Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Aid for Africa (Again?)

Several conservative bloggers seem genuinely impressed with the Live8 campaign to End Poverty in Africa:


It struck me that Geldof, like Bush, saw establishing democracy as central to solving problems. And there was none of the Bush-related cynicism one normally expects to hear. How can Bush take the lead pushing for democracy in Africa when so many people in other G8 countries are derisive about his efforts in Iraq? No such thing was said. Geldof acted as if such a thought did not exist. He thinks Bush is perfectly positioned to take the lead.
(OK, she's not a conservative, but she isn't a lefty either and she's generally pretty reliable.)

It ends up that Bob Geldof, the organizer or Live 8, has a real plan for tackling poverty in Africa (real, in that it involved free trade and competition in parts of it) and hopes the blogosphere can use some of its influence in pushing towards the means needed for the end. The conference call should be up as a podcast a little later, and I'll urge you all to listen to it. I hope to get you more information soon (that was my main suggestion during the conference call was to have a place to link to where things are explained as well as Sir Geldof explained them himself), and, perhaps, you'll see more of the blogosphere talking about this.

To say that I was impressed would be an understatement. Geldof is an extraordinarily knowledgeable guy. Equally important, he is not soft-headed about Africa's problems. He emphasizes free markets and the need for political reform, which should be, and according to Geldof will be, a condition of the assistance that he advocates. Another important point, I think, is that he talks eloquently not only about the appalling conditions in some areas of Africa, but also about the striking progress being made in areas where political tyranny or upheaval have made such progress impossible. While I am no expert on Africa, I know that there are a lot of important, under-reported positive stories coming out of that continent.

Citizen Smash:
Overall, I'm happy to report that much of my skepticism was unwarranted. In case you haven't noticed, Geldof hasn't produced much music in the past 20 years. Instead, he's devoted his life to fighting hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it shows -- Sir Bob really knows his stuff. And while he is clearly trying to reach out to a wide spectrum of people, he didn't pull any punches when it came to criticizing those who waste, embezzle, or squander public money (at one point, he casually mentioned that both Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy and French President Jacques Chirac would be in jail for corruption if they weren't leaders of their respective nations). I was impressed.

Here's the clincher: Geldof wasn't asking for donations. He admits that food aid and even debt cancellation, while helpful, are of limited utility in the long run. Instead, he's asking us to start a converstation about how to stimulate long-term development in Sub-Saharan Africa. "This isn't Live Aid 2," the website reads, "LIVE 8 is about justice not charity."

Little Green Footballs:
Despite my skepticism (rock stars with causes, oh boy), I was impressed with Geldof's knowledge of the situation, and by his group's ideas to make sure that whatever aid is generated will not simply be pocketed by corrupt African dictators. Ultimately, the vision seems to be to promote freedom and reform on the African continent. Geldof said, "Robert Mugabe will not be included."

Ed at Captain's Quarters was live-blogging:
Believe me, we all understand the skepticism -- perhaps Geldof most of all. We know this will be a tough sell, even to ourselves. I want to see the specifics before I go running around mindlessly supporting it. However, I think we need to ask ourselves where we want to see Africa in twenty years, and what needs to be done to get it there.

Even John Hawkins at Right Wing News had good things to say about Geldof (though he is unconvinced about the program):
He said nice things about the Bush administration, seemed appreciative of the help America is giving, thinks Robert Mugabe is a hopeless tyrant, talked a lot about accountability in Africa, seemed to have a fairly good grasp of the political landscape in America and Africa, and generally came off as exactly the opposite of the airy headed, sniping liberal, rock star you'd expect.

Still -- while my opinion of Geldof improved considerably, I'm an enormous skeptic on Africa. Sure, we can always do something, feed hungry people, give a certain amount of aid, forgive debts, but -- the reality is that the problems Africa has are on a scale that simply can't be fixed by the West.

So, what to make of all this optimism? Well, it strikes me that much of it comes from the marketing skill of Joe Trippi who has evidently figured out how to talk to conservatives and is training Geldof. I don't yet see evidence of anything concrete that would make conservatives happy. The only two proposals on the table -- doubling government aid and canceling debt -- are actually antithetical to the free-trade ideal that has everyone singing. And even that is couched in leftist terms of "trade justice", presumably to avoid scaring off the base.

The enthusiasm probably stems from the simple fact that we have finally found someone who speaks our language. And this is no small thing. When you have been alone in the dark for a long time, the faintest light or the most distant sound of a human voice can be a joyful thing. Most of the respondents expressed continued skepticism, but it is only natural to hope that someone who actually talks about free-trade and democracy as vehicles for social renewal might actually be able to make a difference.

And one, small, final point: if the Aid Crusaders are starting to realize that they need our input, is it possible that we may be winning the war of ideas that we have been fighting for the past quarter century? Too early to tell, really.

But, here's hoping.

Update: A different kind of Aid for Africa.

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