I am plagued by a cheerless intuition that 10 years from now, we will all look back upon the Live-8 extravaganza as one of the greatest public relations frauds ever perpetrated against the African continent.
While it is not yet clear who will be caused to bear the principal responsibility for this, it would seem obvious enough that much of the blame will properly be charged to the project’s organizers and spokespersons, Bob Geldof and Bono of U2.
If their objective was to picture Africa to the world as hopeless, hapless, and pointedly responsible for its own economic predicament, they succeeded surpassingly.
During the run-up to July 2, Messrs. Geldof and Bono, with tenacious consistency, told halves of what would seem (to the world’s unwitting) to be two counterpoising stories. The first of the half-told tales was of the white world with its traditions of discontinuous compassion for the unfortunate. The second half-told story was of the black world with its traditions of penury, suffering and corruption - the first two conditions, in their apparent selective view, caused largely by the last. It was as if these flawed half descriptions of two peoples, one able, one not, were polar ineradicable marks struck by the Gods somewhere in the impenetrable mists of pre-history.
I watched a good deal of the pre-concert television coverage. During the withering blitz, I saw not a single comment from a single African scholar, politician, or rank-and-file citizen on Africa’s reaction to what the events’ white organizers were saying to the world on Africa’s behalf. Like the African performers who, with the exception of Youssou N’Dour, were excluded from the Live-8 concerts, Africa’s thinkers and political leaders were also largely excluded from this, the most European of song-feted weddings, joining vainglorious paternalism to historical amnesia.
Africa is not poor by accident. In fact, Africa is not poor at all. Many Africans, perhaps, but not Africa.
With a population smaller than India’s, Africa has two thirds of the entire world’s natural resources. It is flush with, among other things, oil, gas, diamonds, gold, plutonium, chromium, ferroalloy and coal. Europe, over a span of three and a half centuries, carted off any and everything of value that it could carry, including tens of millions of enslaved human beings and enough of Africa’s natural resources to enrich itself in virtual perpetuity. African countries, at their hard-fought independence, were left by their European exploiters with fewer than half the universities, continent-wide, that can be found today in the city of Boston. In Congo, with its abundant natural treasures, King Leopold of Belgium plundered extravagantly, while psychopathically slaughtering, along the way, 10 million Congolese between the years 1890 and 1910. In Angola, Mozambique and Guinea–Bissau, Portugal, following a murderous US-supported campaign of colonial suppression, was militarily expelled from its former slave-producing colonies, but not before making off with items as small and piddling as light bulbs and toilet tissue. Britain, in one episode of its several and varied colonial crimes, drew an arbitrary line around three populous and distinctly different peoples, and called it Nigeria, thereby creating the insoluble tensions that bedevil Africa’s bellwether nation, forty years on. The United States, while benefiting from slavery, colonized Liberia, saddled it with a Cold War CIA station and cursed it with a near-wageless rubber plantation called Firestone.
These stories, of course, were never told to the world during the long awful centuries of the Western world’s bloody conquest of Africa. King Leopold, during his reign, convincingly presented himself to the world as a philanthropist and an enlightened humanitarian. Just as convincingly, Europeans and Americans described slavery to themselves as a “civilizing” mission ordained by God.
Thus, in the hot discomforting glare of history’s completed record, the reason the African continent, according to the World Bank, has become again what it always was – the most profitable investment destination in the world – should surprise no-one.
Over the long haul of relations between the white and black worlds, disappointingly little of consequence has changed. The form of relations – yes. The substance of them – little, if at all.
Writing in the June 27 issue of The Nation,, Naomi Klein illustrates the current shape of matters quite well:
"…..70 per cent of Nigerians still live on less than $1.00 a day and
Shell is still making super-profits. Equatorial Guinea, which has a
major oil deal with ExxonMobil, ‘got to keep a mere 12 per cent of
the oil revenues in the first year of its contract’ according to a
60 Minutes report – a share so low it would have been scandalous
even at the height of colonial oil pillage."
Slavery may have ended, but hardly the engrained attitudes of an avaricious western culture that profited incalculably from it. In any case, I cannot imagine anything more offensive than a severely redacted program of events and information, organized from Europe and conceived to, among other things, stir in the invisible African victim’s sable heart that most damnably crippling of human emotions – gratitude.
Why are Africans poor? Had Messrs. Geldof and Bono really wanted the answer, they might simply have asked those who have nothing to fear from the answer – the Africans themselves.
A few years ago, I was part of a delegation that met in Rome with Pope John Paul II to seek his support for broad debt relief to African countries. As the visibly ailing pope struggled to receive all twenty or so in our party individually, Mr. Bono, unbidden, shoved a pair of pink sunglasses onto the pontiff’s contorted face. Though no members of the working press were in the room, it was widely reported on the day following our meeting that “the Pope grabbed Bono’s trademark wraparound sunglasses and put them on.” Nothing could have been further from what, revealingly, really happened. I could not know then how prophetic Bono’s crude, ill-chosen gesture would one day prove to be.
It is expected that the G-8 countries meeting in Scotland will make a grand announcement by meeting’s end of broad debt relief for Africa. It is thought that Nigeria will be “forgiven” $18 billion, after which the country will be left facing still an outstanding balance of $35 billion in debt. While such staggering sums would seem sobering enough, one only begins to learn how little things have changed after being told that these outsized sums mushroomed out of the Western fine print of an original borrowing of only $5 billion, against which the Nigerian government has already paid back $16 billion.
And Messrs. Geldof and Bono had railed on and on before the world about African corruption?