On the contrary, writes Britain’s former International Development Secretary. The group is determined to make a difference by promoting investment, reform and accountability – with this year’s host country leading the way
Written by Andrew Mitchell
Britain does G8s well. This is partly because of a certain restlessness felt by British prime ministers with summits, which too often boil down to photo opportunities for world leaders and their spouses. This restlessness is shared by Prime Minister David Cameron in his desire to ensure that Britain’s G8 sees concrete outcomes and worthwhile results. Tony Blair’s efforts at the 2005 G8 at Gleneagles had the same aim and have indeed made a difference to the lives of the most wretched and marginalized, particularly in Africa.
British leadership this year in international development, with its emphasis on results, resolving conflict and promoting economic growth, and the prime minister’s co-chairing of the High Level Panel on what comes after the Millennium Development Goals from 2015, as well as the country’s delivering on its promise to the world’s poorest and meeting our commitment to the United Nations’ historic target that advanced countries should spend 0.7 percent of their gross national income on aid, has shown courage of a high order at a time of economic constraint and difficulty in the UK.
So what should we expect from this year’s summit? The cloud hanging over the meeting will be the recent horrific events in Syria, where after two years horrendous conditions and political stalemate have led to countless deaths and untold misery. There are sharp differences within the group about how to proceed, but this is an international problem, which could lend itself to G8 diplomacy, if it can rise to the occasion.
At the top of Britain’s agenda, however, is our determination to make a real difference to the appalling sexual violence that disfigures the lives of so many women in poor countries. We want to address comprehensively the culture of impunity for these crimes committed in conflict. I have never forgotten my visit last year to Ntoto near Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There I met a community leader whose frustration and anger boiled over as she vividly described the failure of the government, the international community and the forces of law and order to defend women and children from the outrageous attacks perpetrated against them by armed groups and warlords.
Assistance And Accountability
Sexual violence in war is endemic and it affects large numbers of women, girls, men and boys. Quite apart from the physical and psychological trauma it inflicts, it exacerbates divisions and invigorates conflict. In April last year in Washington ministers agreed that the G8 has a key role to play in tackling this and implementing the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
We need to press hard for accountability, not least by strengthening the international legal mechanisms that secure prosecution and assisting longer term investment in stopping conflicts starting and reconciling previous warring groups, while supporting survivors as part of broader humanitarian and development efforts.
Britain has taken a lead in supporting the much vaunted reforms in Burma. Many of us hardly dared to believe that such progress could happen in our lifetime. The new climate offers the international community an excellent opportunity for economic investment and trade; there is no better way to lift living standards.
In Somalia signs of improvement, after 20 years of chaos and numerous failed initiatives in what has been one of the most dysfunctional countries in the world, have begun to appear. A new process built on four key principles started tentatively last year, following the well-timed summit at Lancaster House in London hosted by the British government but embracing all the different and complex relationships inside Somalia, the regional powers and the United Nations Security Council.
A top-down constitutional process was accompanied, crucially, by a bottom-up structure for support, built around a bargain: international financial support in return for credible local accountability. An initiative promoted probity in the management of public finances. And finally there was a real effort to help AMISON – the African Union Mission in Somalia – with strong support from Uganda, Burundi and Kenya, and greater co-ordination with Ethiopia and its late prime minister, Meles Zenawi, to whose constructive efforts a debt is owed.
The G8 should give strong support to this process, showing firm partnership between the new leadership in Somalia and the international community. It marks an opportunity to transform the lives of ordinary Somalis and frustrate a source of international terrorism and instability.
Further progress can lead to the re-engagement of international financial institutions, including the World Bank, the IMF, and especially the African Development Bank under its charismatic president, Donald Kaberuka. The institutional and economic support as well as the expertise of these powerful bodies will be needed to implement reform and rebuild the economy – essential to the ending of one of Africa’s most intractable problems.
Elsewhere, the Deauville Partnership set up previously by the G8 to support the countries of the Arab Spring needs to fulfil its initial promises. Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have already seen their first free and fair elections for a generation. The original G8 agreement embraced six countries – Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. Progress, thanks to the efforts of the Gulf Co-operation Council, is now underway in Yemen. We need to see political and inclusive economic reform and respect for human rights consolidated.
The G8 should unremittingly support progress on trade, increased access to capital and the recovery of stolen assets. We need to see new relationships between G8 countries, regional partners and states in transition.
A signal of strong support for the growth of small and medium enterprises is essential. Having a job is the best way to tackle poverty – and particularly important where a country’s population is overwhelmingly young.
The G8 can also champion and encourage the participation of women in business and the economy.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, now led by the highly experienced Sir Suma Chakrabarti in London, has a key role to play as it extends its geographical coverage and the range of its investment programs. The G8-Broader Middle East and North Africa partnership for progress and a common future, which is co-chaired by the UK and Egypt, should support the growth of independent civil society and recognize the need to respond to the legitimate aspirations of citizens whose expectations have rightly been lifted by recent events.
There are many other candidates for Britain’s G8 to tackle, but progress will depend on manageable aspirations with clearly charted results. Securing for all nations, whether developed or developing, the huge economic and innovation benefits of the internet depends on security and trust in services and networks. Working together, we need to boost efforts to promote this and ensure that cyber security standards improve across the globe.
When the G8 is over, a cynical public in many parts of the world will want to see concrete achievements and justification for hope. Addressing these issues head on will provide at least some reassurance as people reach their own conclusions.
The Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP is a former British Secretary of State for International Development and a Governor of the World Bank. Previously a Director of Lazard and Senior Advisor to Accenture, he served in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force prior to becoming a Member of the British Parliament.
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