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Nuclear Free Scotland Ocotober 2005


The United Nations Human Development Index includes a league table of the world’s nations listed from 1 to 177 according to how each scores against specified criteria – average life expectancy, average income, adult literacy rate etc.

Norway is the current league leader, ahead of the United States (10th) and the United Kingdom (15th). Indeed the top 20 countries (with the exception of Japan) are all either from North America or Europe – the rich countries of the North/South divide that still disfigures our planet.

Of course, the opposite end of the Human Development league table tells a very different story. There, all but one of the bottom 30 countries comes from Africa. The continent blessed with an abun

dance of gems, metals, minerals and other natural resources remains, at the start of the 21st century, home to the poorest nations on earth.

Why this remains the case can, at least in part, be understood if we consider 3 of the African countries trapped at the foot of the table – Angola (160th), the Democratic republic of the Congo (167th) and Sierra Leone (176th). All three of them have had recent and terrible experiences of war.

Angola endured a 27 year long civil war in which 500,000 died and hundreds of thousands of others were displaced. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) went through what has been described as “Africa’s worst war”, a conflict that claimed the lives of 3.5 million people. Sierra Leone’ civil war lasted 10 years, killed 75,000 and displaced 2 million more.

The link between war and poverty seems clear enough. But have these countries experienced war because they are poor? Or are they poor because they have experienced war? There can be only one answer.

All three of these countries are rich in natural resources – Sierra

Leone (diamonds), DRC (diamonds, coltan and other minerals), Angola (diamonds and oil). Under nationalist, democratic and accountable leadership, there is little doubt that all three countries would have prospered and would have shot up the Human Development league table.

But democratic and nationally accountable government is precisely what has been denied to all 3 countries as local and corrupt elites have been supported, in brutal civil wars that have looted their natural resources, by a mix of global corporations, arms dealers and venal northern governments.

The Belgian/CIA plot that murdered Patrice Lumumba the Congolese nationalist leader in 1961 and replaced him with the dictator Mobutu proved to be all too typical of the way rich northern governments have fought resource wars by proxy across the continent to ensure that Africa’s wealth was exploited not for Africans but for the profit of northern multinationals.

Of course, 2005 is the year when the rich governments of the north had the opportunity to make amends and to make poverty history, especially in Africa.

Yet the deals done at the G8 in Gleneagles and the UN summit in New York, while going farther than any previous summits had done, came nowhere near to making the changes that might have begun to repair the centuries long rape of Africa by Western powers.

The much vaunted additional $48 billion in aid turned out to be mostly old money already committed in aid budgets. Even if this was delivered by 2010 as promised, it would still have left the G8 countries spending just 0.36% of their wealth in aid (the same amount as they were spending back in 1987 and well short of the 0.7% they promised the UN in 1970). The debt deal for the poorest 18 African countries left out many heavily indebted poor countries and attached many harmful conditions to those countries let in. Issues touching on trade justice were ignored completely.

Meanwhile, the biggest arms bazaar in Europe, Defence Systems Equipment International, hosted every two years by the UK government, attracted more than 1100 arms companies and 70 military delegations to London’s Docklands in the very week of the UN summit. Business as usual for the dealers in death as the UK arms industry sold weapons that actually cause mass destruction to 120 different countries, some of them among the poorest countries on the planet.

Africa’s suffering continues. Poverty persists. And it always will while the rich exploit the poor, fuel wars and feed the arms industry.
John McAllion


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