Thus, although large numbers of people probably found the idea of a movement against poverty and for social justice being fronted by some of the richest people on earth (Bono and Bill Gates to name two) to be a little bit odd, most people acknowledged that they were 'at least doing something' and thus should be supported.
However, it is important to ask ourselves what they were actually calling for and whether that was a good thing in itself. One of the stated aims of Live 8 and Make Poverty History was to raise consciousness about Africa. That's all very well, but what consciousness is being raised? There is hardly a person in the world who doesn't realise that Africa is poor. Beyond the simple message of Africa's poverty -not too useful in itself -the message of the mobilisation seems to have been that the G8 leaders, i.e. the leaders of the USA, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, and Russia, might be persuaded to help Africa by forgiving its debt. Unfortunately, this message is so deceptive and wrong-headed that rather than raising consciousness it only serves to reinforce delusions about how the world works.
The G8 leaders are far from being people who spend their days worrying about how to raise Africa from poverty. In reality, they spend their working lives actively ensuring that Africa remains poor and they do so quite consciously. Historically, the rich nations colonised Africa and set up imperial administrations precisely to ensure a steady f low of wealth from Africa to the West. Since the end of direct colonisation, little has changed in reality. The rich nations still regularly intervene militarily to prop up their favoured military dictatorships and to ensure their economic interests remain secure.
Western governments were directly responsible for the brutal and corrupt reigns of such monsters as Mobutu, Moi, Taylor and many, more brutal dictators. All the historical evidence suggests that they are quite happy to cause vast amounts of suffering to secure their economic interests and there is no evidence that their policies have any other aim at all.
While today they are less quick to use military force (although they still do - Liberia and Cote D'Ivoire have both been 'invaded' by Western troops in the last 3 years)this is only because they don't have to. The Third world debt crisis of the 1980s left most African countries massively indebted to the international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Many of these debts were originally loaned by Western banks to African dictators (mostly hand- picked by Western governments) so that they could brutalise their populations and ensure the continuing f low of wealth and natural resources from Africa to the West. International finance being what it is, African states have to pay hefty interest rates and today most of them have repaid far more than they were ever loaned yet still owe several times more.
This debt has been used as a very powerful stick by the Western nations. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s they imposed Structural Adjustment Programs on African countries which were having difficulty in repaying their loans. These programs were designed to ensure that countries where the population was starving were able to repay the interest on their debts to Western banks -"macro-economic stability" in economic jargon. They essentially forced African countries to cut back on social spending, fire large numbers of public employees and divert more of their money into repayment. As a result, most African countries give much more money to Western banks than they spend on health or education.
But surely, despite their shameful past, forgiving the debt would at least be a start in the right direction? This might be the case if the G8 were actually considering forgiving debt, but in reality their debt relief program is little more than the discredited structural adjustment dressed up as charity. Only a small number of countries qualify for the debt relief program (currently 18 in Africa)and they are chosen basically for their loyalty to Western capitalism. The debt relief also has a number of 'conditionalities' attached which demand "the elimination of impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign."
This is another way of saying that they demand an end to such things as free water services, free public education and health care as all of these things are clearly an impediment to private investment. So basically, governments that are loyal to the G8 will be forgiven their debts as long as they promise to stop spending money on the poor -hardly a very good plan for dealing with poverty. When it comes down to it, debt relief is just another macro-economic stability measure. Debts to banks that were never going to be repaid will be repaid by Western taxpayers and African governments will be prevented from running up such debts in the future by ensuring they are not tempted to spend money on the poor. Good for the banks, bad or everybody else.
At the end of the day, the Live 8 and MPH campaigns are part of the problem rather than the solution. They built up a myth about debt and the role of the rich nations in it. For Bob and Bono, this was down to a mix of political naivety and out of control egos. For the charities and NGOs involved it was simply a very effective PR tool and a nice little earner, so although many of them probably knew how wrong headed the whole thing was, they weren't going to rock the boat and scupper the best chance to fundraise of the decade.
It was left to the small number of radicals, anarchists and socialists to point out that the emperor had no clothes. A bunch of aging rock stars hanging out with politicians is not going to change the world, especially when the politicians are the same people who spend their working lives ensuring that Africa stays poor. At the end of the day, any movement against African poverty in the west will be no more than a means of rich and hypocritical people appeasing their guilt unless it addresses this obvious problem. To help people in Africa, a bit of charity is not the first step. The first step is to stop kicking them.
By Chekov Feeney
This edition is No87 published in July 2005