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Live8 – Are We Focusing on the Wrong Problem?

Live8 is a push by Bono to pressure the G8 into helping African nations by “doubling aid, fully cancelling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa.” It is a noble action that in the end might be too idealistic to actually help the poor and hungry Africans that it is striving to affect. The poor rural African who feels the repercussions of this debt and poor trade agreements is at no fault directly, but feels the weight much more heavily than the ruling aristocracy.

A Lesson in Irresponsibility?

A good friend of mine became very sick a couple of years ago. He had to go spend a week in the hospital, and with the help of the medical staff, was able to recover. Since he had no health insurance, he was personally given the bill of $26,000. After he picked his jaw up off the floor, he told them that he didn’t have the money to pay them this bill, that’s why he didn’t have health insurance. What if he were to pay them as much as he could right now, $10,000, instead of trying to pay the original amount off over the next 15 years. They gladly took his $10,000 and he went on his way.

I believe the core of this story applies very well to what is happening in 3rd-world nations around the globe. For differing reasons they get into financial difficulties, some of it is their fault through bad management, some through corruption and greed, and others through happenstance and bad luck. Whatever the reason for their position, there is still a need to be responsible for past actions, even if it was by a previous regime.

If the G8 just forgives all of the debt and they are able start at ground zero what kinds of repercussions does that action ultimately have? What kind of message would have been sent to my friend if he was told that his hospital bill was being zeroed out because they realized he was to poor to pay it all? Would he have learned his lesson and started to buy health insurance, or would he have repeated his previous actions? Will these African nations learn their lesson and start behaving responsibly, or will they continue their habits of bad management, fiscal irresponsibility and will the deeply imbedded corruption continue?

The answer to this indemic problem in Africa, and in other poor 3rd-world countries, is found in having each nation be responsible for their actions, but decreasing the sting of it. Instead of wiping the slate clean, can we think of an option that would allow them to pay us back some of what they can pay back and forgiving the rest?

Who really benefits?
As noble of a cause as Live8 is, I can’t help but think of what I know about Africa. In reality, there is a ruling elite that runs the show. Though the corruption might not be as blatant as in the past, the fact is that favors are done all the time that cause the international aid money and public money to line the pockets of politicians, their friends and family. Does this happen in the US, Europe and Japan? Of course. Does it happen to the same extent? Not at all.

My biggest problem with Live8 lies in the fact that the problem with Africa is not that they have debt or that they have poor trade arrangements with the G8 nations. The problem with Africa is that the politicians are corrupt, the ruling elite will gain the most from Live8’s actions, and the extra money that they now have will still not see its way to the poor rural and urban African. The masses that Bono and his followers hope to help will still have the same problems 5 years after debt relief as they do right now.

Until the citizens of these countries take it upon themselves to force change within their government, peaceful or violent, the same actions will continue to be repeated. In the end, the ruling minority is just that: a minority. The vast majority, the poor rural and urban African, can take action to change the way their leaders operate. It’s not about us helping them, it’s about them helping themselves.

7 Comments

  1. sometimes we do things not for the object of our doing but for the peace of mind we give our selves by the doing.
    We say, “I have done this great thing, see what I have done? This is what I have done!”
    And though the consequences of our actions differ in actual reality from the idealism we put forth, we can still rest easy at night, knowing we have done our part in the world, not really caring about the reality.
    It is our peace of mind that we seek to find, not a solution to something we know nothing about.
    This is the fall of man.
    For the poor, the suffering, the heavy-laden become less important than ourselves.

  2. I think the whole issue is a lot more convoluted than you’ve made it seem. (No disrespect, Hash.) I’ve been a supporter of DATA for a couple years now, and I believe they ARE concerned with corruption, ruling elites, etc., and not as naive as you seem to think. DATA and other debt-relief proponents see debt forgiveness as the top-down solution, and future aid and fair trade as the bottom-up solution. They believe that 1st-world nations should stop pouring “aid” money into the pockets of the corrupt, ruling elite, who in turn create pro-1st-world trade policies that further damage the development of their poor nations. Instead, economically blessed nations should bypass corrupt governments altogether, funnelling monies to NGOs and grassroots trade co-ops…to the people who ARE taking it upon themselves to force change. The difficulty in this, of course, is further convoluted in that the US (and other 1st-world nations) benefit economically from the funky “free” trade policies the corrupt governments have instituted, so it’s not just the citizens of developing nations that need to force change from within.

    Advocacy is about power: using the power I have to speak for those who don’t have any, until such a time as they do. It’s not paternalistic or condescending; I don’t have a “look how the cute Africans are so needy” attitude. I do believe Africans have a responsibility to look to their own future – but in a global community, their future is my future, and I share that responsibility.

  3. Thanks for your comment Aly. You’re right, I did take a very high-level approach to this whole topic and just hit on some broad points that I felt were being overlooked. Don’t mistake my cynicism for non-support of the overall goals. I actually am glad that someone is trying to do something on a global level about poverty in Africa, I’m just questioning the strategy.

    If it was possible to funnel all of this money directly into the NGOs and co-ops, I’d support that. If there was a way to relieve the debt without conditioning the ruling corrupt government officials to believe that each time they mis-manage their economy that it will just be forgiven, I would support that too. Lastly, I would strongly advocate and support grassroots initiatives brought about by Africans themselves that seek to create a better economic or political situation for themselves.

    As you can see, my main aim is to see the Africans take the action. This Live 8 concert is great, it really is. What would be better though is to see this driven by Africans, and/or their diaspora, and to have a greater mix of Africans taking part in it. I want to see Africans fix Africa’s problems.

  4. Dig it. Sorry for the rant. The world is a funny place to be right now – walking the line between careless isolationism and arrogant advocacy is an excercise in caution, fraught with danger on both sides. I think Swoosh’s comments are a testament to that: God save us from salving our consciences with the despair of others.

    But neither do I want to err on the side of “Can’t they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps?” (My first week back from Kenya, a great uncle of mine – who probably couldn’t point to Kenya on a map if his life depended on it – went on a long-winded diatribe about African poverty being the natural result of laziness. I almost had an aneurysm.) It seems to me that advocacy at its best does not take away responsibility from those to whom it belongs. Instead, it seeks to indict and change the systems that interfere with the ability of those people to act on their responsbility. It’s my belief that gross governmental mismanagement of aid funding, astoundingly inequitable trade agreements, and unchecked corporate greed may in fact be systems that interfere with Africans’ ability to act on their responsibilities, and those systems are AT LEAST in need of examination, if not indictment and change.

    I’m putting my soapbox away. Tusker, anyone?

  5. BTW and off-topic: I’m a HUGE Robert Jordan fan…but I also feel kinda swindled in a Left Behind kind of way. Can you believe that by series’ end we will have digested nearly 20,000 pages? If only they gave some kind of post-graduate degree…

  6. Swoosh just got up here to spend the weekend with us (btw). No Tuskers here, just Corona and Captain & Coke…. 🙂

    I like your definition of advocacy at it’s best too. I’m 100% with you on taking the things that interfere with the ability of Africans to act. I’m actually in agreement with you on a lot of the things you say Aly. I come at it from a different angle than you though.

    Robert Jordan is over 70 (I believe). With all of the miriad unfinished plots out there, I’m wondering if we’ll EVER see an end to this. I want closure! Also, he’s in my top tier of fantasy authers. The other two are Tolkien and George RR Martin. If you haven’t read Martin’s stuff, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Lastly, Neal Stephenson is incredible. Read Cryptonomicon.

  7. I’ve heard that about Martin – I’ll see if the library is in the know and pick him up.

    And FYI – Jordan finished Wheel of Time a couple years ago. It goes to Volume 12, for release Fall 2006. (I’m pretty sure…if not, it’s Spring 2007.)

    Have a great weekend, guys! Salute the Cap for me.

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