Bob Geldof should understand that political gestures and NGO activism are not the way to beat poverty in Africa
The Guardian/The Observer/UK
The famine that catapulted Bob Geldof's Band Aid to prominence had more to do with Ethiopian government policy to withhold food shipments to rebel areas than the weather and to spend nearly half of its gross domestic product on its military. Aid became a tool of the government's counter-insurgency strategy, being left to rot or distributed according to political objectives ("Stimulus for an entire continent – and Tony Blair deserves the credit", News Commentary).
The same political issues shape African development choices today and these, not external activism on aid, are key to understanding the continent's future trajectory. Geldof still seems to battle to understand that African development solutions, like the problems, are principally domestic, and also have to be founded in sustainable business logic, not political gestures or NGO activism.
"Aid," he wrote, "sent money into basic health, education and agriculture, providing stability at a fundamental community level and allowing stretched societies a moment to pause… while helping governments acquire the capacity they needed to govern." The timing, he claims, was critical, since it was exactly at this moment the Chinese became interested in Africa and a digital take-off occurred. What aid had to do with Chinese investment and its demand for natural resources is beyond me and I suspect most other Africans.
While Geldof lauds the continent as the "coming economic giant", it's still a very poor place, with per capita income around a tenth of the global average. Rapid population growth means that youth education, which lags behind other developing regions, is critical, as is providing the governance context to attract investment to create the jobs so necessary for political stability and, in a virtuous cycle, the right policy choices to be made.
For this reason, Gleneagles was important. Not for being the moment that aid was doubled and debt relieved, but the moment when external largesse as the solution for African development was taken off the table. Not by Blair, Gordon Brown or Sir Bob, but by Africans.
Dr Greg Mills
Tony Blair and Bob Geldof did a good job of showing how the G8 Gleneagles summit and Make Poverty History campaign in 2005 had a decisive impact on Africa's fortunes. As the UK prepares to host the G8 in June and the trade versus aid debate is hotting up, it is timely to be reminded how important well-directed aid can and will be.
However, both men missed a historic opportunity to explore Africa's green economy as the only viable way to keep the positive momentum going and fulfil the continent's vast potential. Africa's rise coincides with unprecedented challenges from climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, inequality and rapid population growth within still fragile democracies. Add to this a volatile global economy and increased competition for diminishing resources and Africa's continued growth is by no means assured. This was thrown into focus in Africa's Consensus Statement to the UN's Rio+20 Earth summit last June, where the need for a green economy as a tool for achieving sustainable development was the main theme. Unfortunately this document, which is the culmination of 20 years' green progress in Africa, was virtually ignored by the rest of the world.
Tony Blair's article ("Aid has transformed Africa. Now is the time for growth and governance", Comment) is as usual self-justifying in order to promote his statesman image. Africa continues to be plagued by wars. Sudan, Congo and Mali have civil wars and foreign intervention. Rwanda and Uganda are both intervening in Congo's civil war. Foreign multinationals are providing almost all of Africa's investment, eager to exploit the continent's natural resources at tremendous cost to its people. Poaching is on the increase, with record numbers of rhino and elephant slaughtered and bush meat being eaten to avoid starvation. In Nigeria, northern separatists are fighting the government and the oil companies.
Poverty is endemic in Africa. Blair's statistics are meaningless to the mass of Africa's population.