Give Us the Money
From Live Aid to Make Poverty History, celebrities have become activists against poverty, and Bob Geldof and Bono have been the most prominent voices advocating to world leaders on behalf of the poor. But have their concerts and campaigns really lifted millions out poverty long-term? Is it right that they, rather than grassroots activists and Africans themselves, embody the fight against inequality in the public imagination? Geldof, Bono and Bill Gates speak candidly about the ‘games’ involved in their years of lobbying, and how they played to politicians’ weaknesses for starry glitz and being popular – because even the most unpleasant ones can be persuaded through being cheered at a rock concert. But debt cancelation is just a theoretical bit of paper to the poor in African countries, and doesn’t relieve poverty, or create economic growth and fair trade, especially if it’s negotiated with corrupt leaders and doesn’t ever reach local community activists. Join a journey through the history of celebrity poverty campaigns. Is Bono right that if celebrities don’t rally the public and speak for 3.8bn through the ‘pop song’ of easily-digestible imagery, then the politics needed from the world’s 8 main leaders will never happen?
It’s a reasonable claim that without Live Aid and Live8/Make Poverty History, the public would know less about poverty across the African continent, lives would not have been saved, $1bn wouldn’t have been channeled to Africa, and debt wouldn’t have been canceled as quickly. Extreme poverty has, on average, reduced in Africa countries. Bob Geldof and Bono’s commitment to alleviating poverty can’t be doubted, and they’re more self-aware of the compromises they’ve made than they’re given credit for. But has the picture of Africa they’ve helped spread – that of endless catastrophe, corruption, weakness and dependence – played into the hands of world leaders who still ensure the continent’s dependence on neo-liberal financial models? Were they right to schmooze Rupert Murdoch, the Pope, George W Bush and Ethiopia’s controversial ex-president Meles Zenawi, sacrificing their liberal credentials for what they unilaterally believed was best for the poor? Was there ever an alternative?
The ridiculous press conferences they shared with ego-driven politicans, the media stunts they mounted, and the devils they danced with are recalled with wry amusement – giving Muhammad Ali a fake award at the Brit Awards so that the press would have to also mention Bono’s speech about global poverty, convincing Bill Clinton to make a major debt relief announcement for the Millennium without realising he’d then have to convince both houses of Congress, getting hardline Christian senator Jesse Helms to backtrack on his attitude to AIDS. But beyond the immensely successful stunts, did any of this at any point transfer resources to African economies? Bono may be looking forward to the day when he’s told to “fuck off” because poverty has been eliminated. His lobbying NGO, One, may now be more locally active and focused on lobbying Governments in African nations than previously. But is the damage now irreparable regarding Western public and political belief that local activists can succesfully help themselves? Have global financial institutions been inadvertently emboldened in their belief that African economies can’t freely grow, and that they need to be shepherded towards being a lot more like us?