In 2005 when the UK was presiding the G8 meeting, aid and international development was the main agenda. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister of that time, was determined to ‘end’ poverty in Africa. Prior to the G8, Tony Blair had established the Commission for Africa composed of prominent African and international leaders. The Commission produced a report with recommendations. The aim of the Commission and the report was ‘to take a fresh look at Africa’s past and present and the international community’s role in its development path’. Noteworthy is that Tony Blair established the Commission so as to cease opportunities of UK’s double chairmanship of the EU and G8 in the same year. He had argued that:
‘The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it… And if we don’t, it will become deeper and angrier.’
Thus, from the above statement we can conclude the motive to promote aid and development in Africa and make it the main agenda in the G8 was, arguably, for security reasons. In addition to the Commission for Africa Report, there were unprecedented activism and campaigning on international development. The Make Poverty History Campaign was at its peak and its impact was evident in the G8 communiqué. As a result poverty reduction became the main agenda for the G8 meeting. The great powers could not resist the power of strong lobbying and activism that preceded the G8 meetings.
Moreover, looking backwards, aid and development had been the main agenda of G7/G8 meetings whenever the UK was chairing. This is well captured by Larionova and Rakhmanglov analysis of the G8 and G20 meetings and development agenda. They observed that ‘the highest share of development commitments in theG7/G8 was registered during the presidencies of the UK (1997, 1984, 1998). So what happened in 2005 was not unprecedented.
So it’s now 2013 and the UK chairs G8 again. The agenda is revolving around reforming tax system to ensure tax transparency and to tackle issues of tax evasion and avoidance. The goal is to have transparency in taxes. The belief, at least for developing nations, is that tax transparency will steer development.
Although am not very optimistic of the results, I am glad that the agenda is moving beyond aid. Aid is only a small fraction of what Africa is loosing through tax avoidance and evasion. If we want Africa to develop, we need to cut off the centuries long veins through which Africa’s resources keep flying away from the continent to benefit others. We don’t need aid. We need to engage in real debates and strategies that will put Africa in the table that everyone is equal. Development is not about charity. It is about business and strategic exchanges.