily Le Monde that G8 no longer has any raison d’être to discuss matters of economic substance. It is no longer possible to invite us for coffee and a photo. This represents what a lot of other people have been thinking. The focus is now going to be on the much more serious meeting of the G20 in New York in September and the big UN sponsored Summit on Climate change in Copenhagen in December.