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It’s Only Rock ’N’ Roll
Live 8 performers don’t tell the whole story about African problems.

by  Todd Drenth
July 5, 2005

     The old saying goes: “the road to hell is paved with Good Intentions.” Roads are certainly one of the many things Africa needs, but the Live 8 concerts had little to do with such practical solutions.

     On Saturday July 2, 2005, more than 150 bands took to the stage in nine cities on four different continents to “raise awareness” about the problem of poverty that persist in Africa. The concerts featured some of music’s biggest stars such as Coldplay, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, and U2. They were organized by performer Bob Geldof who 20 years ago organized Live Aid, concerts that raised more than $140 million for world famine relief.

     Geldof and other promoters of the concerts stressed that these concerts were not about raising money. “We don’t want your money, we want you,” one of the taglines read. In reality, the concerts were a call for money – billions of dollars. They just weren’t asking for checks at the concerts on Saturday. Rather, Geldof and many of his millionaire performers called for the nations attending the G-8 summit this week in Gleneagles, Scotland to pledge billions in tax-dollars for aid relief in Africa.

     The concerts were organized to directly coincide with the G-8 summit that began July 5, 2005, and was attended by heads of state from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United, States, and hosted by Great Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair who personally has advocated for increased aid for Africa.

     “Nobody is asking for anybody's money,” commented Mike Shinoda of the band Linkin Park. Singer Sarah McLachlan was one of several artists to show otherwise: “The government has to give more money to alleviate the debt,” McLachlan said while performing July 2, 2005, in Philadelphia.

     The United States in particular has been criticized for the amount of aid it provides to Africa. Journalists have been quick to point out that the United States spends roughly 0.1 percent of its Gross National Product for aid, while other western countries such as England spends roughly 0.3-0.4 percent. However, journalists and Live 8 performers rarely pointed to the fact that American citizens have been some of the most generous people in the world.

     In an interview with U2 front-man Bono on Saturday, Kate Snow on Good Morning America on ABC specifically asked Bono “whether the US is doing enough?” To which Bono replied that “We’d like more money. We still think America’s commitment is too low on the money side.”

     CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour had a similar question for Prime Minister Blair in an exclusive interview that appeared in the CNN special report “Can we save them?” Sunday July 3, 2005: “Do you think that if people in America…knew how little in fact their governments do pay for foreign aid that they would come around to supporting their governments when they want to increase that?” Nowhere in the special report, an in-depth look into Africa’s woes, was a mention of the billions of dollars in aid privately donated by Americans. That number exceeded $62 billion in 2003 according to the Hudson Institute.

     Nowhere in the eight-hour extravaganza was there any question about the role of government to engage in international philanthropy, or what impacts increased federal foreign aid financed through tax-dollars would have on future private charitable donations and activism abroad. However the impact and effectiveness of the efforts at Live 8 and G-8 have been open to criticism.

     On the CBS Saturday Early Show David Rieff, a “humanitarian policy analyst” and author of “At the Point of a Gun,” adamantly said that the concerts wouldn’t make a difference: “They don’t care about Africa. This is symbolic politics to sort of placate some part of their constituencies. This is really the worst kind of mystification, this kind of event.” While on the same program music critic Christopher Farley commented “many more members of the G-8 countries will have copies of U2’s new album. I think that will be [the] big effect here.”

     A Washington Post article by Emily Wax on the front page of the Sunday edition July 3, 2005, reflected doubts many Africans have about the efforts being made this week by rock stars and politicians. The Wax article pointed out that “a dangerous disconnect” exists between what Africa needs and the solutions the west offers: “Instead of debt relief and more aid, many Africans said they wanted the G-8 to focus on ending corruption and on improving roads, courts, banking and secondary education,” said the story.

     “Even if they cancel the debt, even if the give our governments aid money, ordinary Africans will not benefit,” explained Kenyan coffee farmer Peter Kanans, “That money will only make the corrupt people richer and Africans international beggars for decades to come.” Kanans told Wax that he’s poorer than his father was despite billions of dollars in poverty efforts by the west in recent decades.

     Prominent Sengalese-born filmmaker Ousmane Sembene called the G-8 summit and the Live 8 concerts “fake” last month in London, adding that “African heads of state who buy into that idea of aid are all liars. The only way for us to come out of poverty is to work hard.”

     Indeed corruption within African governments has made it increasingly difficult for Africa to become prosperous. “You address poverty by filling someone’s belly, giving them a doctor and clean water and a house. But that doesn’t make them competitive in the world market,” said Ross Herbert from the South African Institute of International Affairs in the Wax article.

     Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life” was on “CNN Sunday Morning” July 3, 2005, talking about the problems of corruption and poverty Africa: “The real issue here is that I think that poverty is a spiritual issue. I think that we have delivered in the past, billions of dollars of aid to Africa in the past and a lot of it never even got there…there have been a lot of time we’ve sent money over and it never really got to the people.”