Speakers at the GCAP press conference held this morning lambasted the G8 for failing to keep its promises to ensure development progress on the African continent, with GCAP Co-Chair, Kumi Naidoo taking on the Canadian government for spending more on hosting for the G8/G20 ($1.4 billion) than it is providing for maternal health and child care ($1.1 billion).
Naidoo noted that five times as many Africans die each day from preventable causes than the number of people killed in the September 11 bombings in New York, yet this “passive genocide” goes unnoticed by G8 leaders. Naidoo was the key speaker at the press conference held to give international media representatives a clear understanding of the African perspective of the summits being held in Toronto this weekend. There was no doubt that Africans are tired of being the victims of the poor choices of the northern nations. Sonia Kwami of GCAP Africa noted that the resource rich continent could not be represented by South Africa as the only African delegate when the European Union had a permanent seat. This despite the fact that at least four EU members already hold seats at the G20. Kwami added that and that the meagre invitations to Malawi and Nigeria were not a sustainable means to ensure that Africans had a voice at the G20 table.
The invitation extended by the Canadian Government to the Presidency’s of the AU (Malawi) and NEPAD (Ethiopian) respectively to participate in “African Outreach” meetings with the leaders of the G8 is the result of pressure through the “At the Table” campaign led by civil society across Africa and the rest of the world. The formal G8 communiqué released yesterday essentially cut back on spending on development priorities for Africa and signalled the “whimpering end of the G8” according to Dennis Howlett of Make Poverty History Canada. Howlett echoed the sentiments of other speakers and added that he was “embarrassed as a Canadian” that his government had chosen to derail the Gleneagles Commitments at this summit.
The Canadian-led focus on child and maternal health has also meant that any progress on climate change has essentially been shoved off the agenda and Canada in particular will be let off the hook for the mining of the tar sands in Alberta. The tar sands mining project is the world’s single largest contributor to carbon emissions and pollution, along with using up $2 billion dollars of the Canadian national budget. The project has also displaced about 100 thousand indigenous people living in the remote province, turning their rivers toxic and creating even greater long term risks with tailing ponds so large that they are now visible from space. Tailing ponds are where the toxic waste from the refining process of the tar sands are stored and there are now clear reports that several of the larger ponds are now leaking their toxic waste into the surrounding ground water sources. Thus, in addition to displacing the climate change issues that will have the greatest negative impacts for poor people in Africa, Canada is spending almost twice as much subsiding private companies mining the tar sands as they have committed to child and maternal health.
The controversial arrangements for civil society representatives to be housed in an Alternative Media Centre also came in harsh criticism with Naidoo describing it as “media apartheid”. Most civil society representatives and media personnel are being housed in a separate area across the road from the formal Media Centre and they are not being allowed access to the main media centre. There are also limited facilities and an absurd charge of $1500 for use of a dedicated space to hold press conferences. The GCAP press conference was held in a small cordoned off area in the Alternative Media Centre after staff decided against paying the “exorbitant fee” according to Glenn Farred of GCAP. Howlett noted that this is the first time that such an arrangement has been made and added a hopeful note to Korean representatives that they would work to make sure this did not happen at the upcoming Seoul Summit in November.
Rajesh Latchman, Coordinator of the National Welfare Forum and Convener of GCAP-South Africa, is attending the G8/G20 civil society meetings as a guest of GCAP. He is housed at the Alternative Media Centre.