Cover Story

Whose jubilee?

Powerful names in Christendom join music moguls to mount a seductive campaign to cancel poor-nation debt-a plan more likely to benefit oppressors of the poor than the truly impoverished

Issue: "Bob Geldof: Whose jubilee?," June 25, 2005

What common cause could unite Pink Floyd and Rick Warren?

Meet Live8, ONE, Make Poverty History, and the Long Walk To Justice, all part of the latest gizmo-laden, concert-driven, wristband-toting, venue-hopping extravaganza powered by aging rockers and their fans in search of-and perhaps sincerely committed to-a cause.

The campaign, timed to arm-wrestle world leaders ahead of next month's G8 summit into canceling debt against certain poor countries and increasing public aid, became so fierce last week that it reunited the '70s band Pink Floyd and hauled Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren onto the bandwagon.

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Latecomers have missed the launch parties, the launch videos, the petition-signing photo-ops, and the text-messaging contests. They have not, however, missed the main event: a kick-off concert in London's Hyde Park on July 2, where Pink Floyd will perform together for the first time in 24 years (the band headlined the first free rock concert in Hyde Park in June 1968), along with more present-day legends: U2, Sting, REM, Coldplay, The Cure, Annie Lennox, Elton John, Paul McCartney, and more.

Other leading artists are scheduled to perform that day at Live8 concerts in Paris, Berlin, Rome, and in the United States at Philadelphia's Museum of Art. Organizers hope that concert-goers will transfer their enthusiasm from the mosh pits to the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, where Live8 planners are counting on nearly a quarter-million poverty protesters to arrive ahead of the leaders of the eight leading industrialized nations, who will gather there July 6-8. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who hosts this year's summit, has made African poverty the top-line agenda item at the meeting.

Mr. Blair named Irish rock star and activist Bob Geldof to an international commission on Africa, which concluded that donor nations must eliminate more than $40 billion of debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest nations, including 14 in Africa, by writing off the debt and increasing multilateral aid.

Live8, Mr. Geldof's brainchild, follows 20 years after he organized Live Aid, a similar all-star concert series that raised $100 million in famine relief donations. Mr. Geldof insists that Live8 is different; the July events are not organized to raise money but to raise the heat on the world leaders to cancel the indebtedness and double aid to Africa. (WORLD requested an interview with Mr. Geldof, but his publicist said he is "not doing interviews at this time.") A linked effort, the U.S.-based ONE Campaign, calls on the United States to contribute 1 percent of the federal budget-an additional $25 billion-to fight AIDS and extreme world poverty.

Running through this and other jubilee campaigns extending back over the last decade is the common lament that excesses of the West have contributed most to poverty in the developing world, that increasing aid from rich countries to poor countries will answer that injustice and eliminate worldwide impoverishment. Yet the United States gives the highest absolute amount in foreign aid of any country-in 2003, more than $16 billion, according to Hudson Institute senior fellow Carol Adelman. Hudson Institute research indicates private charity totaled over $35 billion for 2000, the last year such figures were tabulated-or three and one-half times U.S. government aid for that year. Those figures do not include giving by local U.S. churches.

But numbers aren't slowing the celebrity endorsements or political stamps of approval. Mr. Blair traveled to Washington earlier this month to push for more Africa aid. Two weeks ago Mr. Bush announced $674 million in additional U.S. taxpayer resources for Africa. On June 11 the White House dropped its remaining objections to a G8 $40 billion debt-forgiveness plan. "We believe by removing a crippling debt burden, we'll help millions of Africans improve their lives and grow their economies," Mr. Bush said during a June 13 meeting with five African presidents.

The campaign stirs a sympathy chord among top-name evangelicals, too. Mr. Warren, the top-selling Christian author, issued a June 3 endorsement of The ONE Campaign, along with evangelist Billy Graham and British theologian John Stott. Christian music icons Michael W. Smith, Jars of Clay, and tobyMac also signed. So have a variety of Christian relief organizations, including World Concern, World Vision, Episcopal Relief and Development, and Operation Blessing International, the relief and development arm of televangelist Pat Robertson's empire.

But offstage a band of leading economists and scholars says the G8 plan is not only misguided but harmful, particularly for church-based poverty-fighting efforts. "Debt forgiveness rewards the corruption and inefficiency of governments who have mishandled loaned funds," writes the editorial board of the Kairos Journal in a letter sent June 6 to Mr. Warren and Mr. Stott, along with others. "In forgiving the debt of poor nations, we're not forgiving the debts of those nation's poor; we're merely enabling bureaucratic perfidy and incompetence."


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