Summitry is difficult enough for the summiteers — witness the months of preparation and hours of final drafting that go into the final communique. But consider the equally delicate challenge facing the activist groups monitoring the G8 and G20: how to calibrate their reaction. You think summit sherpas agonize over every nuance of phrasing? So must the anonymous drones who write up the press releases from “civil society” groups. Are we “outraged”? “Disheartened”? “Alarmed”? Or “cautiously optimistic”?
The G8’s Muskoka Initiative on maternal and child health is a case in point. I had barely arrived at the press centre yesterday when an activist from one of the many Canadian aid groups who have been pressing for action on this front buttonholed me to say how pleased she was at the news: the government of Canada had committed another $1.1-billion over five years, on top of $1.75-billion in existing pledges. “It’s everything we’d hoped for,” she beamed. “We’ve been working towards this day for 11 months.”
I was taken aback. These people are never satisfied. In a way, it’s their job not to be satisfied. How could this be?
Sure enough, within an hour another activist group, World Vision Canada, had weighed in with its response, and all was right with the universe again. “World Vision on Muskoka Initiative: Deeply concerned G8 will fail to deliver for mothers and children,” it read. “While we applaud the Prime Minister for his leadership, as things stand now, the Muskoka Initiative looks more like a down payment than an adequate investment, and won’t reach as far as it could to stop needless early deaths… The G8 has less than 24 hours left for its leaders to demonstrate credibility on aid promises and turn disappointment into celebration.”
By today, however, the world had turned again. “World Vision heartened by child and maternal health funding progress,” read the mid-day release. “World Vision is grateful for Canada’s leadership and strong commitment to child and maternal health and the G8’s commitment to build the fund to $10 billion.
“Despite lower-than-expected funding for development from some countries at this summit we refuse to lose sight of the fact that this G8 summit has brought us incrementally closer to meeting the [Millennium Development Goals].”
The glass, it seems, is no longer disappointingly empty. It’s incrementally full.
ADDENDUM: Then there are these two press releases we received from the Fissile Materials Working Group, “a coalition of more than 40 leading experts in nuclear security.”
Experts Praise Extension of G-8 Global Partnership
Toronto, Ontario — The Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG) … praised G-8 leaders renewal of their commitment to address the spread of materials and weapons of mass destruction, and to prevent nuclear terrorism…
On the other hand,
Experts Disappointed by Failure to Extend G-8 Global Partnership
Toronto, Ontario — The Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG) … is disappointed G-8 leaders failed to renew their commitment to address the spread of materials and weapons of mass destruction, and to prevent nuclear terrorism…
One of these was sent out yesterday, the other today. I’m just not sure which is which.