Read on for Mary Riddell's below analysis/comment on Bob Geldof. It's an extremely brave column, but after reading Geldof's "name-dropping" perspective on his contribution to the dubious results forthcoming from the Gleneagles G8 and Live8 in the London Guardian a few days ago, apparently oblivious to any recommendations or advice put forward by major aid agencies, it's difficult not to conclude that Geldof is from Mars [certainly not from Venus].
Here's to 2006 and further courageous journalism - Lynette
London -- Sunday January 1, 2006
The politics of Bob
Western leaders should look beyond Bob Geldof for solutions to a continent in continued crisis
This morning, at the stroke of a new year, Britain's presidency of the G8 expired, along with many dreams. Poverty is not history. One in four Angolan infants will die before the age of five; 40 per cent of Africa's children are still brain-damaged because of malnourishment. White wristbands did not save a continent.
So bring on Bob Geldof, a hero for a season of recycled resolutions. His membership of David Cameron's commission on global poverty has invited three reactions. The first is that he is about as useless as tincture of milk thistle against a New Year hangover. The second is that his saintliness is being exploited by the Tories.
The third response came from Geldof himself, in a text message to the Times. 'I will b an ad hoc, pro tem unpaid consultant 4 about 3 hours next year,' it reads. 'Im on hols. Go away, Bg.' Geldof's causes, including a pro-father crusade and outlawing work-related emailing (though evidently not texting from one's BlackBerry), have been briskly paced. Even so, saving a continent in three hours is some challenge.
Prior to this mission, Geldof wrote an end-of-year review of Live8, the Gleneagles summit and his own great achievements, which was published in the Guardian. In his account, he emerges as a tireless visionary, lacing praise for Blair and Brown with his triumph in seeing off their 'guff and grandiose schemes'. Critics of his selfless ways are dismissed as carping cynics.
In return, doubters are saying, publicly or privately, that Geldof is a vainglorious egotist, puffed up on unearned sanctity. More fool David Cameron to have enlisted such a dodgy prophet. Neither the damners nor the praisers are quite right. The story of Geldof, Africa and the West is more complex and more disturbing.
It started in October 2003, when Make Poverty History held its inaugural meeting, with the aim of raising public awareness, organising a relatively modest demonstration in Edinburgh and pushing for breakthrough deals on aid, trade and debt relief. Sometime in 2004, Geldof began to get involved. Charities, glad of his help to pressurise government to pledge 0.7 per cent of national income for overseas aid, tolerated his arrogance.
In January 2005, a newspaper ran a leak of a big concert and NGOs expected a Live8 announcement to follow swiftly. The threat of mass action could, according to one leading activist, have forced Canada, Japan, Italy and Germany to offer more. By the time Geldof finally announced his concert, in June, Gleneagles was approaching and the deals were done. Of the $50 billion announced in aid, $43bn of European money had been pre-assigned, and debt relief, or cancellation, for 18 countries was agreed before the delegates arrived.
The outcome, creditable but predictable, was not the triumph vaunted by Geldof. Bar an extra $10bn from Japan, earmarked for Iraq, there was nothing new. Geldof's public verdict - 'On aid, 10 out of 10 on aid, on debt, eight out of ten' - appalled African experts and British NGOs.
Some of those livid at such crass ill-judgment remain angry at Geldof's audacity in allegedly grabbing the kudos for their lobbying. Others think the cacophony of Live8 drowned out a political message the white wristband generation was already heeding.
Most, though, also acknowledge some respect for Geldof's knowledge and methods. In a realm where changing hearts and minds is a sclerotic process, speed merchants are admired, however naive or bumptious. Charities colluded willingly with Geldof. So did Western citizens less eager to face Africa's complex trauma than to feel good about themselves. And so did government.
Blair's and Brown's determination to help Africa was one of the great unsung initiatives of this administration. They did not get all they wanted, but they pressed Italy, Germany and America to the wire of Gleneagles, insistent that they stick to their promises. And yet, at times, both allowed themselves to seem in thrall to the self-styled mastermind who paid them lofty homage while portraying himself as the man who wrung compassion from our leaders' stony hearts.
Politicians, like charities, played a symbiotic game, seduced by the myth, woven through public life, that nothing happens without the enzyme of fame. Hence the fallacy that school dinners can only be reformed by a celebrity chef or that horror at a child's agony cannot be invoked without a rock star's blessing.
The state and the people may not be perfect, but they are better than a deal that offers the reverse of what it seems. Despite Geldof's puffing of his career, not many people could list his business interests or name a record he has produced in the last decade. Few would even remember him, but for Africa.
As Britain's G8 presidency lapses, the argument is split between those who put all the emphasis on the triple axis of aid, trade and debt relief and the farewell-to-alms lobby that thinks nothing can be achieved without an end to corruption. While it is disgraceful that the Africa Commission paid so little heed to enforcing mandatory corporate accountability, no one who has seen a starving mother and child wrapped in the languid embrace of death could ever counsel less can-rattling pending better governance.
Equally, progress is about far more than Western beneficence. China's demand for oil, copper and nickel gave more income to Africa last year than do-gooders. Gleneagles, which signalled a good start, assuming its promises are honoured, also reinforced the limits to aid. As Simon Maxwell, of the Overseas Development Institute, points out, levels of 30 to 40 per cent of GDP reduce growth and make people more accountable to donors than to government.
There are new goals for 2006. The failure of the Doha trade round must be repaired and education given more priority. As Save the Children urges, every citizen on the planet should have free essential health care. As Oxfam demands, the 35-year-old promise to give 0.7 per cent of income to developing countries must be delivered by 2010, if poverty is really to be made history.
David Cameron, meanwhile, lacks policy on global poverty. He will not find it in the crash between hard capitalism and a maverick rock star. As an aspiring Prime Minister, he needs the help of experts who could help him marry the needs of Africa with his stated aim of compassionate Conservatism.
But Cameron is not alone in his hope of a quick fix. He is not the only one who has failed to notice that Geldof, expert at hype and spin, has grown more political than the politicians. A nation in thrall to fame offered him a licence that should now be revoked. God help Africa if death, poverty and starvation are only visible to the West if refracted through a prism of borrowed celebrity.
In 2005, a generation primed for action got the politics of delusion. In 2006, it is time to take a lesson from a land whose many plagues rarely include star-worship. Africa, unlike Britain, has long suspected that Bob Geldof owes the continent far more than it owes him.