Saturday, July 02, 2005

History in Multiples of Twenty - Live Aid, Live8, and just how much money have we thrown at Africa?

Any time people get together to try and solve a problem, or simply shed light on suffering or injustice, I think it's a good thing. Sure, Live Aid in 1985 didn't end hunger in Africa. Live8 today won't bring shopping malls, soccer moms, and rivers flowing with Coca Cola to that afflicted continent, either. But I commend anyone willing to take on a problem, especially one so insurmountable as getting Africa on its feet. The world needs more of that kind of idealism.

Sneering cynics control our governments, stock markets, and entertainment. They have their say daily, and unquestionably would love to see the Live8 concerts flop. There is the self-important gobshite David Stubbs who gives his lame reasons why he won't be watching the concerts today. You see, people like David Stubbs believe that only easily solvable problems should be tackled. A message to all cancer researchers out there. Listen up all you social workers trying to make a difference one life at a time. Attention aid workers feeding the starving in impoverished nations. You're wasting your time. So says the likes of David Stubbs, who I'm sure it can be said never tried to solve any problem, ease any suffering, or aid any good cause.

I'm not watching the Live8 concerts today because I don't have cable TV. A high class problem, as my father would say.

While I do commend works like this, I have always been curious about the black hole of Africa's seemingly intractable troubles. Between Rome and the crown, Ireland never had a chance, ultimately losing a staggering portion of its population to emigration and starvation during the 1860s potato blight. Yet look at Ireland today -- it's flourishing. Poland has had the shit knocked out of it for hundreds of years. The map of the country has shrunk, just in the 20th Century, like a prune in the sun. Yet Poland today has the wherewithal to send troops to help in the Iraq war.

I have been aware of Africa's troubles for most of my life. As a child, when I wouldn't eat my dinner my parents told me about all of the starving children in Africa who'd kill to have the food on my plate. Money was always being raised at school for the missions in Africa. The heartbreaking images of starving children have been a staple on television commercials for C.A.R.E. and Save the Children for as long as I've been watching television.

During the winter when I was in eighth grade, a friend and I went door to door collecting money for famine relief in Ethiopia. We had been spurred on by the song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" We collected only a few hundred dollars. I'm sure David Stubbs would be glad to tell me how little good our miniscule contribution made, but we did it and there it was.

Fast forward to today -- the Live8 concerts are happening, we've got Bono, et al, demanding debt relief for Africa. Bono said on CNN recently that Live Aid was about charity, and that Live8 is about justice. Fair enough. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization have histories as sordid as any of Africa's warlords and dictators. I always figured there was interest on the money lent to Africa, and elsewhere, but I never imagined these countries/continents being organized enough to pay it. Or even caring to pay it. From what Bono says, it seems that Africa has nothing else on its mind but the interest on its debts, putting money toward that before feeding their hungry. If that's the case, I think different people should be in charge of the money in Africa because I, for one, would be feeding the hungry before paying interest on anything.

Obviously, it's not all so easy, so cut-and-dried.

But then there was an article recently in the Telegraph that began:
The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in his drive to help Africa was laid bare yesterday when it emerged that Nigeria's past rulers stole or misused £220 billion.

That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa's most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent.
Unless I'm utterly misreading this fairly straightforward article, this somewhat dents and stalls my enthusiasm for throwing money at the problems in Africa. And this is only in Nigeria. What the hell has gone on in the rest of the continent? So they achieve total and utter debt relief. Then what? Obviously the problem has not been Africa receiving no money from wealthy countries, but Africa's colossal misuse of that money. If Africa achieves total debt relief -- something that I shall soon be seeking -- who is there to ensure the money that would have been put toward its debts is being used properly? I haven't heard an answer to that question anywhere.

Is there anyone who can stand up and honestly and accurately say that giving one more dollar, Euro, pound, or drachma to Africa isn't sending that money down a rathole? If someone can, then I'll scratch out a cheque right now. Otherwise, I think some other solution is in order for Africa. Invade or let nature run its course, neither of which is remotely humane.

So, I'll listen to Bono, and try to believe that Africa can be saved. The best I can do from Onion Field, Ontario where I don't even have cable television or the wherewithal to pay my own bills -- much less the interest accruing on these bills -- I can at least send a positive vibe, a prayer, my congratulations, and my hope that lives in Africa, and elsewhere, are soon improved.

What does David Stubbs plan to do today rather than watching the Live8 concert?

"Instead of watching Live 8, I will be doing something considered morbid in these emotionalist times - I am going to go upstairs and have a good think."

That ought to save many more lives, David, than those unenlightened rock stars performing today.

One question for you, David. When you go upstairs to have a "good think," do you use your right hand or your left hand?


RossK said...


Now, I too know what to do today as my kids force me to listen to it on the local t-bop radio station all day long.

As an aside I, like Rob commenting on the post below, have really enjoyed your stuff.

Cathie from Canada said...

Hi - Ross directed me to your post and it is a good one. I don't know what the solution is for corruption, except it seems to me that the banks just blandly slip under the radar here -- and the companies who sell airplanes and boats and jewelry and luxury real estate. What do you DO with 200 billion dollars? Where do you put it, and what do you pay for with it? Seems to me there is not just a corruption problem with African leaders, but with the whole constellation of people all around them who are helping them profit from their corruption.

Whetam Gnauckweirst said...

Yeah, I couldn't agree more that the problem is more vast than simply blaming African mismanagement of the money.

But remember the Telegraph article spoke of 220 billion British pounds, that's about half a trillion dollars.

I agree, what do you do with that much money, how do you hide, how do you spend it? No easy answers. I hope since Live Aid 1985, someone on the charity side has grown more savvy. Although the Live8 concerts weren't about raising money. I actually liked seeing the banners that read "We Don't Want Your Money."

Thanks for chiming in! You're welcome any time!

M@ said...

The fact that so much money was stolen -- that so much more money was stolen than given -- presents a couple of possible scenarios, I think:

- The figure is inaccurate. I haven't seen the Telegraph article but it certainly seems possible.

- The money was stolen in the form of Africa's vast resources, and sold to us -- the rich, fat, white westerners.

Whether the first scenario is correct or not, the second is almost undoubtedly true. I think Bono's message is focused incorrectly: we don't need to be aware of Africa so we can save it; we don't need to give the Africans anything; we need to return to them the peace we took from them.

That means investing in their infrastructure programs -- not by sending multinational contracting firms, but by providing the money and leadership to pay Africans to do the work. Our contributions have to come as jobs, materiel, and leadership, not handouts and food shipments.

Most of all, we have to trust Africans to get it right. I suspect there is still an element of racism to it, much as we want to move on from our racist past.

I agree that giving money to Africa has been useless -- worse than useless. What we need to do is give Africa peace and prosperity. There's no question that that will give us more peace and prosperity too. Economics, even third-world economics, is not a zero-sum game.

Whetam Gnauckweirst said...

This will sound sarcastic, and I don't mean for it to sound sarcastic, but one cannot simply bottle "peace" and "prosperity" and send it to Africa. The most powerful nation in the world claims to be attempting to bring "peace" and "prosperity" to the country of Iraq and has been failing spectacularly at that endeavor for more than two years.

Some different approach, certainly, is needed with regard to aid for Africa. The cold clinician in me wonders if we all shouldn't just tend our own backyards for a few years, feed our own poor, repair our own schools, and then we might see the problem that is Africa in a different light.

Ascendantlive said...

I agree, we have ignored our own econimic/social problems(U.S.) for too long. And have done much the same thing to ourselves as we have done to Africa; try to solve problems by throwing money at them. It hasn't worked for education or poverty/welfare in the United States. To a certain point, these things need money, but they also need a plan that is not enough and never will be. If we doubled the federal education budget sure it would probably make the schools better, but if we tripled the budget would that make it 3 times better? I don't think so. And as I say this I wish I had a plan, I don't, but being aware is the first step to doing something about it.

VegasRoyale said...

Hi Matt
I have very mixed reactions to the whole Live8 event. I can't help being cynical about being told to make poverty history by a coterie of millionaire musicians. Furthermore, I don't think that anything is going to be achieved until the problem of corruption, most specifically in African countries, but also in the Western countries providing "aid" is resolved.
That said, significant numbers of those attending the concerts were probably unaware of even the existence of G8 prior to last weekend. It might be too easy to laugh at the likes of Elton John mouthing platitudes about the hardship of an entire continent, but it can't do any harm to at least start the debate among the less world-weary, notwithstanding the cries of hardliners that unwarranted legitimacy is thus being provided to the prevailing system.
Anyhow, hope all is well with you.
Al (australia)