Africa discovered

Top stories of 2005 | Live8, G8, and other greats

Issue: "News of the year," Dec. 31, 2005

Africa, a trend? Apparently oxymorons can come true. The year saw an assortment of celebrities-from Live8 rockers to G8 leaders to billionaire Bill Gates and evangelical heavyweights like Rick Warren-demanding a sudden end to the lost continent's poverty.

Live8 organizer Bob Geldof launched a worldwide summer concert series to pressure political honchos to unload their public pockets. Just days before G8 leaders met in Scotland, 10 star-packed concerts July 2 spread out from Philadelphia to Berlin to London to Tokyo in performances before an audience estimated at 3 billion. Pink Floyd reunited for its first performance in 21 years; Will Smith was beamed worldwide leading concert-goers in snapping their fingers every three seconds to symbolize Africa's child death rate.

Rock stars in the end came away with most of what they wanted. G8 leaders pledged to increase Africa aid to $50 billion by 2010. They agreed to cancel $40 billion in debt for 18 of the world's poorest countries, including 14 in Africa. U2 lead singer Bono proclaimed: "We've pulled this off. The world spoke and the politicians listened."

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President Bush pledged $1.2 billion to fight malaria in Africa and promised to double U.S. aid by 2010. He was close-fisted on one demand-that the United States increase its giving to 0.7 percent of GDP. Currently, the figure is 0.16 and misleading, because it does not factor in vast and generous U.S. private charity.

For all the G8 generosity, Africans in the end are the realistic ones. "Please just stop" the aid, Kenyan scholar James Shikwati told the German newspaper Der Spiegel. Aid has "turned Africans into administrators of aid money," Mr. Shikwati, director of the Inter-Region Economic Network, told WORLD. "What I'd like to see in Africa is getting more African people involved in productivity. Aid does not really help us in terms of generating wealth."

Such reasoning admits what Mr. Geldof and company won't: that the causes of poverty are complex. Aid, for example, has not worked in large part because corrupt leaders raid the coffers. And bad policies also abound: Tariffs on agricultural products from African neighbors can be as high as 33.6 percent, strangling regional trade. Inflexible labor laws make it hard for businesses to hire and fire employees.

Absorbing G8 aid pledges, Mr. Shikwati said, already has weakened African negotiations for fewer Western farm subsidies and free trade at the World Trade Organization meeting, which opened Dec. 13 in Hong Kong.

Ironically, Bono and Mr. Geldof represent the "old-school Africa," Mr. Shikwati said, which holds that aid should keep flowing to compensate for colonial exploitation. "New school Africa" believes endless aid enslaves the continent. Africans do not need a celebrity traveling in an "air-conditioned van looking at the flies on our faces and looking at our shriveled bodies," Mr. Shikwati said. Power events such as Live8 make celebrities and their fans feel better, but when Africa's pop fame wanes, the hard work remains: helping Africans stand on their own.


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