got an invitation last week to be backstage at Live 8 in
Philadelphia. I was intrigued by the event and its goals, but decided
to stay home and do some research so I politely declined. For those
that missed it, Live 8 was a music festival held in nine major
cities on the same day, each with an unprecedented artist roster.
Live 8 was not a
event, but an awareness event designed to
bring global attention to poverty in Africa. It was backed by corporate
sponsors in each country and also Time Warner, which had exclusive
rights. The event asked viewers to demand that the G8 group of nations
Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and
African debt, double aid and deliver trade justice. I spent the holiday
weekend watching the concert and learning more about the situation.
Here are some observations:
1) Bono and Bob
Geldof are passionate and committed guys.
Look past the magical musical talent of Bono and you find a remarkably
sincere individual. You can view a speech
of his, which gives you background on his views and see his passion
first hand. Bob Geldof was the man behind Live Aid and now Live 8. I'm
in awe of his ability to imagine and produce events that ripple around
2) MTV bungled the
TV coverage in unprecedented fashion.
concerts jam packed with A-list talent in half a dozen
different time zones, you expect a nonstop avalanche of music from dawn
to dusk. Instead, you got awkward mid-song breakaways to commercials,
video feeds that hopped nonstop to different venues, and incessant
banter from VJs marveling at the event. It was stunningly horrific, and
it's hard to believe any music fan in Time Warner management could
this travesty to transpire.
3) Sorry African
nations, you can't watch the concert.
In what may be the start of a new trend, I'm told that video streaming
of every Live 8 concert was available, and viewers had the ability to
directly to any performance then fast forward and rewind the footage.
an ugly example of music
incompatibility, the video stream was available only in Windows
Media, which means
Mac and Linux users were locked out. You may recall that Microsoft
settled claims related to their illegal business tactics used wipe out
Netscape with Time Warner. As part of the agreement, Time Warner agreed
out -- er ... I mean "switch" -- from Real Network technology to
technology, thus making Live 8 a "Microsoft-only" event. How ironic
an event focused on global poverty is only viewable with an
outrageously expensive Microsoft solution that is far out of the reach
developing nations, and not viewable with Linux, the technology that is
pulling emerging countries around the globe into the digital age.
4) Forgiving African debt is about
African countries are saddled with more than $100 billion of
debt. Unfortunately, those monies did NOT go to the citizens, but were
siphoned off by corrupt dictators or used to fund public works projects
highly questionable value that benefited brutal political regimes.
There's a long list of African rulers, many still in power, who have
amassed billions while citizens go hungry. It seems unconscionable to
demand repayment from loans we distributed with no accountability from
citizens that have no ability to repay.
"Forgiveness" is a kind, gentle, friendly word, but it should be clear
what's happening here. Billions of dollars have flowed from the
taxpayers of wealthier nations to a handful of dictators who have no
regard for liberty, democracy or human rights.
5) Fair trade is good, but I'm not sure it
benefits Africa in the near
There's no question that the United States is guilty of preaching a
doctrine of "free
trade" while at the same time protecting favorite industries like the
sugar industry. It's sound economic policy to tear down tariffs and let
goods flow to and from the most efficient producing countries. I hope
the United States and other nations heed the call.
However, I'm not sure freer trade will substantially benefit African
nations. Farmers in these countries aren't permitted to sell their
products on the open market, but are forced to sell their crops at
state-controlled marketing boards for predetermined prices.
Additionally, the market for African agriculture products is not the
United States, but other African nations where US trade policies will
effect. Peasant sub-Saharan farmers will find it difficult to compete
on a global scale with agribusiness bolstered by technologically
state-of-the-art fertilizers, pest control and genetically designed
6) Half a trillion
dollars hasn't improved the situation, so why would
About half a trillion dollars has flowed to Africa over the last 45
years and there are no studies that indicate a positive impact. Most
shockingly, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) -- which along with
World Bank is responsible for the last $100 billion or so in aid --
recently issued two reports that find
"little evidence of a robust positive impact of aid on growth." This
from the organization responsible for distributing the money.
By many measures the monies have achieved the exact opposite
effect because of the dramatically lower GDP in countries receiving
has seen its GDP decline during the last 50 years along with a decline
expectancy. In comparison, 50 years ago southeast Asia was comparable
to Africa in colonialism and economic stature. During the same time
they received roughly just 20% of the financial aid of Africa, yet
GDP more than doubled.
There are studies that have demonstrated how well-intended aid has
propped up cruel governments, crippled economic freedoms, and slowed
meaningful change for Africa. It's hard to see how two or three times
the funds will yield dramatically different results than the first half
trillion already spent.
7) Percentages can
Some have criticized the United States for "stingingly" giving just
percent GNI (gross national income) and calling for all countries to
give a recommended 0.7 percent. According to the Hudson Institute, the
US Federal Government gave $19 billion -- far more than any
other nation last year. And when added to private giving of Americans
of $62 billion (which is substantially higher than European countries),
arrive at 0.68 percent. By any measure Americans are generous today.
8) Smarter aid is
To fundamentally improve life for Africans, the aid needs to be
and delivered differently. The last 50 years is a long tale of great
political minds failing at the task. It's much more difficult than
simply signing a check.
I think a positive step is linking aid to meaningful economic and
political reform, such as attempts by the Millennium
Challenge Corporation. I don't believe it's possible to improve the
financial fate of Africans without simultaneously bettering their
political and economic conditions. Many nations are in the clutches of
brutal dictators who withhold many basic economic rights. For example,
peasant farmers in many countries can't even own their own land.
Without these liberties, it's impossible for aid to flow to those
in need. (Those African countries with economic freedoms are
considerably better off -- for instance, Botswana has a GDP more than 3
higher than the average African nation.)
I guess the fact that I'm writing this Minute is a tiny bit of proof
that Bono and Geldof are achieving their mission with Live 8. Well
guys! And if the rumor is true that MTV is going to rebroadcast the
event and actually play the music this time, you must catch Green Day's
performance of Queen's "We Are the Champions."