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Critiquing St. Bob

Live 8 will be coming to Canada on the Dominion Day weekend with the goal of raising awareness of the suffering in Africa. To do this, Bob Geldof has enlisted Bryan Adams, Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot, the Tragically Hip, the Barenaked Ladies and many other tired beneficiaries of the CRTC to perform at a concert outside Toronto. And if all these acts fail to get the crowd to understand suffering, Céline Dion will also make a live via-satellite appearance.

Bob's not after money from the concert-goers this time, instead his goal is a shake-down of the governments of developed nations. He wants them to increase their foreign aid budgets and relieve debts, and is using the Live 8 shows, followed by a planned march (which will no doubt turn into a riot) at the G8 summit in Edinburgh as media stunts to attract attention to his ideas. While I have no doubts that Geldof is sincere in his desire to help Africa, I can't help thinking that this isn't the right way to do it. His confrontational rhetoric is aimed at shaming the affluent and he suggests that money is all that's needed to end poverty.

The real problem with Africa is that it's as conducive to economic activity as the planet Venus is to life. Anything of value that is not protected by a life-support system of private security is quickly destroyed by corrosive corruption and lawlessness. A correspondent from the Economist describes life in the Congo:

That's the Congo. Private cellphone networks work and private airlines work because the landlines do not and the bush has eaten the roads. Public servants serve mostly to make life difficult for the public, in the hope of squeezing some cash out of them. Congo is a police state, but without the benefits. The police have unchecked powers, but provide little security. Your correspondent needed three separate permits to visit the railway station in Kinshasa, where he was stopped and questioned six times in 45 minutes. Yet he found that all the seats, windows and light fixtures has been stolen from the trains.
Via Samizdata, I found a good series of articles by Richard D. North that neatly demolish St. Bob and his followers using reason and facts. They're short, and give a good background on the enormous challenge Africa faces. They're a good vaccine against the media barrage we're all going to be exposed to in the coming few weeks. It must be noted that the author is somewhat biased in his opinions, but he's not afraid to spell them out very clearly:
I have several prejudices against the Make Poverty History and the Live Aid and Live 8 campaigns. They revolve around vulgarity, grandstanding and sentimentality. I do not believe in the strength of feeling of many of the protesters. More particularly, I don’t believe that they are thinking usefully about the suffering in Africa. Theirs is an unattractive mix of misplaced guilt, pseudo-dissidence, political grandstanding, wilful ignorance, misplaced blame, and radical chic.

These campaigns are also infantilist: they believe or affect to believe that the grown-ups are to blame for everything and can fix anything; that youth owns virtue, and that impetuosity is its own virtue. Of course, I dislike the vulgarity of the left’s view of the world: the dislike of elites, whether good or bad; the assumption of the cold-heartedness of firms, governments and leaders.

Even many of the best Africans are to blame too. They are brilliant at blaming their problems on colonialism. Doing so cultivates a resentment culture and politics which are a perfect recipe for failure. Those Africans who renounce post colonial blues will be those who lead their countries out of darkness.


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» Why LIVE 8 won't work. from Mark in Mexico
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but are they hoping that one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15 minute break at Gleneagles (in Scotland) and sees ANNIE LENNOX singing SWEET DREAMS and thinks, [Read More]

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