Friday, June 03, 2005

[Africa] Marching in Europe Will Not End African Poverty

- The Western mindset infantalises Africans and can't trust them to help themselves!

Sir Bob (aka Saint Bob) Geldof on Tuesday ended speculation about staging a repeat of his 1985 Live Aid concert that raised global awareness about famine in Africa. The successful re-release of the record Do they Know its Christmas time? last Christmas, 20 years after the original one fuelled speculations that Live Aid could be repeated this year too.

Further pressures for this restaging had to do with the prominent role Geldof played in instigating Blair to set up his Commission for Africa and committing him to make Africa a centre piece of British Chairmanship of both the EU and the G8 from next month. A number of campaigns by NGOs and development lobbyists in the UK culminating in the yearlong 'Make Poverty History' campaign are also contributing to shaping the British agenda for the British chairmanship. The symbolism and propaganda value of these coincidences were just overwhelming.

The NGO world is more and more media-driven therefore packaging misery and targeting critical national and global events have become necessary tool kits for massive fundraising. It was difficult to see how Geldof could 'resist the pressure for another show'. Despite initial declarations to the contrary, Tuesday's announcement showed how Bob, despite being the global face of this humanitarian effort, does not have all the aces.

The campaign has been so successful that even if he refused to cooperate they would have manufactured another media saint to front it. It has become a global brand for sleek missionary activity on Africa. The compromise show that will still be regarded by many as Live Aid is called, Live 8. Despite the fact that it will bring together all the big names in Western music the concert will not be just about music and charity. Geldof and his colleagues both from two decades' experience of doing charity and criticisms of opponents have come to accept that charity (while still important) is not the way forward for helping Africa.

It is a very important shift. So Live 8 will focus on the G8 leaders' meeting the same week as the concert is being held in London and other four Western cities. The organisers hope that they will be able to mobilise a million protesters to converge on Edinburgh to demand an end to poverty in Africa, fair trade, debt write-off and more aid for Africa. Similar protests are supposed to take place simultaneously in all G8 countries.

As one of those people critical of aid-addicted Africans and their Western aid pushers, what can I possibly have against the proposed concert and the shift to direct action?

I welcome the shift and salute the courage of those building this solidarity movement for Africa. In particular, shifting the debate away from aid may help to recover some of the loss of self-respect and attacks on the dignity of Africans consequent to constant negative images of starving Africa in order to extract Western sympathy.

It may help to stop seeing Africa and Africans as victims but agents of our own fortunes and misfortunes in collusion with others. More importantly, the shift should help focus on the structural linkages between our mass poverty and the riches of the West.

So pervasive has been the humanitarian disaster ideology about Africa that many westerners do not know that their computers, mobile phones, jewellery, motor cars, museums and many of their day-to-day comfort items began life in Africa as precious metals and raw materials. While all these changes are both desirable and necessary, I cannot help being troubled by the processes.

Even good things can be done in the wrong ways. How is it defensible that 20 years after Live Aid and all the changes that Africa and the rest of the world have witnessed these activities are still being planned and executed without full participation of Africans? It is like trying to shave someone's head in their absence! Who are the big or small African artistes and musicians involved in this concert?

Did they ask Hugh Masekela and he was too tired? Did Miriam Makeba say she was too busy? Is Fela Kuti unable to break an engagement? Where is Baba Maal? What about Yousou Ndor? What of Yvonne Chaka Chaka or Angelica Kidjo? Where are the Congolese musicians? We can go on and on. Even the wider anti- poverty campaigns essentially use Africans as background to be wheeled on and off as the propaganda demands. Could there not have been a symbolic African venue?

Surely, even if many African countries do not have the facilities South Africa does have the infrastructure to broadcast to the whole world? These omissions are not because of ignorance but the result of a mindset that infantilises Africans and cannot trust the Africans to do anything for themselves. Things have to be done for us.

A more fundamental challenge for reversing this 'whiteman's burden' ideology is for us to do things for ourselves and invite those we like instead of wanting to be invited by others to seek solutions to our problems.

No number of marches in Europe and global concerts for Africa will end poverty in Africa if Africans are not marching in their millions demanding and enforcing pro-poor and pro- people policies and governance from their own governments and institutions.

We cannot be spectators in our own affairs.