Live8 and Those Who Would Steal African Humanity

Word on the street is that Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer will march with protestors in the ‘Long Walk to Justice’. So who and what precisely will they be marching against? Poverty?

This is simply an exercise in white, Western megalomania. Now that the age of empire has passed for these British Isles, now that the economic consensus will brook no extremes of the right or left variety, now that there are no great foes to contend with, there are only two extreme conditions that remain in a world that has moved to the ‘middle’: Western self aggrandizement and African suffering. To the liberals and assorted ‘put Africa right’ brigades, they exist at the centre of the moral universe. Africans shall live or die according to their wishes. Now we are to be saved, but it could be just the opposite as it has been in times past.

They will be marching to display the rude health of their souls and to confirm their power and magnanimity over the huddled, miserable wretches of Africa. The monies that they give, no doubt in the billions of dollars, will be used to maintain and extend a vast system of spiritual and material privilege. Every dollar shall confirm their superiority and the inverse inferiority of the African. And of course because they are a pragmatic people, each dollar shall be used to employ that army of aid workers who would otherwise be flipping burgers or working in retail. Statistics will be thrown about with wild abandon. Eyes will get misty at the thought of ‘30,000 children dying everyday of extreme poverty’. Pledges will be made by mouths set grimly in the emotion of the moment. The rhetoric will be high flown and every speech will include words like Humanity, Universal, We, Justice, Suffering, History, Community, Brotherhood…

These words will be used to strip Africans of their problems in the name of brotherhood. Geldof and company will lay claim to the very last thing so many Africans own: our problems. And it will be terrible and evil beyond imagining for owning your problem is at the heart of what it is to be human. It is when we wrestle and suffer and triumph over our problems that we are most human, but this alas is not to be if the soul stealers on show succeed. I do not want anyone to suffer needlessly. I would prefer everyone to live in a democratic, prosperous community that knows no war or want. But these are conditions that must be battled and struggled for; they have never arrived as a gift from a stranger. And all those who promise them have always turned out to be thieves or murderers if not both. Geldof and the Live8, the G8, these governments and the eager little, statistic spouting NGO types are thieves of African humanity.

About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

29 Responses to Live8 and Those Who Would Steal African Humanity

  1. Anonymous says:

    While we wait for the revolution to be televised, what harm is there in getting a few dollars that we would never have seen anyway?

  2. MMK says:

    Ah yes, why not indeed get the aid cash and run? Because there is nothing for free. An entire generation of Africans has grown up begging and I think this has killed so much greatness and potential. Aid is pennies on the dollar when compared to the money that a people with a sense of ownership over their lives would make. Just look at the flow of remittances by Africans outside the continent and those sending money from the cities to the rural areas for instance, it dwarfs aid flows by several factors.

  3. Anonymous says:

    An interesting perspective. Would it be better if the west just left Africa to it’s own devices.
    I thought part of the G8 aims is to enable fair trade by lifting the west’s imposed restrictions and opening the markets for African produce.

  4. Not Glossy says:

    Insightful commentary, thank you.

    It would appear though that celebrities have all the answers for us (everyone)…and thus we have no need for thought or even true debate.

  5. Fred says:

    MMK, I’ve read some of your stuff and watched your BBC debate today with the other Martin of Save the Children. Yes, you have a point. Of course we have to live with the fact of life, that there is no such thing as free lunch. Yes, its about music, exhibitionism and megalomania – but it is also about harnessing non-official Western resources and tapping on what they love best (e.g. music) for a good cause. They might as well do the same for gay rights, gender parity, climate change so if they choose to do it for Africa, why is it a problem? It may be a simplistic approach, but it is welcome. It should be part of a concerted effort. It would be foolish to consider this as a panacea. Africans should also put pressure locally on their politicians like Biwott and Uhuru to give up part of their ill-gotten and unfairly acquired wealth, including cash stashed abroad in banks and investments not to mentions the thousands of acres owned by the Kenyatta family and generations of white settlers like the Delamares. OFM, Lecturer, CU.

  6. andy says:

    This is wonderful writing. It reminds me of the people who I met when I went to Africa in 1989. They were (and are) people of wisdom and immense capability that we in the west should learn from. They were they kind of people who could face and solve problems. At the time they were standing up against apartheid (and for a new future). Now they are leaders in the new South Africa. I just wish I could get on a plane and go spend more time with them. I think I visited your blog once before and didn’t make it back. This time I’ll mark the spot and be sure to return again.

  7. el pupo says:

    just a note to say i *love* your blogging.

  8. owukori says:

    The West has appropriated everything African for the past 500 years – now as you say even Africa’s problems. Excellent post and look forward to more

  9. owukori says:

    The West has appropriated everything African for the past 500 years – now as you say even Africa’s problems. Excellent post and look forward to more

  10. Anonymous says:

    Am I missing something here? Pennies on the dollar are better than no pennies at all?

    Arguably it would be better if Africans took control of their own affairs and created great potential. Newsflash – they have failed to do so for the past 30-40 years! So while we wait for the revolution, we will gladly accept the few pennies that your revolution has falied to supply.

    Who has chosen to get the fish instead of learning to fish?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Africans do not hold the exclusive rights and monopoly suffering and exploitation. It is interesting to see Africans argue for their place in this category given the fact that they have failed spectacularly to address their economic, social and political status in the past 30-40 years.

  12. andy says:

    Interesting anonymous comments…

    1. The “failure” that you speak of really involves a relatively short period of time, considering that it took the Western world centuries to develop the political economies that you see today.

    2. The “failure” dates back to just after the end of the colonial period. Are you thinking, “Look what a great and wonderful boost that colonialism gave to Africa? Why didn’t you make more of it?” Perhaps you don’t understand African history, or you just think African history is a subset of Western history (sort of a poor, handicapped version that is embarassing the rest)?

    3. You say Africans have failed to take control of their own affairs but ignore the point: that the West has never released control to Africans. That’s the point here (the control is tightening further).

    4. You speak of spectacular failures, but in fact there are many spectacular successes in Africa. Those should be brought to light, though people who wallow in igorance seldom learn anything that is uncomfortable or truly new.

  13. dt says:

    Great article!

    Reading the comments thus far, perhaps the greatest challenge faced by the continent both from within and without is the tendency to lump all the countries together rather than address each country in its individuality. Even when Africans themselves speak, they speak as though they are a whole.

    You don’t hear such grouping coming from other continents. Singaporeans refer to themselves as Singaporeans not as Asians or South East Asians. Same goes for a British. He/she refers to him/herself as a Brit not as an European, or an indigene of the European continent.

    Last I checked not ALL African nations are poverty stricken with children dropping dead from the commonest causes.

    People talk of the ‘African problem’ the solution seekers in turn mouth its corollary the ‘African solution’

    Africans themselves commit the same error in judgement, Africa is not one country for crying out loud!

    Perhaps what we really need is a great lesson on the axiom ‘every man to himself/every country to herself’ Perhaps if each man was left to his demise, he would think up the best means for his survival.

    With regards to your insightful piece, may I add that no one has stolen Africa’s humanity. It is us who handed it to them on a silver platter by the vice of not understanding the why’s of our very own existence. Afterall, like the old saying goes, “When you fail to think, someone else will do it for you”

  14. MMK says:

    It was a lot of fun going on the BBC and I offered up a much harder position that I usually adopt because I felt that a sceptical African voice was needed on the day. When I arrived at the studio, I met with Wangari Maathai – the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate – who is a wonderful person but who sadly was mouthing the same old begging sounds that every prominent African seems to make automatically.

    DT – You could not be more correct. Africa is not a single country. But it is taken to be a blank slate on which anyone can write whatever they wish. The aid mongers, the West and our governments have mostly preferred to treat Africa as a space of unceasing suffering and helplessness. This is what keeps the monies flowing.

    Andy – Ah, yes, the historical perspective is crucial. Just reading history, of whatever region, it becomes clear that war and corruption have been the rule rather than the exception and that the development of prosperity and peace has been a lengthy road.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Let get real, spheres of control are multifaceted; those spheres were most African governments have the ability to affect the have failed in a spectacular manner.

    You know the classic comparison case, the one between Ghana and Malaysia; you know the one about them being practically identical in all economic/health indicators in 1958 when they acquired independence from the same British government. The same economic/health indicators are not remotely comparable now 40 years later. One country has made huge economic gains while the other is still wallowing in abject poverty and is considered a success case when compared with its neighbors. I will let you guess which country is which.

    Maybe while you’re at it you can explain how the English never let go of the reigns of power and that is why Mugabe is busy laying millions of his fellow country men destitute by flattening their homes, the Zimbabwean form of ethic cleansing, perhaps those evil colonialists have been running round the country side in Darfur killing and raping. The Belgians are the ones that run amok in Rwanda and murder close to a million folks. Hey, it was those evil westerners that emptied the state coffers of most countries in Africa in the tune of billions of dollars. Those animals, they just gave Museveni the right to go over the Ugandan constitution and give himself one more term as president. These animals they are relentless, they made Msweti of Swaziland want to spend money on a presidential plane that was more than the countries budget on education.

    See, you understand that these Africans are innocent hapless children who despite their best efforts can not make any positive decisions, the west has robbed and beaten them into murderous, thieving but well meaning people. Like Children who have no understating of consequences of their actions these Africans can not be held responsible for failing to make any positive change in those little things they could change.

  16. lex says:

    Your argument is nothing but a string of eloquent self pity.

    Whilst it is obvious that Live8 or a decision to abolish debt will not make Africa’s plight dissapear, the Western attempt should not go unwelcomed.

    Yes, there is no such thing as a free meal, but this constant banter about the the theivery of ‘African humanity’ clearly reeks of a wounded pride.

    Whatever the West may have done in the past, its current attempts with Live8 can only be seen as a positive. Allowance for support nurtures the path to recovery – your desperate grip on all the suffering and struggle that has happened only adds to its suffocation. And all for what? To fulfil some arrogant self indulgent fantasy about overcoming the apparent ‘inverse inferiority’?


  17. MMK says:

    Lex – Methinks you misunderstand what I am trying to say. If anything, I am railing against the self serving self pity of those in Africa who come to the West cap in hand attempting to parlay African poverty into an opportunity to gain Western charity. Their efforts are mirrored by a self serving aid industry and an increasing stable of rock stars and politicians. I am not about wounded pride, I am about recognising that at the end of the day Africa’s march to wealth and stability will come from African effort. Live8 and similar efforts are an attempt to get around this fact. What recovery is this that you speak of? Aid has been in the card for decades, always with new strategies for “accountability, transperency and results” but this has never worked. The only wealth that has been built by aid has been among aid workers and local political elites. The poor if anything have grown in number. So should I be grateful for this latest effort? I have better things to do and be grateful for.

  18. I think “Make Poverty History” is a pretty arrogant catchphrase.

    But there is so free lunch, and idealism is not stupid. All energy is of the sun, literally, and it never stops.

    I don’t think that honour is really such a wonderful thing. I don’t think that we do much useful by speaking of people in anti-democratic situations as a ‘nation’.

    I don’t know much about Africa except imperial history and genocide history. My part of the world, in Vancouver unceded Coast Salish Territory, the Aboriginal people were very rich because it is very green and rains a lot. I don’t think that Africa is really such a poor place. So much wealth flows from there and many beleive it is the cradle of humankind. But it is a truism from the TV that there are starving babies in Africa which everybody already knows about OR nobody can do anything about it anyway.

    I wish your criticism was less about a media personality of this single unified/disunified entity called africa whose honour and ownership of the problems have been besmirched. I think it should say that this is another straightforward attack under the deception of aid. It is about disempowering billions of people. Or it should be more positive and say that we should not be so simplistic and not assume the stupid things the Rock Stars say for the cameras, but every bit counts and lets make work what we have. Get specific and get less media spectactle more community.

    Anyway I just worry that while you are speaking truth to power you are not contradicting the worst part: that nothing can change. They kill optimism by overusing it and invoking it it in a way that, beyond the most shallow sense, will evaporate under the weight of reality. You kill optimism by mostly being critical of their naive idealism.

    Lets focus more on the Fair/Free Trade issues rather than the charity. Debt cancellation is not Charity but legally required in the case of onerous debt [that debt, which is in many cases the type of debt in Africa, where a dictator or other unaccountable ran up the bill and now the majority are expected to pay for what wasn’t their will]. I think it would be great to be more ciritical of specific western colonial nations and get them to change their policy. Like American Drug companies or European Manufacturers that suck out raw materials and keep the value added activity in Europe. But I know almost nothing about this stuff, solidarity is a good thing but a locals need to lead.

    I think that the rock stars can perhaps be reformed to see this. There is no limits to their ignorance because of how they are sheltered on a pedestal. But mostly they are just trying to help and if someone with a more thoughtful program asked them they would prefer to help with that.

    It seems that the Live 8 is somewhat ‘better’ than the 1980s version which was only about aid, not the debt and fair trade. Those are facts that are already known in the televisionsphere. Why not pin that tail. Is it really such ‘progress’? Or is the assumption still about a kind of chairty superiority racism as you contend.

    Anyway, good to see a thoughtful blog, keep it up!

  19. Z says:

    How can you condemn people for trying to create a fairer world? This isn’t about charity, it isn’t about ‘saving Africa’ it’s about extending a hand of friendship, not laying claim to Africans problems but recognising them and saying you’re not alone. People are tired of giving aid, seeing that it makes no permanent change, Live 8 is about changing trade laws to help, instead of hindering African economic growth, not just aid and debt relief.

    From where I was standing, I thought the point was to tell the world the truth, educating people, showing them just how complicated the whole situation is, am I wrong? There are people who want to give money for their own sense of moral self-righteousness, that’s true. There are also people who just want to help, people who’ve done their share of soul searching, triumphed over their own demons, and in the end just want the people of, not just Africa, but anyone else who’s ever suffered for whatever reason, to know that whatever you think of the rest of the world, some people in it actually give a shit. Stop being so damn cynical and realise that some people just want to help, even if they can’t or don’t know how, when something like this happens they go along with it and they do whatever they can to support it, just because it can be interpreted as ‘an exercise in white, Western megalomania’ doesn’t mean every person in that crowd is there for their own self gratification, like I said, some might just happen to give a crap as well.

  20. Anonymous says:

    A quick reminder for our Anglo-Saxon musicians and politicians:

    HISTORY MAKES POVERTY, union jackasses-

  21. caligal says:

    Live 8 has brought Great attention tp Africa. GREAT.

    Now its up to africans to see the advantages of this attention and use it.

    I am all for TRADE and no charity since when Countries drop millions as AID the NGOS swallow the money and very little gets to the grass roots and this is a known fact.

    Solution Open markets which market do i think is the hotest right now and can put a Millions of the youth into jobs HIP-HOP. it would have been great to see African artists performing at the live 8 concerts but oh well things always have a begining.

    WITH HIP-HOP record lables can come to africa fashion industry and Emerge and the list is endles.. Young kids with degrees or not will get into the work force they will be able to afford AIDS medication feed the starving kids in the rural areas while giving back to the community.


    AL IN ALL WE need to potray AFrica in a positive way so as to attract this Markets to come in and set up shop:

    this link says it all

  22. Anonymous says:

    You forgot to mention that all this was inspired by Jeffery Sachs’ report to the UN (he’s the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is also Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals)?

    …but then it’s only generally accepted that he’s the world’s foremost expert on such things as poverty in Africa.

    Of course you guys know better than him…

    I’m sure he & Kofi Annan are really secretly planning to take over the world…

    No more excuses…

  23. Anonymous says:

    While academic armchair revolutionaries like some on this thread try to out do each other on a new cynical take on the debt effort people are actually dying. Look closely and there is no difference between the politicians and their tired begging and the navel gazers ritualistic cynicism.

  24. Craig says:

    How exactly does your xenophobic whining help achieve anything. How can you fault people for trying to help another human being simply because of where they are from?
    Weblogs aren’t the priority of someone in extreme poverty so what gives you ownership of these peoples problems over anyone else.
    Africa will indeed need to climb up on its own but I can’t understand how you can fault people for trying to cut off the ton of bricks tied to its feet.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Check out what people on the ground in Johannesburg thought

  26. “Africa will indeed need to climb up on its own but I can’t understand how you can fault people for trying to cut off the ton of bricks tied to its feet.”

    Well, there’s the take that says that–if you remove the banks profit on the deal, i.e. the interest–they will be severely unwilling to lend to those countries in the future. After all, it might happen again.

    The interest repayments are by no means crippling. Figures vary, but the most consistent that I can find come in at $10 billion for last year. Aid to Africa was roughly $63 billion, a nett gain of $53 billion.

    Furthermore, the idea that we should do anything, just because apathy is worse, is completely refuted by this excellent article detailing the abuses of the Ethiopian people by the Dergue government, funded by, and using the NGOs implementing, the original Live Aid programme.

    I fully support the idea of dropping tariff barriers against African countries. Through a healthy economy, on an equal trading footing with the Western world, they will be able to build a lasting wealth. However, that will not–cannot–happen until they have security of life and tenure of property. If you cannot own your property, then you cannot raise capital on it. This means that it is extremely difficult to start a business. And the whole thing is rendered slightly pointless is some militia member is suddenly going to drop by, rape and kill you and your family, and burn your house down. Until African countries implement the rule of law, they will remain for ever stunted economically.

    I’m afraid that the argument about the Western economies taking hundreds of years to mature is entirely disingenuous, simply because the people building those economies had no examples or comparators. The African nations have the Western economic models, and a number of other models. They have–or, at least, their leaders do–televisions, access to information and worldwide meetings that simply were not available to the nascent Western economies.

    Lastly, few people would advocate that colonialism was of nett benefit to Africa. However, only a fool would argue that it was entirely malign (although, one needs to also look at the way that the different colonial powers treated their subjects. The British were, in no way, the worst behaved, just the biggest and most well-known).

    Contrary to popular wisdom, the majority of the colonial powers did attempt to leave people behind to advise and provide support to the newly independent nations: they were, however, almost all driven out (or murdered) fairly shortly after the main powers left. The Africans wanted their countries back, and that included the political power structures. It was an understandable move, but naive.

    Finally, Africa is an incredibly rich country in terms of natural resources. The colonial powers prospected for, and set up mines, to extract these resources. The great majority also left these mines open, operating and extant when they left the subject nations. Thus, much of the groundwork for a solid economy had already been laid. More could have been done but, understandably, the African peoples were keen to see us leave.

    The history of the majority of African countries has, since independence, been a complete disaster of mismanagement and strife. This was admittedly not helped when Britain, for which many countries (witness the welcoming demonstrations in Sierra Leone a few years back) still held in regard, sold the Commonwealth down the Swannee to join the EEC, a move for which–if it is any consolation to you Commonwealth people out there–Britain has also paid a heavy price.

    In conclusion, although I have never been to Africa, many friends who have have spoken of the friendliness, energy and enthusiasm of many of its people. The real way to help Africa is to help the people to help themselves, and the most effective way to do that is to reform or remove the corrupt governments that are holding them back, to improve the security of property and life and the rule of law. It is not to increase aid, which merely helps to prop up the murderous–or simply incompetant–regimes which are holding the African peoples back.

  27. MMK says:

    Devil’s Kitchen – Thanks for the comment. I like your blog by the way.

  28. Glad you liked it. I do prefer to be constructive if I can. I’m also trying to remember how I got to your ‘blog actually: someone else was linking to you, but I have so many blogs bookmarked that I can’t remember who it was. Sorry.

    As an aside, I, unfortunately, felt unable to march last weekend: although I think that the aim of making poverty history is a laudable one, the march was so intertwined with a methodology that I disagreed with that I really couldn’t, in all conscience, support it.

    Interestingly, I believe that the WHO, WTO and the UN all measure “poverty” relatively within a country; this means that making poverty history is, because of the way that it is measured, technically impossible. Which made me laugh…

    Anyway, I have now bookmarked you, and shall add you to my link list.

  29. uknaija says:

    “Finally, Africa is an incredibly rich country “- Devil’s Kitchen

    No it’s not…it’s a continent of over 50 countries. On the basis of that one sentence I’d put a caveat emptor on your advice

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