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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 October 2009

Foreign aid - chaining the world to capitalism

AS SRI Lanka's Tamil population fled from the bloody and bitter fighting after the recent civil war, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband promised Britain would send aid. When Israeli troops withdrew from the Gaza strip in January, Britain's Secretary of State Douglas Alexander was flown in to be seen gazing over the destruction and pledging British aid for reconstruction.

Ben Norman

But this promised aid is not simply an exercise in western charity. It is part of a continued policy of chaining developing economies to British capitalism's demands, while using aid as a political tool to support favoured elites.

The true priority can be seen when the amount of aid sent to a country is compared to the arms sales made to that same country. In 2007 Labour MP Joan Ruddock told the Commons: "Inquiries that I made reveal that 7 million-worth of arms were licensed for delivery to Sri Lanka in the last quarter for which figures are available".

The aid pledged to Sri Lanka by David Miliband was estimated at a paltry 500,000, for tents, blankets and logistical support to shelter the then estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people - displaced with the assistance of British arms. Every year since the 2004 Tsunami, the value of arms sent to Sri Lanka exceeded the amount of aid donated.

This year Douglas Alexander's ministry pledged 30 million to help rebuild Gaza. Yet arms licences worth over 27 million were issued to Israel each year since 2004.

Such aid pledges and weapons sales only account for one way Britain and other imperialist powers exercise staggering hypocrisy over developing economies. A greater method of keeping them shackled to western capital is through debt.

In the year 2000, nine of the top ten countries in 'debt' to Britain were in Africa, including Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya.

In the same year, Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said this debt would be 'forgiven' for some countries, if certain conditions were met, including that they must use the relief "productively".

He was really saying the debt would be cancelled if those nations pledge allegiance to neoliberal capitalism and so let themselves be further pillaged by Western multinational corporations.

The government has kept selling arms to each of the aforementioned African countries. This has, for example, helped the Congolese civil war continue and helped militias brutalise workers in Nigeria and Kenya.

New markets

The government department which manages distribution of aid alongside the Foreign Office, is the Department for International Development. But its current work in Iraq shows that this department is more concerned with preparing new markets for western capitalism then distributing aid.

While millions of Iraqis remained without basic provisions such as electricity or running water, Iraqi prime minister Al-Maliki was in London earlier this year attending 'Invest Iraq', described by the Department for International Development as: "A high profile event involving 200 of the world's largest companies. It is the culmination of UK efforts to promote investment in Iraq which have resulted in proposals worth up to $10 billion. Improving trade and investment is a key to consolidating the security gains that have been made in Iraq."

Now the British soldier is leaving, enter stage right British businesses. Britain's ruling class may no longer help to hold the country down through the barrel of a gun, but will still be rifling through its pockets.

The contracts that British companies - including of course arms companies - have been awarded since 2003, first to destroy Iraq and then to rebuild it, have stretched into the billions. Billions which could have gone to Iraqis but finding their way to the London stock exchange.

As Gordon Brown explained: "The Prime Minister and I signed a declaration of friendship, of partnership and co-operation which sets out a new basis for the relations between Britain and Iraq... I urge British companies who have already won contracts in Iraq to look for the business opportunities available in Iraq. The oil sector - remember that Iraq's reserves are the third largest in the world - is an area we will work on together, specifically through a new UK-Iraq steering group".

So, British business is free to exploit this newly opened market as it sees fit, often disguised as aid and reconstruction.

Socialists demand a true cancellation of all 'debt' of developing countries, with no conditions, and an end to the economic slavery to which they are subjected. A socialist government would not sell arms which could possibly be used to suppress workers or to support trade union busting militias as has been seen in Nigeria.

Nor should they be sold to aggressive or expansionist regimes such as that in Israel, or aid used as a political tool to secure support for a favoured group of local elites as in the case of Mahmood Abbas's Palestinian authority or the Al-Maliki puppet government in Iraq.

Instead, a socialist Britain would extend international solidarity to workers across the developing world and would support trade unions and other workers' organisations that can work together towards socialism in their own countries.

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In The Socialist 7 October 2009:

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Wirral anti-cuts victory: 'If you fight, you can win'

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An autumn of discontent in South Yorkshire

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International socialist news and analysis

Ireland: Lisbon Treaty vote is not an endorsement for hated government

Portugal: Voters turn to the left

Foreign aid - chaining the world to capitalism

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I speak Fula by Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba


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