Letter from Scotland: The G8 Summit and Beyond

At the time of writing, and as I sit here in Scotland, not far from Gleneagles, I’m at a loss to explain, in consequential terms, the summit’s outcome. We will, no doubt, continue to hear of those solutions hatched out by the planet’s most powerful leaders in finite detail over the next few days and weeks ahead, and what they “really” mean for the world as a whole (indeed, the post-mortem has already begun). Yet a sense of deflation and confusion are, for many, the most overwhelming emotions attached to the 2005 G8 summit.

The terrorist attacks in London have done much to overshadow the Gleneagles conference. As England’s capital celebrated its victory over Paris in its bid to hold the Olympic Games in 2012, a plot to kill and disrupt was already underway. London, the political and economic powerbase of the United Kingdom was, according to security officials, a prime target for such an attack, and many people, especially those living in and around the city, were not surprised by its brutal arrival, nor by its deliberate targeting of the city’s transport system. After all, if New York, Washington and Madrid, among others, were subject to serious terrorist assaults, then London could not expect to slip permanently beneath the radar, no matter how productive and skilled its intelligence.

So, instead of discussing the results of the G8 summit, and its implications for Africa, Britain’s radios, televisions and newspapers are now filled with references to Al-Qaeda, Arabs, Muslims and, tied in with all those, terrorists. Driving home, for instance, I was listening to a BBC radio station, and heard a discussion that involved the supposed fear that many Londoners would now feel if they saw a man of Arab appearance carrying a bag in a subway train. This point made my heart sink. The optimism and hope regarding the G8 summit which had previously filled Britain’s airwaves had, though not without cause, reverted into fear, suspicion and scare mongering. What a difference a day makes, I thought.

The terror attacks aside, the 2005 Gleneagles meeting was unlike any other. For weeks, both pop stars and campaigners alike had promised that Scotland — a country described by Tony Blair as a place that has always looked well beyond its borders — was the location where history would be made. From what I can make out, the jury is still out on that bold declaration.

Bob Geldof, a former singer with the Boomtown Rats, and now a self-proclaimed campaigner of extreme influence (he had previously masterminded Live Aid for Africa in 1985) was in his element as he organized the Live 8 concerts. Shouting and literally bawling about the need for the world to stand up and take notice of Africa’s decline, he is said to be relatively happy about the outcome of the summit. Others, however, are not so pleased, and are said to be disappointed by Geldof’s close ties to Tony Blair, which, some say, have clouded his judgment.

Peter Hardstaff, head of policy for the World Development Movement, accused Geldof of selling out to the leaders.

“By offering such unwarranted praise for the dismal deal,” he told the Glasgow Herald, “he has done a disservice to the hundreds and thousands of people who marched in Edinburgh at the weekend. Geldof has become too close to the decision makers to take an objective view of what has been achieved.”

Geldof, for my part, is a curious figure. Though I’m in no way disputing his dedication to the cause for a peaceful and prosperous Africa, nor his political influence in achieving such an aim, his pre-G8 comments seemed to take on a slight air of irrationality. For instance, Geldof spoke passionately about the Italian island of Lampedusa where, he said, “thousands” of dead Africans — men, women and children fleeing poverty in makeshift boats – had washed up on the beaches. The mayor of this tiny island, said Geldof, had nowhere to bury these poverty stricken people, and the problem was swiftly turning into a disaster. Not so, said the island’s mayor. The most recent case in May 2005 had involved only two dead African immigrants, and they were sent to Favara (in Sicily) on two hearses on board a ferry.

Geldof aside, Gleneagles has certainly been put on the political map. There is, however, a fly in the ointment. This pertains to the people who sat around the table in Gleneagles; those very same people who claim to care deeply about peace and human rights.

According to a report from the Control Arms Campaign, these giants of global politics are responsible for more than 80% of the world’s arms exports. For instance, France’s exports of munitions to countries subject to EU arms embargoes, such as Sudan, Russia’s sale of heavy weapons to states whose armed forces have committed abuses, such as Uganda, and the UK’s licensed arms exports to Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Israel and Indonesia — states also condemned for serious human rights abuses — all express one undeniable fact: any progress made in this year’s G8 summit could be undermined by a trade which has killed, injured and threatened millions.

Alasdair Soussi is a freelance journalist from Scotland.