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John Roughan: Make Poverty History!

Make Poverty History!

By John Roughan
4 July 2005

On stages across the world on Sunday last a fierce campaign was waged to end African poverty. 10 live concerts from Japan through US, Canada, South Africa, Europe and ending up in London held musical specials underlining the idea to 'make poverty history'. Although African poverty-stricken nations were its focus, the whole world is now set thinking and speaking out about putting extreme poverty out of business.

But these concerts--Band-8--weren't about collecting money. They were Civil Society's way of grabbing the world's most powerful politician's attention to do something practical about destroying poverty. Eight of the world's most important nations are scheduled to hold a meeting this week. The G-8 Summit as it is called, to be held in Scotland, gave Band-8 a way to make sure that the world's most powerful and richest countries do something special about the terrible poverty that grips Africa's poorest.

Normally G-8 Summits, held yearly within a developed country, usually talk about political, economic and peace issues around the world but especially in their own countries. This year, however, the G-8 agenda is being directed more by musicians, pop stars and singers to do something real about ending African people's dire poverty.

However, as Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa rightly said: the movement to destroy extreme poverty is about justice, not charity. It's morally intolerable that some flaunt their wealth while 5 million children go to bed hungry each night. It's unjust that in the one planet we all live on has a billion with more than enough to live on while 3 billion barely squeeze by. Enough is enough! Band-8 pleads with the world's most powerful leaders to do something practical and quickly about this situation that calls to heaven for justice.

The plan speaks of three ways to help the poorest of the poor. Poor people don't need handouts just a fair go. A cow in the European Union, for instance, gets hundreds of dollars assistance yearly while African women and children in their thousands live on next to nothing. If agriculture monies given to European, US and Japanese farmers were taken away then African farmers' produce could fairly compete on the market. Local poverty levels would fall greatly.

The second way to reduce these people's poverty is to cancel the billions of dollars of unpayable debt owed to rich countries. Over the years, corrupt leaders of these poor countries borrowed millions of dollars saying they needed the money to build schools, clinics, roads, wharfs, etc. In reality, they pocketed these millions but now the poor have to repay their corrupt leaders' loans. Rather than building things for their people these thieves stuffed millions into their overseas bank accounts. Africa's poorest nations seek a cancellation of that debt.

Finally, to insure that poverty doesn't raise its ugly head once again, heavy investment in people's lives must come and come quickly. That's why the Band-8 concerts did their world wide concerts where more than 3 billion people in 164 countries saw them on TV. More than a million people witnessed their live music, songs and bands to remind politics' Big Men that the world is serious about ending extreme poverty.

Now all of this world stuff should remind us of our own Solomon Islands' poor. Fortunately we don't have African soul-searing poverty but we do have many people who are poor and getting poorer. It's doubtful had Guale's Weather Coast villagers been economically vibrant before 1998, they would have suffered the Social Unrest that hit them so badly.

RAMSI's presence gives present national leaders a chance to get things right finally. Both the 2003 and 2004 budgets, however, failed to give top priority to village investment. The need--quality schools, working clinics, decent roads, reliable and frequent shipping, stronger communications links, increase in rural employment and livelihoods and others--is the best medicine to put a big dent in poverty.

Africa's poverty, however, is a much harder nut to crack than our own. So it makes sense that our job now should be easier and done quicker than what Band-8 thinks about Africa. However, unless our leaders accept that working to make Solomons poverty history is the best way of moving the country back into normal living, then in another 15-20 years we'll be looking for another RAMSI group to come into help us.


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