Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Whatever Happened to Live8 and Saving Africa?

A former student and friend sent me this article. Thought it would be interesting to re-post. She didn't include the source, other than that Gerald Caplan wrote the article.
The Live 8 concerts: Hold on Africa – here we come!

Gerald Caplan (2005-06-23)
With the global music extravaganza that is Live 8 just around the corner, Gerald Caplan is nervous about the crocodile tears shed for Africa by leaders like Tony Blair. Caplan writes that the job of Bono, Bob Geldof and other Live 8 organizers is to let their fans know that Africans need no more missionaries or do-gooders. “Instead, Africans have a right to justice and equity to make up for the incalculable harm that we in the rich world have inflicted on them for such a long, long time,” writes Caplan.
Everybody must be aware by now of the Bob Geldof Live 8 spectacular coming at us next week. The media has been abuzz with burning questions about where the concert will be held and who'll be performing, with a sentence occasionally thrown in about saving poor old Africa or ending poverty. This is a serious problem.
Getting it wrong about Africa is a venerable tradition in the rich world, and music has played its role. Remember the great famine concerts of 20 years ago and the giant hit "Do They Know It's Christmas?" It's just been re-recorded, with its inane lyrics of Africa as a land "underneath a burning sun…where nothing ever grows" and "no rain nor river flows". Get it? Natural causes---bad luck—are at the root of Africa's problems.
Television does its share. Who among us haven't seen inspiring stories about young Canadians who decide to raise pennies for a well or school in Africa? These efforts are invariably motivated by the best of intentions. But I'm concerned with their unintended message. I fear they reinforce wrong-headed stereotypes of both Africa and us. To my eye, they show Africans as helpless, dependent, passive victims, and we westerners as decent, selfless, compassionate, resourceful missionaries.
Now Paul Wolfowitz's has added his explanation for Africa's plight. Moving swiftly from being a maven about Iraq to becoming an authority on Africa's 53 countries, the new head of the World Bank has just completed a whirlwind learning tour of the continent—6 days, 4 countries. The problem in Africa, he announced at the end, is simple: "corruption". Right. If only Africa's leaders were more like our own.
These views reflect a common theme: they leave the rich world blameless for Africa's multitude of problems. I greatly fear that Live 8 is inadvertently strengthening the notion that we in the rich world must be missionaries to save Africans from themselves. The truth is already being lost-- the deep, comprehensive responsibility of western nations and western financial institutions for so much of Africa's continuing underdevelopment and poverty. The real reason the rich world should be racing to deal with African poverty is the central role we have played in causing and perpetuating it. Has anyone told Paul Wolfowitz that vastly more money pours out of Africa each year back to rich countries than flows in? That's the key to Africa's development crisis, and it's almost entirely unrecognized.
The responsibility of the rich world takes many forms. It includes the indispensable support given over the decades to countless African tyrants and to white racists. It includes the demonstrably retrograde free market policies imposed on virtually every Africa government by ideological extremists at the World Bank and International monetary Fund (also known by African pediatricians as the Infant Mortality Fund) and backed by almost all western governments, including Canada. Across west Africa, it's cheaper to buy a subsidized frozen chicken imported from Holland that to buy one from a local producer. Foreign aid is always tied to buying goods and services in the rich country or to sending consultants to Africa to make more in a day than the vast majority of Africans do in a year. Rich countries drain off a huge percentage of the professionals—doctors and nurses, especially—who are trained in African universities. Western corporations plunder Africa's natural resources, pay starvation wages and almost no local taxes, bribe anyone in charge—corruption!--pollute hideously, and leave conflict and human rights abuses in their wake. Western donors demand that user fees be imposed on health services and tuition fees on schooling. They demand that public services be slashed so that health and school systems deteriorate. The US government and fundamentalist western religious groups introduce unrealistic and irrelevant moral dogmas to combat AIDS and undermine evidence-based methods of prevention
Anyone who doesn't distrust the Group of 8 leaders who'll be meeting next month hasn't been paying attention. They're the ones responsible for the economic apartheid that characterizes rich-poor country relations today. Every one of them has failed to live up to repeated pledges about aid, debt relief and agricultural subsidies, solemnly made and blithely ignored. The recent ballyhoo about debt relief for 14 African countries was wildly overblown; it was no more than a modest first step. The more leaders like Tony Blair and Paul Martin shed crocodile tears talk about their moral crusade for Africa, the more liberal imperialist rhetoric they spin, the more nervous we should be. The job of Bono and Bob Geldof and other Live 8 organizers is to let their fans know that Africans need no more missionaries or do-gooders. Instead, Africans have a right to justice and equity to make up for the incalculable harm that we in the rich world have inflicted on them for such a long, long time.

* Gerald Caplan works with various UN agencies on African development issues.