Now that the hoopla has died down, here's a dash of cold water from Wes Pruden to restore common sense to the discussion of African poverty and other problems:
Slaking a thirst with a fire hose
July 5, 2005
This must be Tuesday, because poverty in Africa ended Monday.
All it took were a few chords, a lot of screaming, several acres of dirty hair and a cloud cover of lethal body odor. When the last guitar strings snapped Saturday night at those Live 8 concerts across the world, promoter Bob Geldof's over-the-hill gang had the prescription: just stuff a few billion dollars down the bottomless holes on the Dark Continent.
"This is the greatest rock show in the history of the world," cried the announcer at the London concert. Gushed a disc jockey on XM Satellite Radio: "This is the single most important concert ever."
No one wanted to stop there. Shouted one of the "musicians" of a group called Coldplay: "This is the greatest thing that's ever been in the entire history of the world."
Since "the entire history of the world" includes the extinction of the dinosaurs, the eruption of Krakatoa, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the construction of the pyramids, the Resurrection of Christ and man's landing on the moon, Live 8 had to be impressive mush.
But this week the grown-ups take over, as grown-ups always must, when the G-8 economic summit commences in Scotland under the baton of Tony Blair, who not only wants to eliminate African poverty but to end global warming before Christmas.
The nations of the West must do something to ease the brutal pain of generations of unbridled greed, ignorant incompetence and rabid corruption in Africa. It's our Christian duty. But it will require discipline that is out of fashion in the 21st century, and it certainly isn't what the simple-minded noisemakers of Live 8 had in mind.
The example of Nigeria says it all. Figures released last month by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, as reported in the London Daily Telegraph, reveal that in the 45 years since Britain granted independence in 1960 a succession of despots squandered $387 billion (that's a "b," not an "m"), almost to the dollar the sum of all Western aid to all of Africa between 1960 and 1997. One of the despots, Gen. Sani Abacha, now safely dead, is believed to have looted Nigeria's vast oil reserves of more than $5 billion in just five years.
William Bellamy, the U.S. ambassador to neighboring Kenya, startled the guests at his Fourth of July garden party yesterday with just the kind of bluntness needed to keep African aid in realistic perspective. "Turning on the fire hose of international compassion and asking Kenya and other African nations to drink from it is not a serious strategy for promoting growth or ending poverty."
President Mwai Kibaki, the Kenyan president, was off at the African Union summit in Libya, helping other despots draw up their gimme list. In his absence, a deputy fired back at Ambassador Bellamy, complaining that Kenya had been singled out for criticism just because it doesn't take terrorism seriously. Aid for Africa, he told the ambassador, "should not get entangled with the politics of your dissatisfaction with a regime, unless you have decided on a regime change."
Nobody has, unfortunately, and that's exactly why aid for Africa is as close to hopeless as anything can be. Regime change all across the continent is sorely needed, even more than another concert by unemployed service-station attendants whanging away on electric guitars and other noisemakers.
Tony Blair's No. 2 man, George Brown, talks giddily of a Marshall Plan for Africa, but Nigerian despots alone have already pocketed the equivalent of six Marshall Plans. George C. Marshall's miracle scheme for rebuilding Europe worked because mature European leadership was determined to rescue the continent from the ravages of World War II. There's scant evidence that Africa's "leaders" want anything more than to drink from the fire hose.
Live 8 concerts are nice, and the photographs of starving children will break the coldest heart, but unless Europe and the West accompany aid with the kind of supervision nobody has the courage to impose, the aid will wind up in the usual Swiss banks, and 20 years from now another generation of children will die while naive hearts bleed.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times.