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The Long Walk to Justice

2005 July 1
by Paul Vallely

Live 8 programme notes – by Paul Vallely

It has been a long journey that brings you here today. Far longer than you might imagine.

It began twenty years ago, in 1985. On 13th  July, the day of Live Aid. A day when the entire globe seemed to come together with a single common purpose.

The world was responding to the plight of the 30 million people who were suffering and dying in a terrible famine that had swept across Africa. What made it different from that unhappy continent’s previous tragedies was that this time children were dying on our television screens. Before our very eyes. Every day, for weeks and months, brought more terrible images. On 13th July the world stopped what it was doing to unite, in a clear moment of absolute certainty.

The largest audience the planet had ever seen – more than a billion and a half people – joined together. That day as many as 98 per cent of the world’s television screens received the broadcast. It was the biggest collective event in human history. And, more than that, it was to do something unequivocally good.

Twenty years on and another day arrives which, thanks in part to you, the world will remember in the same way.  2nd July. The day of Live 8.

But the journey from Live Aid to Live 8 is not just a piece of history. It is an inner journey we all must make. It is a journey from charity to justice.

Live Aid raised that year over $100 million, the most by far that had ever been collected for charity by one event. That was a huge amount of trees and dams, cows and camels, schools and health clinics, medicines and blankets, tents and toys and tools, research grants and workshops, and ships and planes full of wheat and sorghum and beans and maize. I know because I went across Africa with Bob Geldof to decide how to spend it.

But that passage from Mali in the west to Ethiopia in the east, and the years that followed, set the Live Aid generation on a different journey.

For as the years went by, it became clear that the world’s biggest charitable event had not sorted Africa’s problems. And different questions began to be asked. Not, what can we do about Africa’s poverty? But, what keeps Africa so poor?

Those, like Geldof and Bono, who came out of the Live Aid experience as activists, soon learned that the mighty $100 million raised by the worldwide concert was merely the amount that African countries were obliged to pay back to rich countries in debt payments every 3 or 4 days. Debt was a massive problem. The world’s poorest countries have spent years paying off debts to the richest nations – instead of investing in their own people. For every $1 given in aid, at least $3 is spent on debt repayments. They began to campaign for the cancellation of the debts.

It was a steep learning curve. The activists had to get to grips with far more complex issues.

They discovered first how the debt had come about. They learned how interest rates had soared and, simultaneously, prices for Third World commodities had plummeted on world markets, meaning the debts could never be repaid. They discovered how the International Monetary Fund had imposed cruel conditions to reorganise the debts, demanding cuts in health and education budgets for millions of the poorest children.

All this was despite the fact that most African countries have actually paid back what they borrowed. Nigeria, for instance, originally borrowed about $17 billion; it has repaid $18 billion, but thanks to the wonder of compound interest, still owes $34 billion.

And that was not all. They learned about international trade. And how – through a complex web of rules, taxes, tariffs and quotas – the rich world takes far more from the poor than we give them. For every $1 we give in aid, we take $2 back through unfair trade.

They came to understand that the rich world does not merely refuse to help, but actually makes things worse. We impose trade tariffs which escalate if Africans try to process their own goods to make more money. The tax on raw materials like cocoa beans rises if they produce cocoa butter. It rises again if they turn it into chocolate. That explains why African countries which produce 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa make less than 5 per cent of the world’s chocolate.  We actually tax Africa’s development.

And at the same time we in Europe, the United States and Japan subsidise our farmers to the tune of  $1bn a day – sixteen times what we give in aid to Africa. In recent years the average European cow has, grotesquely,  earned more than the average African, receiving almost $2 a day in subsidies – double the average African per capita income. It is the same story for sugar, cotton and much else. And a lot of this subsidised produce is exported to the Third World. Poor African farmers – unable to compete with these subsidised prices – go out of business.  And their children starve.

Faced with all this the response of Western politicians has been to promise, again and again, that things will change. But they have not changed.

Pledges of aid are made, but not delivered. Targets for health or education are set, and ignored. Reform of farm subsidies, and an end to agricultural dumping, are promised – and then subsidies are actually increased rather than cut. Changes in trade rules to help the poor are planned, then not delivered. People across Africa actually die as a result.

Five years ago, the world community made its greatest pledge.  In 2000 in New York almost every world leader, and international body, signed up to an historic declaration. The Millennium Development Goals which ensued were an extraordinary plan which promised that by 2015 every child would be at school.  That by 2015 avoidable infant deaths would be prevented.  That by 2015 poverty would be halved.

At present rates of progress virtually every one of those solemn Millennium promises will be broken.

All of which brought Geldof and the other activists to the realisation that nothing would improve for Africa without a more just system. Not long after Live Aid I noted in my book Bad Samaritans: First World Ethics and Third World Debt, that: “Geldof, for all his skill as a populist, found no way of moving the issue on from one of charity to one of justice”. Twenty years on he has found a way. From charity to justice.

The final straw for Bob Geldof came in January 2004. On a visit to Ethiopia he realised that more people were at risk of starvation there than had died in the terrible famine of 1984/85 which had prompted Live Aid. Angry, he rang the British prime minister Tony Blair from Addis Ababa.

“Calm down Bob,” said Blair when Geldof had concluded his opening broadside. “And come and see me as soon as you get back.”

The result was the Commission for Africa.  Blair invited Geldof and 16 other Commissioners, the majority from Africa and many of them politicians in power, to undertake a year-long study of Africa’s problems. They came up with two conclusions:  that Africa needed to change, to improve its governance and combat corruption, and that the rich world needed to support that change in new ways. That meant doubling aid, increasing debt cancellation, and reforming trade rules. The Commission drew up a detailed plan of how that can be done.

There are those who will tell you it will not work. If aid worked the problem would be solved by now, but instead it is pocketed by corrupt dictators and put in Swiss bank accounts or spent on arms in endless wars. So goes the accusation.

But the facts give the lie to so much of that. What the critics, with their outdated half-truths and stereotypes, fail to acknowledge – or, in many cases, in their ignorance simply do not know – is that that things are changing in Africa:

  • At the time of Live Aid there were more than 20 major wars in Africa; today there are just four or five.
  • In 1985 half the countries were run by dictators; today two-thirds have had democratic elections – some, admittedly, more free and fair than others.
  • Twenty years ago Africa was stagnating economically; in 2003 growth exceeded 5 per cent in 24 separate African countries.
  • A new entrepreneurial class in emerging across the continent, as is a new generation of political leaders.
  • The flow of cash to Africa from relatives abroad has increased dramatically in recent years, a sign of a new confidence.

Of course, there are still oppressive regimes in Africa.  Corruption remains pervasive.  Violent conflict is all too frequent. Inefficiency and waste and unnecessary bureaucracy are commonplace. Many nations lack the administrative and organisational capacity to deliver what their citizens require and deserve.  But there is a new optimism abroad.

We know a lot of aid was wasted in the past. But that was because it was knowingly given to corrupt dictators, by both sides, during the Cold War – on the philosophy that “he may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”. Aid was also wasted because it was spent on white elephant projects that local people didn’t want and wouldn’t maintain. It was wasted because it was designed to further the needs of the donors not the recipients.

Today all those lessons have been learned. Aid now produces, according to the World Bank, an average 20 per cent return on the money it invests.  And as for Swiss bank accounts, Switzerland is today better at repatriating filched money, using laws on money-laundering introduced to combat the war on terror and drugs, than almost anywhere else.

Across Africa these new leaders have begun to crackdown on corruption, with politicians and former police chiefs being arrested. The Commission for Africa sets out a long series of measures on how corruption can be combated, by both African and Western governments. Some 24 African countries, representing 75 per cent of the continent’s population, have so far signed up to an initiative called the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) whose aim is to improve government policies and practice by sharing information on what is working, and what is not. They have set up an African Peer Review Mechanism whereby a country puts itself forward for scrutiny by its peers to help identify its weaknesses and the actions needed to correct them.

Such initiatives are in their early days. But the first signs are encouraging.  Backing now from the international community could make the difference on whether they succeed or fail.

What the Commission for Africa has done is set out a comprehensive, coherent, costed proposal which can put Africa on the road to recovery – with Africans at the helm and with a clear timetable on how to do this.

The task now is to persuade the eight white men in suits who come together in Gleneagles next week to back that plan.

Progress in recent weeks suggests that this can be done. Already great steps forward have been taken on aid and debt.

But only pressure from you – and people like you at Live 8’s simultaneous concerts in London, Philadelphia, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Tokyo, Toronto and Johannesburg – will ensure that they stick by what they have pledged. And go further.

It can be done. But only if you tell your political leaders that you will brook no compromise.

The leaders of the G8 must know that the eyes of the world are upon them.

We are watching.

That is why Live 8 is not the end. It is only the biggest, loudest, greatest rallying cry the world has ever heard.

Tomorrow begins the journey to Gleneagles we have called the Long Walk to Justice. Join us on it.

See you in Edinburgh.

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