Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lemon on Live8

So Bob "I care so much about Africa I have no time for personal hygiene" Geldolf has climbed back up on his soapbox and it is time for us to care about Africa again. Who said the eighties aren't back?

This time the concerts are free rather than being fundraising events, because although we are trying to increase aid to Africa, the idea that individuals have responsiblity goes against Bob's leftist principles. Rather, we must lobby our governments, who will take our money and decide how it is best spent. Because they do such a good job with that domestically.

The one thing I will say for the original Live Aid is that, as a child at that time, I remember fundraising and worrying about the little children in Africa who weren't getting fed. Sure, our efforts resulted in propping up a Marxist government that would have made Stalin proud, but they never told us that on Blue Peter. At least there was a message that we could all chip in and make things better rather than waiting for the government.

We have all hopefully learned that the solution is not just to throw money at Africa (or anywhere else for that matter), and if you listen closely that is not even what the Live8 people are saying. But the problem with both Live Aid and Live8 is that they treat Africa and Africans like they are a project. As if there is nothing that Africans can do but sit around and wait for rich countries to solve their problems. People keep talking about a "Marshall Plan" for Africa. We have sent far more money to the countries of Africa over the years than was given to Europe by the Marshall Plan. But Africa continues to have major problems. More money is not the solution. Africans need to get their own houses in order. Yes, debt relief is important for a country like DR Congo, which is indebted to people who sent funds knowing full well that Mobutu was using it to buy himself a lavish lifestyle. But you could erase Congo's debt tomorrow and it would still have a war in its eastern provinces, it would still have corruption and its elections would still be on hold. The Marshall Plan existed to help the countries of Europe rebuild after the war. Africa is not post-war Europe.

And what the hell is fair trade? Getting rid of farm subsidies in Europe and North America that are destroying agrarian economies? Sure, I'm all for that. But what the Live8 people seem to want to do is have state ownership of industry in Africa (I have to guess that this is what they want to do, because their website is very short on actual facts and very big on "the rich are so evil and trying to screw over Africa!") . Well, Mobutu was certainly all for state-owned industry. Let the people who have been robbing Africans of their wealth for decades continue to control everything. That sounds like a plan!

I will grant you that the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. Which matters not at all, because the poor (despite what they like to say) are not getting poorer. It is not a zero-sum game. I'm not poorer because Bill Gates has billions of dollars. The people of Africa aren't poorer because I have thousands of dollars. The fact that lots of people live on $2 a day means nothing (have you noticed that their income has doubled in the last few years? It used to be $1. My income has doubled in the last few years too, but I was a student before... unless the continent of Africa also graduated from university in the past decade, it seems that they are doing pretty well!). What is $2 worth in a small village in Chad? I haven't a clue. I know it's worth more than $2 in Toronto. I'm not going to suggest that there isn't massive poverty or that millions of people are unable to meet even their basic needs. But irrelevant statistics about how much a person earns in US dollars when they are living in a completely different economic system help nobody. There is a poverty in Africa that cannot even be imagined in North America. But that is not the whole story. There is also a developing middle class. Africa is much better than it was 20 years ago. The poor are getting richer.

Live8 seems to be about making Africa a permanent welfare continent. The average African would be much better served by a huge marketing blitz pointing out that Africa is a great place for cheap labour. Perhaps you're not going to open up a factory in Darfur, but you could open one in Gaberone or Kampala. There are parts of Africa where the population is not educated enough, and the government is too corrupt for most companies to set up shop. But a lot of resistance to investing in Africa comes from the perception that it is a lost continent. Bob Geldolf and his ilk are never going to be part of changing this, because they don't think that corporations can make anything better. For all the supposed evils of globalisation, where would you rather raise a family, South Korea or Niger?

There is no wealth creation when I send money to Africa, there is just a transfer of funds to help people get by. But when someone starts a company or opens a plant, that person hires people, who can now pay taxes, and buy local products and the economy actually grows. And people use their wealth to educate their children, who start companies of their own. Ah, capitalism! And the great thing about this system, as opposed to the Live8 debt relief/aid/state owned industry solution is that it actually creates permanent wealth, and isn't dependant on Bob Geldolf hosting a rock concert every twenty years or so.

I do applaud Bob Geldolf and Bono for actually caring and trying to do something. They certainly aren't just paying lip-service to the problem, like so many other celebrities tend to do. I just wish they would take a second to recognize that what made them so wealthy wasn't somebody paying off their Visa bill as a favour when they were poor musicians, but a company recognizing their potential, taking a risk and investing in them. What worked for U2 can work for Africa.

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