||Just as there are two opposing views regarding sources of Africa’s poverty – one top-down, paternalistic and co-optive, the other bottom-up, movement-oriented and radical – there are two parallel views of how to fight poverty, and these have come into sharp contrast even within ‘civil society’. In this paper, we contrast the mainstream efforts - the ‘Global Call to Action Against Poverty’ (GCAP), Make Poverty History and Live8 campaigning so evident at the Gleneagles G8 events of mid-2005 – with more radical grassroots initiatives.
No matter their occasional internecine disputes, the mainstream civil society efforts all suffered from the direction of their gaze - to the powerful - and from their simultaneous diminution of the organic anti-poverty, pro-justice struggles that will genuinely make history. The problem is simple: that gaze to the powerful takes for granted that the G8, the WTO, Bretton Woods Institutions and Third World state elites are the solution, not the main part of the problem. The radical groups do not suffer from such delusion, but have their own internal crises to overcome.
We start with the critique of NGO efforts, especially concern that the Millennium Development Goals may continue to remain a distraction for progressive campaigners, North and South. We then focus on, instead, an alternative set of social struggles based on a critique of corporate and financial power, and potentially some accompanying economic policy shifts.
As was reported, the credibility of Bob Geldof’s Live8 consciousness-raising concert was questioned when, with a three-million record sales minimum requirement, only one act in the originally scheduled line-up (Youssou N’Dour) turned out to be from Africa. At the same time, Make Poverty History was unveiled in the British press as a front for Gordon Brown’s office via the Oxfam/Treasury/World Bank revolving door.2 At the end of 2005, writers like Stuart Hodkinson, Noreena Hertz and Maxine Frith analyzed the fatal flaws of Make Poverty History. According to Frith, the problem was that celebrities ‘hijacked’ the campaign.3 For Hertz, ‘We achieved next to nothing’ because ‘the campaign’s design allowed it to accept inappropriate markers for success that were never real proxies for justice, empowerment or accountability. And also because its demands were never in fact audacious enough.’4 Hodkinson was even more critical:
By being too dependent on lobbying, celebrities and the media, by failing to give ownership of the campaign to southern hemisphere social movements, by watering down the demands agreed by grassroots movements at the World Social Forum, and by legitimizing the G8 summit, the campaign was doomed from the start. Ten out of 10 on aid, eight out of 10 on debt? More like G8, Africa nil.5
South African leftists amplified these concerns, based on flaws in the Johannesburg-based GCAP, known primarily for advocating white headband fashion.6 Tellingly, the group’s first newsletter, issued on June 14, 2005, was a 3600-word report-back on campaigning across the world, but ignored organic anti-poverty activism in the Global South (labour strikes, popular mobilizations for AIDS-treatment and other health services, reconnections of water/electricity, land and housing occupations, anti-GMO and pro-food security campaigns, women’s organizing, municipal budget campaigns, student and youth movements, community resistance to displacements caused by dam construction and the like, anti-debt and reparations movements, environmental justice struggles, immigrants’ rights campaigns, political movements to take state power, etc.). Two decades of unrest went unnoticed: 1980s-90s IMF Riots, high-profile indigenous people’s protests since Zapatismo in 1994, global justice activism since Seattle in 1999, the Social Forum movement since 2001, anti-war demos since 2001, autonomist protests and the Latin American left’s revival. Instead, GCAP and similar efforts dedicated their efforts to UN Millennium Development Goals advocacy.