Whatever you may think of the performances, the statements by the various artists and announcers in last weekend’s Live 8 concert — 10 different concerts broadcast worldwide by some of the world’s most well-known musical celebrities — amounted to a curious amalgam of feel-good sentiments leavened with noblisse oblige.
The multimedia extravaganza aimed at raising awareness and also pressuring world political leaders, meeting at the G-8 conference in Scotland, to relieve African poverty. Millions were urged to sign an online petition demanding Third World debt cancellation and doubled aid for these countries.
During the concert, impresario Bob Geldof hectored his audience with sarcasm, “Eight people in a five-star hotel on a golf course are going to have to listen to us.” Madonna, when not lewdly thrusting her pelvis at the audience and sprinkling profanities here and there, called for a “revolution to change the world.” Sting ominously warned the G-8 leaders with newly found lyrics: “Every vow you break, every step you take, every single day, every word you say, every game you play… we’ll be watching you.”
Despite the incongruous posturing of multimillionaire rock and pop stars and lesser performers who simply savored the global publicity, a private charity such as this can raise millions of dollars for a worthy cause. Twenty years ago, Mr. Geldof organized the similar Live Aid concerts and reportedly raised $2 billion for African famine relief.
Missing from this charity, however, is a clear understanding of the problem’s causes. Simply throwing more money at Africa — particularly at the government level — never solved anything. What happened to the $2 billion from the Live Aid concerts? What happened to the other $25 billion given by other private and public donors over the last decade? Why did African economic output drop 35 percent since the Live Aid concert?
Africa continues mired in poverty, as well as debt and squalid social conditions and unrest. Dominated by state terrorism and wanton carnage, countless thousands of its people have been uprooted by wars and genocide and have been made refugees in their own countries. Economic stability and growth are not possible where brutality, oppression and political tyranny rule.
Of 54 African countries, less than 15 are democratic. Africa represents 70 percent of world AIDS cases, and more than 12 million people have already died from it. In countries with tremendous wealth in mineral resources, including gold, diamonds and precious metals, corrupt African political leaders have garnered it for themselves and their supporters, and consigned ordinary Africans to poverty, misery, even starvation by sloganeering, brutal repression and arrant plunder.
In a new book, “Africa Unchained: A Blueprint for Africa’s Future,” economist George B.N. Aittey argues there are really two Africas. The first is the traditional, indigenous Africa, the country of the peasant majority who produce the nation’s agricultural and mineral wealth, and who struggle to survive among their splintered tribes and societies.
Modern Africa is the second, Mr. Aittey says. This is where “functionally illiterate elites and parasitic minority groups have created a bizarre politico-economic monstrosity that admits of no rule of law, no accountability, no democracy of any form, and even no sanity.”
In their respective countries, power-hungry, ruling gangster elites have debauched all government institutions — the military,civil service, police and judiciary — through intimidation, graft and murder. Mr. Aittey documents how these crooks and scoundrels have used the instruments of the state to enrich themselves and impoverish everyone else.
Nigerian scholar Ikenna Anokwute adds, “Imagine John Gotti or Al Capone as president of the United States. Well, welcome to the reign of thieves and vagabonds, welcome to our Nigeria today, a gangster’s paradise.”
Among political and economic reforms needed to get Africa on track, Mr. Aittey says the current corruption can be ended only by creating a continentwide, independent judiciary, military, press and political infrastructure, so free markets can flourish.
Simply pouring money into the current rat hole, like the money from Live 8, won’t solve these systemic problems, let alone eliminate sub-Saharan poverty. It will only funnel money into corrupt pockets. Afterward, the rich rock stars can shrug their shoulders, walk away, and say, “We’ve done what we could, but it didn’t work.”
A Michigan-based columnist and writer whose articles appear regularly in various local and national print and online publications. He may be reached at: