Myself, Bob and the ONE team met with Japanese PM Aso on his ten-hour flying visit to NYC to discuss manga comics. Well yes and no. We did discuss manga as the PM is an enthusiast. Bob modestly explained that we were like manga superheroes, and then there was a fight about who was Batman and who was Robin. Or more like Mutt and Jeff. Though New York is more like Gotham City than ever, with Wall Street turning into a dark alley in the last week, Gotham’s streets don’t seem so golden.
PM Aso was quick on his feet, not even spending one night here as he had to return to address the Diet after just a few days in power to make his first big policy address. We discussed how the Japanese led briefly in the early 1990s on aid, in volume terms, and indeed the greatest success stories in development are in Southeast Asia, formerly recipients of Japanese aid and their model of development. We hope that Japan will focus more and more on the continent of Africa, driving some healthy competition with the Chinese, perhaps.
Extreme poverty moved to the center of the debate at the UN yesterday. The momentum from meeting to meeting was palpable. These weren’t stuffy affairs; the rooms were stuffed with activists – activists from the corporate boardroom as much as the college classroom. Activists on the inside as well as the outside. Fighting extreme poverty is being redescribed here not as a burden, a legacy of the past, but as an exciting opportunity, a way to shape the future and build new bridges. People are learning how to communicate and celebrate success and use the stories of lives saved and children educated as the way to accelerate more progress. With talent like Richard Curtis and Simon Fuller (American Idol) hanging out with people like Rear Admiral Ziemer and Bill Gates, you know something interesting is happening. Even amidst talk of a meltdown, there’s talk of the millennium development goals…how we can achieve them, removing the obstacles, taking excuses out of the room and backing slogans with plans. Education for all, malaria no more. These issues can be dismissed – no more.
No finer proof of that than last night, at a small private dinner hosted by the Mayor of Gotham, Mike Bloomberg, in honor of Gordon Brown. Private sector leaders were there to hear his call to action against poverty. The PM was funny, brilliant and most importantly, persuasive. By encouraging these meetings to happen the last few days, Brown has helped reinject momentum into the millennium goals, and they are duly revived, following a booster shot in the arm when spirits could have been flagging.
There’s more than enough material with which to make the case. This week we’ve been reminded how world leaders got together in 2000, and again in 2005, and because of that there are millions more children in school, millions more people living with AIDS who still are living, and thousands – soon to be millions – fewer children succumbing to malaria. And more. As I mentioned earlier in the week, there are 18 non-oil economies in Africa which have grown now at 5.5% for a decade, countries which on average have seen a 66% increase in aid, most are democracies and most have received full debt cancellation. With statistics like these it proves it’s still time to aid Africa. But it also proves it’s time to invest in Africa. Any remaining capital out there couldn’t find a better long-term bet than the African subcontinent, that’s my tip for the week.
It’s undeniable, there simply has been fantastic success and it’s a crime these breakthroughs against poverty aren’t better known. Can all of you out there in the blogosphere please focus on these statistics of success and help me understand why they aren’t better known? (We’ve an ad up on the ONE.org site which Bill Gates and I introduced at a Millennium Goal rally the other night, which explores some of these statistics in snappy style if you want them delivered in more entertaining a form.) If there’s one thing that this week must start to change it is this storyline; that Africa is a hopeless case. In fact, even in troubling times, it is a very hopeful place.
Take Libera, whose president I met on Wednesday. So recently wracked by war, this nation now has Africa first female leader. She has doubled school enrollment, and immunized 85% of the kids just in the lst few years. The people are starting to see a peace dividend. That’s a very hopeful story. But they need to see more and we need them to see President Johnson Sirleaf deliver for her people. And here’s where the FT comes in. A year back these pages carried a story about the “IMF-ing outrage” of the time, the slow progress of debt cancellation for Liberia. I’m pleased to say that following the FT coverage, a debt deal got largely cobbled together. But there’s one outstanding piece; $1.7bn of private commercial debt, old loans from the 70s, which through the magic of compound interest has morphed into a mountain. Hopefully a donor-funded debt buy-back deal can be agreed soon, and the hedge funds which have bought the debts won’t behave like vulture funds. But let’s be clear. If vultures are eyeing Liberia’s predicament, circling with intent, let’s let them know we re watching them, with intent. And let’s learn from this. As global policymakers are rewriting the financial rules over the coming days and weeks and months, let’s encourage them to ensure a fairer and more transparent system for dealing with such debts going forward. Funny how the commentators who railed against moral hazard when we campaigned to drop the debt, are a little less vocal at the moment. And Liberia’s case proves the bigger point. Africa may be aid dependent, but it wont be forever, we just need to do the right things now, with the right leaders, and they will absolutely drive their economic growth and poverty reduction, a la southeast Asia.
A big day and a big week to big up the Millennium Development Goals. Now this momentum must move on. Swelling towards the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank next month in DC, then rolling on through the drama of the US elections towards the opportunity of the Doha financing for development summit at the end of November. This is a great moment for the Gulf states, who have been well represented here, to step up and lead the world on financing for development. They are not there yet, though Qatar’s move towards 0.7 is significant. The Emir of Qatar has some great great plans, and I hear so do the Abu Dhabians, and “Dubai cares” too, and the Saudis stepped up with $500m towards education… watch this space. One intriguing undercurrent is the possibilities of carbon financing for development. There will be side meetings at the Annual IFI meetings about this, and Doha coincides with the Posnan meetings on climate change, debating a post-Kyoto deal. Justice would suggest that whatever grand bargain is struck on carbon globally, the backbone of any deal must help redress the wrongs inflicted on the most marginalized and first and worst impacted by climate change – mainly in Africa.
So the week capitalism went up on trial has provided some interesting speeches from the dock. The one no one was expecting was how we can put our technological prowess and innovation to the service of the poorest and most vulnerable peoples, building new allies through a sense of fairness and, yes, “new customers” and trading partners. And therein lies a clue for how this globalisation can work for the many rather than the few.
To borrow a term of one of my mentors and tormentors, Bill Gates, if ever there was a time for “creative capitalism” it is now.
Thanks for reading. I’ve enjoyed the week at the service of the FT. The next time I enter the blogosphere it will be about music… far more appropriate for a rockstar. It’s time to shut up and sing, but it was rock and roll that taught me the world was more malleable than anyone knew, that it could be shaped by kicks and caresses, but better by reason. What I didn’t know was that numbers can be more important than words.
P.S. keeping an eye on my blackberry for news of the French aid budget.