Pages

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Re-establishing Perspective on African Poverty


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.


4 comments:

JL Pagano said...

Mr Pruden seems very sure about what the "grown-ups" need to do to resolve the situation, but I have to wonder - had there not been the Live8 concert and MakePovertyHistory campaign, would he have been offering his opinions on the matter a few days before the G8 summit? I think not. Good thing they were there at all to get his attention so we could all drink from the firehose of his profound wisdom.

I find his patronizing tone laughable, his lack of understanding of the cause pitiful. To sum it up with the words "just stuff a few billion dollars down the bottomless holes on the Dark Continent" illustrates a serious lack of research into the aims of the campaign, a shortcoming that makes a mockery of his position as editor in chief of a popular newspaper.

James Howard Shott said...

I was predicting just such a response from you, knowing your fondness for this effort. He didn't need Live 8 to call attention to the G8, but he does rightly note that while these concerts and other such efforts garner a lot of headlines, they do little to make a real difference in their target cause.

To sum it up with the words "just stuff a few billion dollars down the bottomless holes on the Dark Continent" illustrates a serious lack of research into the aims of the campaign, ... doesn't address the "aims of the campaign," it addresses its success, or rather the lack thereof. The essence of that story is this comment: "... but Nigerian despots alone have already pocketed the equivalent of six Marshall Plans."

I'd like to suggest, Mr. P., that you give some thought to Pruden's meaning, and try not to focus on his style. I find his style delightful, but I can see if you are fond of the target of his criticism, his style may offend you. Still, I think his primary point is right on the money: "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."

JL Pagano said...

I was well aware that your were predicting a response from me, and I did not wish to let you down!

This campaign for which I have such a "fondness" as you put it is about putting pressure on the G8 leaders to achieve three aims: Drop The Debt, More and Better Aid, and Fair not Free Trade.

These are goals that those who are "fond" of the campaign want to see the political leaders achieve. What your friend Mr Pruden did was to simply suggest a course of action which will achieve this end while at the same time belittling the efforts of the campaign.

We don't care how they do it, just that they do it, and consider it a priority. If he wants to make it look like it was all his idea I say let him; the results far outweigh who tries to take credit for them.

On the one hand, it is suggested that young people don't care enough about politics, yet when they do try to vocalize their concerns, they get patted on the head by condescending editors in chief and are told they have naive bleeding hearts. Quite amazing.

James Howard Shott said...

It was not "a response" I referred to, but "this sort of response," meaning that you would defend it. Not a criticism, by the way.

I don't have a problem with the aims of the Live 8 concerts and the other efforts to achieve what are truly worthy goals in Africa. Neither does Wes Pruden. But he recognizes that events like Live 8 do very little to actually help. Yes, it focuses attention. But it's not as if no one knows of the travails of African nations and the horrible conditions many of its citizens live in. And, as he points out, billions of dollars have been spent in efforts to alleviate those horrible conditions with little success, due to the political realities there. He says plainly, "[t]he 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, ..."

Efforts like Live 8 are an exercise in futility that contribute very little to changing the causes they are organized to affect. They are little more than an effort at feelgoodism. At the conclusion, everyone feels satisfied that they've done something meaningful, but the status quo remains unchanged.

Simply vocalizing concern is pointless. Until the political atmosphere in Africa changes, nothing else will change. So, Bob Geldoff and the other organizers get kudos and pats on the back from the world, but they have had no substantive effect on the African problems.