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June 21, 2005

G8 Gleneagles Fiasco: How Bob, Tony and Gordon didn't help Make Poverty History - and why that's good

Posted by Richard D. North

Richard D. North - the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence - presents a series of arguments on G8 and Africa: G8 Gleneagles Fiasco: How Bob, Tony and Gordon didn't help Make Poverty History - and why that's good.

A note on my prejudices
An optimistic note

Falling out of love with Bob Geldof
Bob and his Mob

Even Make Poverty History is mostly bunkum
Who should be generous?
What's government to do?

What's wrong with Africa?
How to get Africa's economy to grow
A Welfare State for Africa

Let's not demand "Just do something…"
So what to do?
Why Tony and Gordon are so awful

The good that Bob's Mob may do
The politics of aid
Additional points on the politics of aid

This series of six short articles argues that instead of going on a "demo" about the meanness of leaders and "The System", people could be generous with their money (rather than with their mouthiness). But almost more important: doing good in Africa may well involve, not shouting clichés, but overturning comfortable soft-left liberal prejudices.

I am squeamish about the upcoming "protest" events. I am emboldened in this by the remarks of Clare Short on Channel 4 News on Thursday, 2nd June 2005. Her words seemed both anguished and angry. She said the pop concert and marches risked being "jolly and vacuous" and "an insult to the suffering of Africa". This is not the minister-scorned (Clare Short headed the Department of International Development until her falling-out with Tony Blair over the Iraq War). She has been notable for several years as one of the very few people willing to speak out against aid campaigners' rhetoric.

A note on my prejudices
I have several prejudices against the Make Poverty History and the Live Aid and Live 8 campaigns. They revolve around vulgarity, grandstanding and sentimentality. I do not believe in the strength of feeling of many of the protesters. More particularly, I don’t believe that they are thinking usefully about the suffering in Africa. Theirs is an unattractive mix of misplaced guilt, pseudo-dissidence, political grandstanding, wilful ignorance, misplaced blame, and radical chic.

These campaigns are also infantilist: they believe or affect to believe that the grown-ups are to blame for everything and can fix anything; that youth owns virtue, and that impetuosity is its own virtue. Of course, I dislike the vulgarity of the left’s view of the world: the dislike of elites, whether good or bad; the assumption of the cold-heartedness of firms, governments and leaders.

Even many of the best Africans are to blame too. They are brilliant at blaming their problems on colonialism. Doing so cultivates a resentment culture and politics which are a perfect recipe for failure. Those Africans who renounce post colonial blues will be those who lead their countries out of darkness.

An optimistic note
I believe that it is entirely possible that Africa will be transformed for the better over the next two or three generations, starting quite soon in some places. This good outcome is of course not inevitable. I am pretty sure that Western pressure and support will play a part in this process, but that Africans talking and acting boldly in line with broadly Western aspirations and insights will be the crucial bit. I am pretty sure that it is largely market-led, "right-wing", mainstream insights which will affect these good changes and that largely left-ish insights will be left scattered in their wake.

Richard D. North is the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence.

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