Bombing Backdrop: The G8 Summit

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The G8 gathering in Scotland, featuring George Bush crashing his bicycle and Tony Blair strutting back and forth as the new kingmaker of Europe, provided the symbolic background for today’s terrorist bombings in London. The conference permits the assembled heads of African states to come forward, hat in hand, to thank their benefactors and ask for more, in the form of debt forgiveness. All in all, the summit is one of the more ludicrous meetings of rich and poor in recent times.

It was made only more so by Bob Geldof’s Live 8 concerts, in which the world’s music stars lent their names to the African cause. They managed to create the impression the rest of the world cared about Africa, when in fact, it does not.

Thus the G8 summit affords the terrorists a moment in which to take advantage of a division between rich and poor. But let's not make the mistake of casting them as Robin Hoods ready to rescue an oppressed continent. There is nothing that ever has come out of al Qaeda that would suggest any genuine interest in the plight of Africa.

The bottom line at the summit, especially, has been business as usual. Bush, always thinking of the business supporters who financed his campaign, pledged himself once again to oppose steps to reduce global warming. “I walked away from Kyoto because it would have damaged the American economy, it would have destroyed the American economy, it was a lousy deal for the American economy,” Bush told British TV before the G8 opened. “If you're trying to make me say I support Kyoto, the answer is no.”

Bush joined Blair in promising an increase in the developed world’s charity to Africa through something called the Millennium Challenge Account—but that agency behind it hasn’t spent much money so far . The British want total debt relief and the establishment of a financing facility to pay for education and medicines in Africa, but Bush is against the idea. “It doesn't fit our budgetary process,” he said.

Casting the image of someone who cares for sick and starving people in Africa doubtless plays to the president’s evangelical following—a movement that offers charity as a lure in the search for converts.

From the developed world’s point of view, there are growing problems in Africa. First and foremost is the issue of energy. Middle Eastern oil supplies have begun to decline, meaning the U.S., if it is not going to dramatically back alternative fuels, must hustle about scrounging oil and gas wherever it can be had. There are substantial new supplies of oil and gas along the west African coast in the Gulf of Guinea. Many of these countries here are former French colonies. The U.S. is now replacing the French and plans to set up a sizeable military base in the area.

The economies of African nations remain fixed in time, never seeming to move beyond 19th century colonial status. Africa is immensely rich in natural resources, which for hundreds of years have been exploited by the industrialized nations of the West. Nothing changes here. American companies dominate bauxite production in Guinea. DeBeers, of South Africa, still runs the diamond business. Gold and silver and platinum are the province of British-U.S. mining combines. Cobalt for jet engines comes from Zambia; chrome for stainless steel from South Africa and Kinshasa. Cocoa for chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Tea is grown in Ghana and Nigeria and Zaire. Three countries—Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi—depend on coffee for more than three quarters of all their exports. There is a developing market for cut flowers grown in Zimbabwe and Kenya and shipped by air overnight to supermarkets in New York and elsewhere. This reliance on the export of low-priced raw commodities in Africa by cheap (and sometimes slave) labor never changes. Today it is reinforced by the policies of the IMF and World Bank which, if anything, push for more exports at the expense of developing national economies.

It is this situation that al Qaeda and allied groups, whose members have tried to take credit for today’s attack, seek to exploit.

Additional reporting: Natalie Wittlin and Halley Bondy

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