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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

African Blues

A link to a sobering piece on Africa by one of the Guardian’s most sensible writers, Martin Kettle. This was written last week, before the G8 agreement on debt cancellation, before Ethiopian troops shot 36 demonstrators dead, and before the South African deputy president was sacked over a corruption scandal – all of which events only make it all the more pertinent.

Did you know that Africa has 100,000 millionaires? Or that every African, man, woman or child, now alive has received $5000 in aid? I didn’t. Of course probably precious few of the people who really need it have had their $5000-worth – that’s why there are so many millionaires.

Blair and Brown seem convinced, and to have convinced enough of their opposite numbers, that there has been a step change in the quality of governance, at least in the 18 countries selected for the first phase of debt relief. They had better be right, because otherwise this is just going to be another huge exercise in diverting money away from the people who really need it. You have to ask why, when governments have proved incapable of spending money wisely knowing they were going to have to pay it back, we should expect them to do any better with handouts which they get to keep.

Bob Geldof has done great things in the past, but we are now in the middle of what has become a fairly stomach-churning orgy of conspicuous compassion. What is really creepy about it is the way Africans are written out of the script as active participants in their own destiny. One way this happens is the typical Guardian reader’s conviction that everything and everybody are to blame for Africa’s plight, except for anything Africans do. The other side of it is the total lack of interest in things that Africans do as well as anyone else in the world. As a longstanding fan of African music I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that there wasn’t going to be a single African act at Live8.

It sounds appallingly trite, but nobody can change Africa unless Africans really want change.