The following is a transcript of selected questions and answers from Samah El-Shahat’s livestation debate on the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, which took place on Thursday, July 9. Click here to read the transcript of Alan Fisher’s debate.
Al Jazeera moderator: Welcome everyone. Please let me start by introducing you all to Samah El-Shahat, the presenter of Al Jazeera’s People and Power. Samah is here to answer your questions on the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. Helping Africa, climate change and the global economic crisis appear to be dominating the agenda at the meeting.
Viewer Robwash, Los Angeles says: First realize that we can never end poverty, but we might eliminate abject poverty. Our only chance at doing this is to promote free market democracies coupled with the rule of law. What do you say to that?
Samah El-Shahat: We should work towards a world that is governed by justice and fair trade.
Kobie, USA: Samah in order to do what you stated all countries would have to be equal which isn’t the case today.
Samah El-Shahat: No they are not equal, I agree. But we can work to make them equal.
Noor, Canada: Hey, so the obvious question Samah, are we still sliding down in this recession, or are we on the road to recovery?
Samah El-Shahat: Sad to say this looks like a prolonged recession. America’s jobless rate last month was half a million.
Noor, Canada: So Obama’s policies are not really making a diff in the US yet?
Samah El-Shahat: Obama’s policies, particularly his fiscal stimulus package of $787bn is a good start, but he needs more of that. The question we need to ask, is ‘how do we stop the unemployment rate from rising?’ Not enough is being done by governments from the fiscal side. Europe has been too prudish in that regard – Germany is a case in point.
Viewer MC, London says: There is more reason now because of the unprecedented crisis for the G8 leaders to walk the talk and achieve an end to poverty. Politicians have displayed a lack of respect and honesty in dealing with public funds and also the management of these funds. Can President Obama be the catalyst to deliver sustained and a holistic change?
Samah El-Shahat: I think what we are getting in the G8, talk-wise, from the global leaders is disappointing, they are talking about repairing the system, rather than reforming it.
Marta, Italy: Thank you for the honesty.
Froy: Samah pointed out in an article that the problem here is stagnating salaries throughout the world.
Samah El-Shahat: Yes stagnating salaries in the West allowed us to get into bed with banks, because we had to borrow to live.
Tony, Canada: Nationalise the banks.
Samah El-Shahat: Yes nationalising some of the banks would have been the correct thing to do. But the financial sectors hold too much sway over politicians to let this happen. So taxpayers ended up propping up the banks, but with no control over them.
Froy: You increase minimum wages, you increase costs, decrease profitability, more companies closing down, less exports and more imports.
Samah El-Shahat: Excellent point Froy. But the point here is to get the economy into industries which are more value added – that have more of a knowledge base – and in turn that would pay higher wages. It is about restructuring the economy – that’s what we need to do. We can’t just compete on low wages. That is how we got into this mess in the first place. We allowed our leaders to take short-term measures, which were all about prices, rather than about investing in learning and technology.
Marta, Italy: It made sense for them considering that their time in power is brief. Has their attitude changed about long-term versus short-term benefits?
Samah El-Shahat: Excellent point Marta. Of course, every politician cares for their short time in office. Yet, this did not stop political administrations of the last 20 years from embracing the financial sector – because it is so powerful, and lobbies pretty hard. All I am saying is that the same “long-term” relationship they build up with the banking sector, to be built up with industry – particularly “green” industries. The banking sector is just way too powerful for our own good, and I fear that they are becoming more powerful, thanks to the “too big to fail” regulation.
Viewer Chernor Jalloh, Sierra Leone says: The G8 leaders openly said they would give aid to Africa, and haven’t. African leaders should not waste their time asking for aid, but their own economies. African problem with African solution. Do you agree?
Samah El-Shahat: OK let’s put this in context. I have two things to say. Why are we still talking about aid when it comes to Africa? Africa just needs the opportunity to have control over its policies, and an opportunity to “protect” its industries until they flourish. Then no aid will be needed. Moreover, to date, governments have given or promised banks $8.4 trillion in aid to Africa in total – but only $2 trillion has been received over the last few decades! I suggest the first thing we should do to make Africa more viable as a continent, is to scrap the Doha trade round.
TITANBITE: I agree, Samah, I feel that Africa could try having a governing policy similar to the US, where states have autonomy but also participate in a federal system, this could help each nation to co-operate with manufacturing.
Tony, Canada: I say nationalise banks, then drop debt, then all will be better.
Samah El-Shahat: I think we should cancel all debt – let’s not forget that for every dollar we give Africa, they end up paying five dollars back in debt repayments.
Viewer Fatou from Stockholm, Sweden says: The G8 is behind most of the problems in Africa. The solution is to stop selling weapons to Africa, stop looting Africa’s resources just for two years and Africa will blossom again. Would this work?
Samah El-Shahat: I think we should allow Africa more “policy space” – the right to have more say over its economics, and not be limited by the IMF or the World Bank.
Viewer Pelle, Sweden says: We are all evaluated in all sorts of different ways. I propose a global evaluation system for governments with published reports every year, showing how they have improved living conditions for people. Is this realistic?
Samah El-Shahat: Criteria worries me, always has, always will. The crucial thing is to provide people with a world where they can live with dignity.
Marta, Italy: Improving living conditions worldwide now, definitely not realistic. Unfortunately we are heading towards a situation of stark scarcity. Did you read “the end of the line”, we are going to kill all marine life in 50 years … that’s just depressing.
Samah El-Shahat: Marta, that is why we need to “reform” this system we live in, rather than “repairing it”. And the G8 communique which has just been released only speaks of “repair”.
Dean: Samah – I really like your pieces on the US economy. It is very frustrating how complacent US citizens are about the misuse of their taxes and the corporate governance of our state.
Samah El-Shahat: Thank you Dean. I think because of this crisis, people will become less complacent, about letting others make decisions in their name. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to people power to demand real changes in the way our economy is run. We cannot continue allowing the financial sector to reign supreme. It is meant to work for us, for our interest – not their interest.
Al Jazeera moderator: OK, everyone, the 45 mins is over, I think Samah just wants to say a final word.
Samah El-Shahat: I want to say a big thank you for your questions, and remember we can all truly make a huge difference in reforming this global economic system.
The following is a transcript of selected questions and answers from Alan Fisher’s Livestation debate on the G8 summit, which took place on Friday, July 10.
Dean: Alan, is there any indication that the nations will actually follow through with their charity commitments this year?
Alan Fisher: I think this time there will be real pressure on them to follow through because of the failings of some to match their commitments in 2005.
Viewer Maria Costa from Brazil says: The G8 should join us in the new G19 group led by Brazil, Russia, India and China as we lead the way to a more just and equitable New World Order. Do you think a combined group will ever happen?
Alan Fisher: I suspect that what we will see is a G14 and Brazil will play a big part in that. Anything larger than that will be seen as a bit unworkable. But we are seeing the last days of the G8. It’s a 1970s organisation operating in the 21st century.
Viewer Snowy-one-too from NZ says: The G8 group of economies need to put their money where their mouth is if they are to be honest brokers. How optimistic are you that the G8 leaders will follow through with their promises?
Alan Fisher: I think they will be very closely watched by aid groups and charities so that what they promise they actually deliver.
Dean: Alan – how much say do client nations have at the summit? Are they allowed a serious voice re: how to solve the crises, or is the organisation mainly elitist?
Alan Fisher: Good question Dean – when you have the eight richest nations in the world there is an element of elitism and often they act in self interest.
Johny: Alan, what is G8 saying about China’s violence right now?
Alan Fisher: There was no discussion in public about violence in China but the Chinese president left to deal with the situation back home.
Javoms, China: I’m really interested in knowing the key issues addressed Alan?
Alan Fisher: Javoms – food security, climate change, the global financial crisis, and of course, international issues like Iran.
Viewer Leonard from the US says: The G8 acts like rich nobility and reminds me of a curt remark commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette, ‘let them eat cake’. Having met G8 officials in L’Aquila how do you perceive them?
Alan Fisher: Leonard – I think there has been a change in the US approach to the G8 and what it can do and this has come through the new administration.
Howard, Canada: Hi, what’s the general mood of the local residents of L’Aquila regarding the G8 summit?
Alan Fisher: Good question Howard – they are definitely split. Some think it has been good to highlight the problems here and others believe it diverted resources, and many are just trying to get on with their lives and have no real interest.
Mori: Hi Alan. Was there anything on global health and particularly tackling neglected tropical diseases?
Alan Fisher: Mori – H1N1 was discussed during the international section but nothing specific was agreed and the same on other global health issues.
Umar, Singapore: Hi Alan, regarding the G8 summit, what seem to be the major disagreements – if any – between the member states?
Alan Fisher: Umar – no major disagreements – certainly points of dispute on a number of issues but the leaders leave here trying to present a united front.
Viewer braggart_21 from Saudi Arabia says: The G8 summit is just a propaganda machinery of the first world countries. They want developing countries to believe that they care. When in fact they don’t. Is this a fair comment?
Alan Fisher: The G8 realises its limitations which is why it’s trying to expand its membership.
Mori: We hear all about the commitment, financial and otherwise, in the statements… How are these commitments followed up? How can we make sure the politicians are held accountable?
Alan Fisher: Good question Mori – you can ask your government firstly. Secondly, there are many people working out what these commitments mean and trying to ensure that they are delivered.
Viewer Dave from Australia says: Do you think there is real co-operation between the leaders, or is it all show for the cameras? It seems most of them are quick to criticise each other once they’re out of the meetings?
Alan Fisher: Dave – I think there is co-operation on certain issues and differences on others. In the end the politicians are looking for votes at home not in other places around the world.
Viewer Clare from France says: Why do you think the outcomes of the G8 summit were so weak?
Alan Fisher: Clare – partly because the Italian administration of it was poor. And partly because the financial crisis has limited what a lot of countries can do.
Al Jazeera moderator: Hi everyone, many thanks for joining this debate, Alan just wants to say something.
Alan Fisher: Thanks everyone, hope you enjoyed our G8 coverage on AJE online and of course on Livestation.