How Cameron can show leadership on aid at the G8 this summer

To emulate the Labour government's achievements at Gleneagles in 2005, the Prime Minister needs to make progress on transparency and tax.

Sometimes good news isn't boring. Since 2005, when hundreds of thousands of people marched on Edinburgh ahead of the G8 in support of the Make Poverty History campaign, child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa is down by 18 per cent and 21 million more children are in school. African leadership, with financial support from the G8 and other donors, has delivered a remarkable success story that far too few people know about.

The ONE campaign's new report Summit in Sight: The G8 and Africa from Gleneagles to Lough Erne shows that this progress has not happened by accident. African leadership has helped the region to grow by an average of 5 per cent GDP for the past eight years, increasing the resources that governments have to spend on health and education. It was also a deliberate decision by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to put African development issues at the top of the agenda for the Gleneagles summit in 2005 and to give it the political attention necessary to deliver a strong agreement. Eight years later there is an extra £7bn in development aid going to sub-Saharan Africa every year from G8 countries, and the agreement on debt relief has wiped out £22bn. Like all ventures, some of this aid fails but the vast majority improves the lives of some of the world's poorest people, for example by paying for 5.4 million more people to access anti HIV/AIDS treatment.

In the UK, this commitment to extra funding has continued under the coalition government and in this month's Budget, George Osborne can make good on the UK's promise to assign 0.7 per cent of national income to the aid budget from 2013. It would be the wrong time to abandon this promise and it is to the government's credit that the UK is continuing to lead by example within the G8.

While significant progress has been made, that is no reason for complacency. Hunger in Africa has barely decreased since 2005 and despite increases in GDP, inequality remains a severe challenge. African governments and citizens will be the primary drivers of change and the G8 should support that by agreeing an ambitious package on transparency and tax at Lough Erne this summer. It should make progress on giving citizens the information they need to hold their leaders to account and hasten the day when aid is no longer necessary. It should also follow through on its 2012 promise to work with African governments to lift 50 million people out of poverty through investments in agriculture.

This requires the G8 to start by getting its own house in order. David Cameron should secure a commitment from all countries to lift the veil of secrecy on company ownership by putting the names of the ultimate beneficial owners into public registries. This would crack down on shell companies, lifting the veil of secrecy that shrouds illicit financial flows out of Africa. Cameron should also get agreement for all oil, gas and mining companies listed in G8 countries to report the payments they make to governments around the world, on a project-by-project basis. Finally, to ensure this progress in transparency translates into accountability, and ultimately improves the lives of people living in poverty, urgently needed support should be found for supreme audit institutions, revenue authorities and anti-corruption champions.

These are not simple wins for any leader - the reforms challenge vested interests and the systemic causes of poverty that have kept power out of the hands of the many for too long. Cameron must invest time and political capital if he is to emulate the Labour government's achievements at Gleneagles. His "golden thread" theory of development is potentially transformative if translated into real policy progress on hard issues in June. The galvanising effect of the 2005 G8 commitments has helped deliver an extraordinary eight years of progress. Now this government must show they are up to the task.

Joe Powell is senior policy and advocacy manager at the ONE campaign

David Cameron speaks while standing with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at the United Nations. Photograph: Getty Images. P

Joe Powell is senior policy and advocacy manager at the ONE campaign

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.