by Raymond Garcia
(Swans - July 18, 2005) So here we are, 20 years after Live Aid for Africa, the big fundraiser to fight hunger and lovefest for entertainment stars in 1985. Now in 2005 we have Live 8, organized by the same bloke (Sir Bob Geldof, ex Boomtown Rat), designed to "draw attention to" African poverty in preparation for the G-8 (U.S., Japan, Russia, Canada, European Powers) economic summit at Gleneagles, Scotland. This time, fund-raising was not the focus; the impetus was to put pressure on the G-8 countries to address African poverty. Yet two striking similarities between the events are clear: another lovefest for big entertainment stars, and a run on hospitals to treat celebrities for sprained or broken arms from patting themselves on the back.
To review, Live Aid for Africa in 1985 raised $120 million, enough to feed all hungry Africans for about two days. Whoo Who! And 20 years hence, African countries are far more screwed than ever. But it was well intentioned, one might say. Indeed. And Bob Geldolf got a "Sir" title out of the deal, one he doesn't shirk. In fact, he was quoted in the British press as claiming "to have done more for African poverty than any man alive." So it makes sense that 20 years later he's at his delusional best doing it again.
However, this time the stakes and the nature of the game have changed. No money was raised for the cause, just millions of people tuned in to free concerts who "will be watching you," as Sting cynically sang in re-fashioned lyrics to the Police song as a warning to the G-8 summitiers. Let's be clear here: the whole thing was constructed as a warning to the powerful countries of the world, those presiding over corporate globalization, that the Live 8 artists and audience demanded that they "do something" about African poverty. This is somewhat akin to millions of people calling for an end to the sexual abuse of children in families: it won't happen, at least not on a substantive level.
Think about it: the countries that have created the globalized economy that keeps poor countries in a disadvantaged position are expected to be so moved by this entertainment extravaganza that they'll change the policies that benefit themselves? What is Sir Bob smoking? Gimme some! Yet, far worse, this charade has given the global exploiters ideological and political cover for their actions, historical and contemporary, by endorsing programs that guarantee continued exploitation for the poor countries of the world, especially those in Africa (this point has been well developed by George Monbiot in the Manchester Guardian, see monbiot.com).
The world press has been trumpeting this $40 billion "debt forgiveness" program for the poorest countries announced as a prelude to the Gleneagles talks as some great breakthrough in international aid, and in some ways it is exactly that. Sir Bob and Bono (soon to be "Sir" as well, no doubt) deserve some credit for their efforts, without question, as the hard line on "debt payback" for poor countries may have been finally broken (note, the word is "may"). Yet this program is akin to an individual getting a credit card company to eliminate some unjustly applied fees. This fact has completely escaped the leaders of the Live 8 concerts, as well as the coverage of the "debt relief" program as portrayed in the US media.
In the U.S., the coverage has always stated "debt forgiveness for poor countries" with no mention of the conditions poor countries must meet to achieve this forgiveness. In other words, it's been portrayed as "unquestioned generosity" toward poor countries, with no mention that conditions must be met to achieve this "generosity," the very conditions that have left poor countries screwed in the first place.
These conditions, known as "structural adjustment policies" mandated by the IMF and World Bank for continued "aid" to poor countries, are universal neo-liberal prescriptions for poor countries to radically shrink government expenditures while opening up local resources (land, natural resources, labor) to privatization. Here, privatization has had one clear meaning: letting global corporations buy up local resources on the cheap, because neo-liberal economic dogma dictates that the international "free market" can distribute resources far more efficiently than locally controlled entities can, especially local governments. Combined with the mandated radical reductions in spending for public health and development in poor countries, these policies have had the disastrous effect of increasing poverty in poor countries significantly over the last two decades since "Live Aid for Africa."
Yet these same neo-liberal "structural adjustment" policies are at the core of this alleged jubilee of debt forgiveness offered the poor countries by the G-8 at Gleneagles. The 18 countries eligible to have debts "written off" (only debts to international agencies, by the way, not including regional and private lenders) are all countries that have adopted these policies in full, thus leaving their local economies destitute.
Is it any surprise that global corporations have come in and cherry-picked the best land and resources, hired local labor at the cheapest international rates, and re-oriented local agriculture to export crops (not in competition with the main crops of the wealthy countries, mind you)? The obvious agricultural result is the plunge in local staple crop production (i.e., cheap food locals need to survive, like corn, legumes, rice, etc.), thus increasing the cost of basic survival for all in poor countries. At the same time, radically reduced government expenditures have gutted local investment in education, disease prevention, and basic infrastructure like effective plumbing and sewerage. Case in point: these policies are pushing for the privatization of water supplies, among other neo-liberal fiascos. Think about it: access to clean water based on ability to pay. This is an example of what neo-liberal structural adjustment policies have wrought thus far for the poor countries of the world.
To make matters worse, guess who has been entrusted with administering aid to poor countries? Surprise! The very same corporations that have plundered them for at least twenty years (see George Monbiot's "Africa's new best friends" in the Manchester Guardian, July 5, 2005). As he notes, "While their power and profits in Africa will be enhanced with the help of our foreign-aid budgets, they will be bound only by voluntary commitments: of the kind that have been in place since 1973 and have proved useless." At the same time, a new IMF agency ("The Policy Support Agreement") will be created to essentially "green light" international lending to poor countries based on neo-liberal principles, rather like a Standard and Poor's bond rating (see the "50 Years is Enough" Website). Thus, the IMF still plays "gatekeeper" for loans to poor countries, even if they aren't "in debt" to the IMF anymore.
As Monbiot states in the essay cited directly above, "Where, on the Live 8 stages and in Edinburgh, was the campaign against the G8's control of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the UN? Where was the demand for binding global laws for multinational companies?" Why, nowhere to be found, that's where. And to bring it back home, none of this critical analysis is anywhere to be found in the US media coverage of the G-8 summit, the Live 8 concerts, and the efforts to address African poverty. In fact, the main point emphasized in US media coverage has been the "sorry corruption that plagues" the poor countries of the world, especially Africa.
This point was clearly illustrated in the July 3, 2005, essay by James Traub, "The Congo Case," in the New York Times Magazine about the sad state of the most important country of Africa, The Congo (look at the map if there is any doubt of its importance). Traub performed the spectacular feat of surveying the corruption and violence that has plagued this country's history with no mention of their status as a client state of the U.S. for over almost four decades, citing their main problem as "poor governance."
Traub cites old King Leopold of Belgium as the colonial power that established the mechanisms for the kleptocratic state, back in the 1880s. True enough. Then he covers the recent history with "Five years after independence, Mobutu toppled Congo's only elected president in a coup and instituted a home-grown version of Leopold's rapacity." No mention that, in 1961, the CIA took out Patrice Lumumba, a locally supported revolutionary hero, and ultimately installed Mobutu in 1965 as a US puppet. No mention that the U.S. backed the kleptocrat Mobutu to the hilt until his fall in 1997, flooding the Congo with "aid" in the form of military weaponry and support for Mobutu's plunder of this extremely rich (natural resources, people, geography, etc.) country.
Traub didn't devote a single word to the fact that Africa was a prime terrain for the hot battles of the so-called "Cold War" between the USA and the Soviet Union from 1945-1989 (and beyond). His entire article (over 5,000 words) was framed as if the people of The Congo simply can't govern themselves effectively, aside an infuriating reference to "neo-colonialism" near the end of the essay, which he of course fails to develop at all. Thus a million (or whatever) readers of the New York Times get no information at all about the role the USA played in screwing this majorly impoverished and important country in Africa, just a "gee ain't it bad" fantasy. Armed with such apologist accounts of the USA's past nefarious deeds in the name of "freedom," how can we hope to help poor countries?
This example of Traub's coverage of The Congo illustrates how people get the idea that "those people" just can't govern themselves. And the sorry fact is that Sir Bob and the future Sir Bono contribute to maintaining this fiction by signing on to the programs of the G-8, which will continue to legitimize the corporate exploitation of the resources of poor countries. Like Marx said about the fetishism of commodities, "all that solid melts into air." He would certainly extend this maxim to the international trade of commodities today. The concrete historical roots of poor countries' political and economic problems magically disappear, and their rapists are now presented as their saviors. With musical artists providing a self-glorifying soundtrack, neo-colonialism continues to march forth.