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“Bono and Brad Pitt Need Your Help!”

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 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?”

31 thoughts on ““Bono and Brad Pitt Need Your Help!””

  1. I enjoyed reading your piece. As a principal of an elementary school, I am often faced with the dilema of deciding which “cause” our young students should support through school wide efforts. My kids are well aware of the Middle East crisis,the Tsnami tragedy and a host of other tragic occurances, as our media does a great job of keeping them front and center, yet, they know very little of the millions killed in Africa. It saddens me that we live in the “super power/conscience” of the world, but are sadly driven by what would most benefit us as a nation. Sad commentary that it all goes back to that simple theme song from the Beverly Hillbillies…”oil, that is”. As a nation we stand by idly while innocent women, children and men are murdered everyday in Ruwanda, where the genocide has killed millions. If we are truly the humanitarian country we claim to be, then we would help the most helpless, not those with whom we have the most to gain. As I watch the children in my school, young, innocent and naive, it has become quite clear to me that the only way to truly save the world, is to begin with the education of tomorrow’s leaders. Simply stated, the kids not only can save the world, but those that I know, very much want to. The kids in my school may be young, but even the youngest in kindergarten know the following: that fighting (war) never solves a problem, instead, we should use our words; that it is okay to look, talk or be different from the person standing next to you; that you do not have to like everyone, but you must respect them; that life is precious and to be honored (even the caterpillar found in the schoolyard); when your neighbor is in pain or sad, it is your responsibility as a human being to offer assistance; and finally, to tell the truth, no matter what it may be, is always better than to lie. Here’s hoping the world won’t taint these young, impressionable minds. There is so much goodness within all of them, whether they be Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians or Atheists, there’s be no war, no hunger, no violence if all of our world leaders were under the age of 12!!

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  3. Ethan articulates very well what bothers me about the whole “let’s give more aid” philosophy. I wish people in rich countries would realize that their aid causes harm more often than not. What poor countries need is fairness, not charity. If the US stopped subsidizing its sugar growers, people in sugar-producing countries would benefit much more and in a longer-lasting way than with ten Live 8 concerts put together. Ditto for many other agricultural products. And ditto for agriicultural subsidies in the European Union.

    Furthermore, sugar growers in the US would stop polluting the Florida Everglades, the price of sugar would go down, and taxes could be lowered (no need to pay more subsidies). Net result: a win-win for people in the US and for people in sugar-producing countries.

    Of course, sugar growers in the US happen to be very close to Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the Republican party, so subsidies will never be dropped. Sad.

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  5. “the sorts of people Geldof is hoping to reach are so attuned to African issues”

    Uhhh, no. Wouldn’t you avoid little known African bands for the opposite reason?

  6. Sorry, pb – you must have missed the “sarcasm” tags around that particular line. And Daara J – while he may be poorly known in the US and UK – is Senegal’s most popular rap artist at the moment and is well known on the continent.

    Wendy, thanks much for your response. I’m a big believer that the solutions to the problems I’m most interested in – the failure of Americans to pay attention to the wider world, for one – are going to require a new generation attuned to their place in an interconnected, interrelated world. Thanks for nurturing your kids interest in wanting to connect with and help the wider world.

  7. Ethan – an excellent post. Unfortuantely the ‘spin masters’ have spun this one well and good and people are falling over themselves to get to the alter of Geldof and Bono. Some sanity is required and you and other many other African bloggers have provided it.

  8. Nice of you to say, Owukori… but in typical fashion you were all over this one before I started writing about it, and your post served as a roadmap to some of the best voices out there. As so often happens, I’m just following your footsteps…

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  12. Right on and well-put, Ethan!

    You may be interested in following the blog of my partner who got one the Live 8 backstage passes to the concert in Philly. He’s there with a skeptical eye and has been reading your critiques. He’s at AudioActivism.org.

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  16. Yep Yep Yep. I’ve been researching the need for aid in Africa and reading African bloggers. Best to be well-informed rather than blindly follow the pack.

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  20. I was jsut wondering- if you aren’t asking for donations, what are you asking for. I am 11 years old, a vegitarian, and my mom and i would love to help in any way possibe. one of our theories was, that you were looking for volunteers to go to africa and help there. Please get back to me.

  21. For some reason the whole Live8 program left a bad taste in my mouth. Being a very cynical man I kept wondering what was it really about..a public relations blitz for the stars or a genuine effort to raise awareness about Africa..In the end I decided for this cause..any publicity should be good.

  22. United Press International – USA
    1510 H Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20005

    Michael Marshall
    UPI Editor In Chief

    November 25th, 2005

    Mrs Bianca Jagger and BONO : Re: Mr Nelson Mandela versus Mrs Aung San SUU KYI The Lady named the Nelson Mandela of Burma (Myanmar) STILL UNDER HOUSE ARREST

    Please hereby is the letter addressed to Her Highness Elizabeth II, my Queen, followed by different letter sent to The Vice-Secretary General of The United Nations, Mrs Louise Fréchette, and to Mr Nelson Mandela :

    “How from Canada as a subject of Her Highness Queen Elizabeth II may I ask her support for my suggestion to The United Nations to send Mr Nelson Mandela of South Africa, as an official or special Emissary to The Lady of Rangoon, The 1991 Nobel Prize for Peace, Mrs Aung San SUU KYI, democratically elected in 1990 and still under house arrest or jailed since almost 15theen years ?”

    —– Original Message —–
    From: Pierre Gauvin-Evrard
    To: globalcompact@un.org
    Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2005 2:49 PM
    Subject: To Madame Louise Fréchette, Vice-Secrétaire générale des Nations-Unies

    Madame Louise Fréchette
    Honorable Vice-Secrétaire générale des Nations-Unies
    New York USA

    Chère Madame,

    Ne serait-il pas temps de prendre l’initiative d’exercer des moyens de pression plus frappants afin d’obtenir la libération de Madame Aung San SUU KYI de Birmanie (Myanmar) et de son peuple ? Je vous propose de lire ce qui suit pour suggestion que
    j’ai transmise par toutes sortes de voix au Secrétaire Général des Nations-Unies, L’Honorable Kofi Annan et que j’ai transmise dans la langue de Shakespeare, qui se lit ainsi :

    ‘To The Honourable United-Nations’General Secretary, Mr Kofi Annan and Mr Nelson Mandela for the liberation of The 1991 Nobel Price for Peace, Mrs Aung San SUU KYI, called The Nelson Mandela Of Burma (Myanmar) :

    ‘If I was Nelson Mandela, so aged as I am, with few years to live in the future, I would ask to the Secretary of The United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, to send me as an Official Emissary of the United Nations to Burma (Myanmar) to meet the great Lady Aung San SUU KYI, the lady named the Nelson Mandela of Burma, to see in what condition she is and make a report to The United Nations’Secretary…’

    Veuillez agréer l’expression de mes bons sentiments et accueillez mes remerciement de bien vouloir porter l’atten-tion que mérite Madame SUU KYI.

    pierre gauvin-évrard”

    To Mr Mandela on November 16theen, 2005 :

    “Dear Mr Nelson Mandela, Hereby the copy of the letter sent to The Honorable Vice-Secretary of the United Nations in New York, USA, Mrs Louise Fréchette, as well as to The Secretary General Mr Kofi Annan, to Mrs Aung San SUU KYI, Amnisty International, The International Human Rights ans Liberties Organization, to a lot of international mediases and also a lot of Canadian mediases, and so on, for the goal clearly described in my communiqués. I hope, that you will accept, at least, to suggest to the Mr Kofi Annan, to send you as his Official Emissary to meet the Lady of Rangoon, named the “The Nelson Mandela of Burma (Myanmar) and act as I proposed to you yesterday. Many thanks for your support for Mrs SUU KYI ! pge”

    Please note that I also ask for the support of Mrs Condoleeza Rice of The United States. and different International Organizations and important mediases, and celebrities.

    Pierre Gauvin-Évrard

    5887 Ave. Christophe-Colomb
    Montréal Qc Canada
    H2S 2G3

    Téléphone : 1-514-271-7325



  23. I went to the live 8 concert in hyde park!!! it was amazing! I think Bob Geldof is a great man and i would love to meet him!!!

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  27. I filled for asylum with the anticipatian that i would be granted asylum .Unfortunately my case has been on appeal for the past 2years.Ihavee two daughters i left in Zimbabwe ,the young one i havent even seen her.I just need help to bring my daughters please help

  28. hi brad pitt i`m somali refugee i`m 43 years old and i live in egypt i rujested in un.h.cr in egypt i have 3 childrens and my husbend we live only 1 room they exept me bout they never help me no pill i make tea in the street 6:00 to 6:00 i`m edictions i had a job the day of the gover mant in somalia i left somalia when 7 of my cheldren dead in the sivil war when the pollet get inside of my mother mouth and she dead she was standing when my doughter 13 years old melested by the hand of 4 mean and she dead after 2 houer when the somali tororesty cill my brother in 30 pollts with 30 seken my big problem is my children they never go to school they are 15 and 13 and 8 so there dream is the school so i`m in a bad live pleas if you can help me

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