G8, live8, and the aid deb8

Everybody is talking about Africa, these days. Often not because they really care about Africa, but because it’s good business to talk about Africa. Does Bob Geldoff care about Africa? I think the number of African artists allowed to share the limelight with Madonna and Pink Floyd answers that question (none). How can you pretend to want to help Africans and not give them a voice?

Poverty is a complex problem and cannot simply be “solved” by a massive marketing blitz like Live8. The idea that the rulers of the 8 richest nations could simply “solve” the poverty problem by forgiving all debt to African nations is presumptuous. And to enroll the world’s pop aristocracy in the effort makes the spectacle spectacularly absurd. When was the last time any of these “artists” toured in any part of Africa (with the possible exception of South Africa)? When was the last time any of them invited an African artist to accompany them on stage?

Africa’s problems are not going to be solved by these people. Only Africans will solve the problems of Africa. But only Africans with a voice will be able to solve Africa’s problems. That is the kind of aid we can provide to Africans: reach out and help them speak out. Yet, some Africans are quite outspoken. Last night I read an interview with Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati in Der Spiegel, where he forcefully argues against aid.

If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.
James Shikwati, interview in Der Spiegel.

MMK at African Bullets & Honey has made some equally forceful and provocative arguments critical of Live8:

They will be marching to display the rude health of their souls and to confirm their power and magnanimity over the huddled, miserable wretches of Africa. The monies that they give, no doubt in the billions of dollars, will be used to maintain and extend a vast system of spiritual and material privilege. Every dollar shall confirm their superiority and the inverse inferiority of the African.
Live8 and Those Who Would Steal African Humanity

So on the one hand you have the glitterati pulling up in stretch-Hummer-limos at mega-spectacles, clinking their champagne glasses to toast their own generosity and good will, while images of starving Africans flash across huge display screens and television sets around the world. On the other hand some African economists and bloggers demand “stop all aid now” because the aid money is actually robbing Africa’s soul and wealth.

The poverty problem is too complex, and the African continent is too diverse to argue either “Pro-Aid” or “Con-Aid.” What Africa needs is for the rest of the world to care what happens in Africa. Debt relief, by itself, is going to accomplish nothing. We have to stop fuelling the wars in Africa with military “aid” and we have to exert pressure on African warmongers to make peace. The G8 cannot simply “will poverty away” but if the international community is determined to spread peace in Africa, I think poverty can be dramatically reduced.

Not that I think that this is realistic. Too many greedy (white) hands profit from conflict, strife and outright war in Africa. Too many powerful hands have a vested interest in maintaining poverty in Africa. These hands profit from cheap labor to extract raw materials from Africa’s rich soil. And they will continue to make sure Africa stays in its place, by supporting greedy dictators and fueling conflicts. Because Africa’s poverty is good for business.

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