A Noose, Not a Bracelet

A simple idea with the power to rattle neo-liberal economics

| June 23, 2005

On July 2, a few days before the G8 summit in Scotland, the Make Poverty History campaign wants thousands to form a ring around the Edinburgh city center -- a reference to the organization's emblematic bracelet.

Inside the city center, world leaders have pledged to put debt relief, primarily for African states, on center stage. 'With all this noblesse oblige focused on saving Africa,' Naomi Klein writes in The Nation, 'It seems like a good time to remember someone else who tried to make poverty history.'

Ten years ago this November, the Nigerian government sentenced to death by hanging Ken Saro-Wiwa, an Ogoni activist whose group demanded Shell compensate the Nigerians from whose land it had pumped $30 billion worth of oil.

Saro-Wiwa lost his life fighting for the idea at the heart of every anti-colonial struggle in history, Klein writes. The concept is simple: Resources of a given land should benefit the people of the land. The mandate underlies every anti-colonial rebellion from the Boston Tea Party to the expulsion of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company from Abadan, Iran.

The concept directly conflicts with neo-liberal economics, 'an ideology so powerful it tries to pass itself off as 'modernity,'' Klein says. The prevalent discourse is replete with privatization; contracts, agreements, and constitutions favor multinational corporations and leave people broadly disadvantaged. Seventy percent of Nigerians still subsist on less than a dollar per day, while Shell continues to profit.

But there is evidence neo-liberalism is loosening its chokehold. Nationalization, the process by which a state rejects privatization and reclaims resources for governmental control, is taking place in Bolivia and Iraq. French voters rejected the EU constitution, and Russian majorities have no kind words for profiteers of disastrous 1990s privatizations.