I spend a good chunk of my waking hours grousing about how little attention most people pay to Africa. And then everyone pays attention for a few days and I grouse again. This is yet another reason why I don’t get invited to cocktail parties.
20 years after Live Aid, Bob Geldof tells us that Live 8 is not Live Aid 2. (For one thing, it’s six bigger.) Live Aid, you see, was about charity. Live 8 is part of “the long walk to justice”. Which means, if I’m reading the website correctly, that it’s about charity, debt relief and fair trade. All of which leaders of the G-8 will spontaneously grant to African nations when thousands of people don white arm bands, attend rock concerts and “make our voices heard in unison”.
(Evidently, what we really, really want is for Coldplay to sing “Yellow” rather than anything off of “X&Y”.)
Look, debt relief is a halfway decent idea, if it’s done in a way that doesn’t ruin a nation’s credit rating and prevent them from borrowing in the future. (Rich nations borrow money, too. Lots and lots of money, in our case.)
A doubling of international aid would likely be a good thing, if said aid weren’t tied to purchasing goods from the donor nation, and if someone can figure out how to give aid to the people of Zimbabwe, say, without giving said money to Mugabe. (Or maybe not. Economist Helen Hughes offers the very reasonable argument that aid and economic growth are inversely correlated…)
And I certainly agree that economic change in Africa is going to require a massive overhaul of global trading rules, where the US and Europe give up farm subsidies as developing nations drop import barriers. (And given that the US can’t seem to give up the sugar subsidies and tariffs that benefit roughly 6,000 farmers at the expense of all the sugar exporters in Latin America, I’m not holding my breath…)
I just wonder whether the whole process really needs to involve Robbie Williams. Or whether it wouldn’t benefit from the involvement of a few more Africans.
Peter Gabriel – who’s done a genuinely excellent job of bringing African musical talent to the attention of Northern audiences through his WOMAD festival and Real World label – was so pissed off by the absence of African artists on the original Live 8 lineup that he guilted Geldolf into adding a parallel event, “Africa Calling”, which has an all-African lineup. It’s unclear whether anyone’s going to schlep from London to Cornwall to catch the second show, or whether TV networks will interupt Snoop Dogg’s duet with Elton John to cut over to Angelique Kidjo.
Gabriel gave some insight into what Sir Bob must have been thinking when he put together a concert to benefit Africa with only one African (Youssou N’Dour) on the bill:
“Bob’s sole criteria is that he has to keep millions of eyes around the world glued to the television and he felt if it was some remote part of China or Latin America, if it was an unknown artist … people might switch off,” he told Sky TV. “So if they didn’t sell 10 million records they weren’t going to be invited. I don’t agree that’s the right thing to do, but I fully understand.”
In other words, the sorts of people Geldof is hoping to reach are so attuned to African issues, concerns and culture that they can be expected to turn the channel if Daara J were opening for Velvet Revolver.
No matter how dumb you think the leaders of the G-8 nations are, they’re not dumb enough to conclude that people are flocking to a rock concert because of their passion for reforming trade policy. Perhaps if thousands of people were marching in the streets to demand an end to EU dairy subsidies rather than to see U2…
When well-meaning rich guys do something to “benefit Africa”, it’s become traditional for the news media to interview “average” Africans about the event. And Reuters and the BBC both rose to the challenge, the BBC with “Do Ghanaians care about Live 8?” and Reuters with Bob who? Live 8 bemuses Africans, some want more. They’re not bad articles in the grand scheme of things – BBC finds a researcher with an Accra-based think tank who’s enthusiastic about Live 8, as well as the predictable plantain seller who thinks Bob Geldof is Bob Marley.
But in the age of citizen journalism, it’s pretty easy to hear what smart, opinionated Africans think about Live 8 directly from their blogs. I just did a roundup of African bloggers writing about Live 8 over at Global Voices. You may be unsurprised to discover that, generally speaking, there’s less enthusiasm for Live 8 on the continent than there is in the US or UK.
While it’s admirable that thousands of bloggers have added Technorati badges to their pages to promote Live 8, to support African debt relief or to try to revive Bob Geldof’s career. But it would be a damn sight more useful and transformative if bloggers would go a step further and start reading some African bloggers… perhaps starting with some of the folks who are justifiably skeptical about the value of yet another rock concert. Allow me to recommend Thinker’s Room’s “Live Aid? Please!”, Sokari Ekine’s “Live 8419” or Gerald Caplan’s brilliant piece in Pambazuka.
Or you could brush off your old Bob Geldof recordings:
“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life (Oooh)
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?”