Live 8: Will it have any effect?

Live 8, the rock/pop music extravaganza to raise consciousness about poverty in Africa, was this past weekend in about ten cities around the world, including London, Philly, Tokyo, Berlin, Rome, among others. Organized by Bob Geldof, he of the Boomtown Rats and probably more famously, of having organized the first Live Aid twenty years ago in 1985. Unlike the last concert which sought to raise funds for Ethiopian famine victims, this concert sought to raise awareness and exert pressure on the G-8 Summit that starts Wednesday in Scotland. It will be interesting to see if the 25 million plus petition generated by the concert has any effect.

Though the rich countries have already agreed to a more ambitious debt reduction scheme, it’s uncertain whether or not they will support broader efforts the organizers have sought to vastly increase development assistance to Africa. The concert has been part of the ONE campaign Bono has championed on the U2 tour this spring around the U.S. You might have seen ads for it or news about it (remember Brad Pitt’s trip to Africa a couple of months back?).

The ONE campaign seeks to increase U.S. foreign aid (for poor countries) to 1% of its budget. (U.S. foreign assistance is already near 1% but the top aid getters are typically countries like Egypt and Israel). The ONE campaign is sort of a catchier way to hold the U.S. to the commitment rich countries made in the 1970’s and reaffirmed in 2002 in Monterrey to spend 0.7% of their GNP on foreign assistance. Make Poverty History is the campaign coalition in the UK.

Given how tight Bono is with Jeffrey Sachs, I am certain the campaign was linked to coincide with the release of Sachs’ new book, The End of Poverty. Or maybe the book was timed to coincide with the campaign? [Ed. I’ll be reviewing the book here shortly].

The New York Times wonders if the concert and campaign will have any effect? I think it probably already has on debt relief. Though the UK’s tandem of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were already committed to expanded debt relief, the campaign probably made it easier for President Bush to support enhanced debt relief (or harder for him not to). [I’ll try to post some more analysis of the significance of the debt deal. My basic take is that the deal reached before the G8 sped up the implementation terms for the earlier deal agreed to at the 1999 G-8 meeting in Cologne]. One of the most important outcomes may be Nigeria’s potential eligibility for debt reduction.

Beyond debt reduction, will the campaigners have any influence? I generally am astonished by the politically savvy skills of Bono and his organizing outfit DATA. I think they have been able to move the United States in ways that most other left-leaning internationalist groups can’t. They succeed because they go out of their way to court the conservative right and work with faith groups.

Having said that, I’m a bit cautious I suppose this time. On the one hand, leaders of the G8 often over-promise and under-deliver. I’m also less confident that even if campaigners got what they want–vast increases in the amount of aid–that this would have the desired benefits, given the difficulties outsiders have in improving the living conditions of poor countries without the infrastructure, governance, and political will in those countries to make it happen on their own. I think the Times has it right that perhaps the organizers made it sound all too easy, as a technical solution waiting to happen:

While the G-8’s decisions are ultimately political, the Live 8 concerts strove to appear more technocratic than ideological. Sir Bob brought Bill Gates of Microsoft on stage in London, where Mr. Gates gave a C.E.O.-style pep talk: “Success depends on knowing what works and bringing resources to the problem. We know what to do.

Maybe my own ambivalence is a sort of envy. I’ve not been an organizer or particularly active in the advocacy campaign. I’m also perhaps a bit blase’ because I didn’t go to Philly to see the show! I kind of wish I had been there to be part of it. [I’ve watched some of the archived webcast. Favorite performances include Green Day’s version of We Are the Champions, Coldplay’s In My Place, Shakira’s La Tortura, and, I hate to admit it, Mariah Carey’s We Belong Together.] I remember Live Aid in 1985, and I watched the whole event with a great sense of being part of important history in the making, as if a rock concert could indeed change the world.

I guess I’m not 14 any more, but I’m not so cynical as to wish ill upon the campaign. I still hope that there is actually a meaningful plan behind Sachs’ hyperbole. I would like to see what happens with more resources for anti-poverty purposes. What if Sachs is right that the prescriptions he develops in his book, on HIV, education, malaria can work rather seamlessly if the resources are there?

I’m certain a great deal can be done for a number of those issues, but the sheer scale of the challenge across a range of problems not only seems daunting but is likely to be less successful than the earnest hopes that advocates have for grandiose anti-poverty schemes. It is still worth trying, but the challenge is much more than flooding Africa with resources. Take, for example, the Bush Administration’s much-vaunted Millennium Challenge Corporation which has struggled to disburse funds and already has had its first CEO step down. I fear capacity problems of donors (let alone recipients!) may be legion.

The other interesting issue area to watch is trade policy where rich countries are being pressured to open up their markets, particularly in agriculture and textiles, to products from developing countries. [I’ll leave a more detailed discussion of trade issues until later.]

I’m not sure what the campaign means for worldwide awareness of poverty issues. Sure, it’s probably superficial for many people. My biggest worry is that it perpetuates a stereotype of victimhood for Africa, and that Africans will be continue to be seen as helpless. Our interest in the West in Africa is, at least at the policy level, likely to be intermittent. Africans have the most vested in the success of their countries, and it will require the emergence of talented local leaders to take charge of their countries’ destinies.

Even as rich world leaders have a responsibility to make that road easier (and they should), pressure should also be brought to bear on local leaders, from the most egregious like Mugabe in Zimbabwe to the more able like South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, to do right by their people. The Times has a new series called Wrestling with Corruption on this theme. Both Max Boot and Niall Ferguson echo these themes in their far more pessimistic op-eds on this issue.

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One Response to “Live 8: Will it have any effect?”

  1. Hello Interesting insight into Live 8: Will it have any effect?. I have often thought about this myself. I think live music is somewhat related. On Saturday I have the day off, so will look more into it.