The Economist, the Guardian and a few other news outlets have run a piece about G8 members missing their 2005 Gleneagles commitments for aid to Africa. The articles are based on a report by One, the charity headed up by Bono and Bob Geldof, which provides yearly progress reports on these commitments.
You might remember that Gleneagles summit; it was the one when Blair and Bush et al were shamed into doubling their aid budgets to Africa to total $50 million. Bob Geldof spoke of the culmination of the summit as a “great day”. “Never before have so many people forced a change of policy onto a global agenda,” he said. Bono even went so far as to suggest that “600,000 Africans, mostly children, will remember this G8 summit at Gleneagles because they will be around to remember this summit, and they wouldn’t have otherwise.” I doubt that 600,000 African children have any recollection of Gleneagles or even know what the G8 is. But it makes for a nice heart-wrenching quote, doesn’t it? Always good to mention African children.
Needless to say Geldof and Bono are no longer gushing; in fact, they’re pissed off. Because current projections suggest that only 61% of that extra aid money will be delivered to Africa. It’s not all bad news: Britain will likely come up with 93% of what it promised, while Canada and Japan will both comfortably exceed their modest pledges, and the US will boost its aid budget by more than 150%. But others, like Italy whose budget to Africa has actually decreased, aren’t faring so well.
Bono and co are so pissed off they want Italy ejected from the G8. The Director of One, who’s obviously been tutored by his bosses in florid quotation-making, said “Italy’s leaders can’t be allowed to infect the G8 any longer. They need to be kicked out.” The fact that Italy struggles to maintain a stable government and is on the verge of bankruptcy doesn’t seem to feature in their narrow worldview, whereby domestic concerns and crises must never overwhelm our guilty commitments to Africa.
Of course all of this makes great fodder for us so-called aid cynics who relish the opportunity to say “I told you so”. To see the Geldof/Bono brigade momentarily chastened. (Though I suspect it would truly only be momentarily, so big are their egos.) Chastened enough to question whether their highly public campaigns place too much emphasis on Western aid to Africa and none on African accountability for it; whether they amp up the notion of “people power” primarily for feel-good purposes; and whether their focus on “big money” obscures the question of whether any of this is making a “big difference”
I wish these development celebrities would, just once, shift the focus of their public discourse to the efficacy and impact of aid rather than the amounts of it. Bono et al need to choose some key health, education, employment, trade or housing indicators and tell us whether they’re improving, why or why not, in which countries, using whose money and which methods. That’s what’s important – what’s changing — not just whether or not we continue to pump money into the continent.
Any chance we could launch a little people power to get Geldof and Bono kicked out of the media headlines? Now that, I think, would be a great day.