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Old 07-06-2007, 10:19 AM   #1
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What Bono doesn't say about Africa

an interesting perspective...

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/...nion-rightrail

What Bono doesn't say about Africa
Celebrities like to portray it as a basket case, but they ignore very real progress.
By William Easterly, WILLIAM EASTERLY is a professor of economics at New York University, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of "The White Man's Burden: How the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have
July 6, 2007

JUST WHEN IT SEEMED that Western images of Africa could not get any weirder, the July 2007 special Africa issue of Vanity Fair was published, complete with a feature article on "Madonna's Malawi." At the same time, the memoirs of an African child soldier are on sale at your local Starbucks, and celebrity activist Bob Geldof is touring Africa yet again, followed by TV cameras, to document that "War, Famine, Plague & Death are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and these days they're riding hard through the back roads of Africa."

It's a dark and scary picture of a helpless, backward continent that's being offered up to TV watchers and coffee drinkers. But in fact, the real Africa is quite a bit different. And the problem with all this Western stereotyping is that it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of some current victories, fueling support for patronizing Western policies designed to rescue the allegedly helpless African people while often discouraging those policies that might actually help.

Let's begin with those rampaging Four Horsemen. Do they really explain Africa today? What percentage of the African population would you say dies in war every year? What share of male children, age 10 to 17, are child soldiers? How many Africans are afflicted by famine or died of AIDS last year or are living as refugees?

In each case, the answer is one-half of 1% of the population or less. In some cases it's much less; for example, annual war deaths have averaged 1 out of every 10,800 Africans for the last four decades. That doesn't lessen the tragedy, of course, of those who are such victims, and maybe there are things the West can do to help them. But the typical African is a long way from being a starving, AIDS-stricken refugee at the mercy of child soldiers. The reality is that many more Africans need latrines than need Western peacekeepers — but that doesn't play so well on TV.

Further distortions of Africa emanate from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's star-studded Africa Progress Panel (which includes the ubiquitous Geldof). The panel laments in its 2007 news release that Africa remains "far short" of its goal of making "substantial inroads into poverty reduction." But this doesn't quite square with the sub-Saharan Africa that in 2006 registered its third straight year of good GDP growth — about 6%, well above historic averages for either today's rich countries or all developing countries. Growth of living standards in the last five years is the highest in Africa's history.

The real Africa also has seen cellphone and Internet use double every year for the last seven years. Foreign private capital inflows into Africa hit $38 billion in 2006 — more than foreign aid. Africans are saving a higher percentage of their incomes than Americans are (so much for the "poverty trap" of being "too poor to save" endlessly repeated in aid reports). I agree that it's too soon to conclude that Africa is on a stable growth track, but why not celebrate what Africans have already achieved?

Instead, the international development establishment is rigging the game to make Africa — which is, of course, still very poor — look even worse than it really is. It announces, for instance, that Africa is the only region that is failing to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs in aid-speak) set out by the United Nations. Well, it takes extraordinary growth to cut extreme poverty rates in half by 2015 (the first goal) when a near-majority of the population is poor, as is the case in Africa. (Latin America, by contrast, requires only modest growth to halve its extreme poverty rate from 10% to 5%.)

This is how Blair's panel managed to call Africa's recent growth successes a failure. But the reality is that virtually all other countries that have escaped extreme poverty did so through the kind of respectable growth that Africa is enjoying — not the kind of extraordinary growth that would have been required to meet the arbitrary Millennium Development Goals.

Africa will also fail to meet the second goal of universal primary education by 2015. But this goal is also rigged against Africa, because Africa started with an unusually low percentage of children enrolled in elementary school. As economist Michael Clemens points out, most African countries have actually expanded enrollments far more rapidly over the last five decades than Western countries did during their development, but Africans still won't reach the arbitrary aid target of universal enrollment by 2015. For example, the World Bank condemned Burkina Faso in 2003 as "seriously off track" to meet the second MDG, yet the country has expanded elementary education at more than twice the rate of Western historical experience, and it is even far above the faster educational expansions of all other developing countries in recent decades.

Why do aid organizations and their celebrity backers want to make African successes look like failures? One can only speculate, but it certainly helps aid agencies get more publicity and more money if problems seem greater than they are. As for the stars — well, could Africa be saving celebrity careers more than celebrities are saving Africa?

In truth, Africans are and will be escaping poverty the same way everybody else did: through the efforts of resourceful entrepreneurs, democratic reformers and ordinary citizens at home, not through PR extravaganzas of ill-informed outsiders.

The real Africa needs increased trade from the West more than it needs more aid handouts. A respected Ugandan journalist, Andrew Mwenda, made this point at a recent African conference despite the fact that the world's most famous celebrity activist — Bono — was attempting to shout him down. Mwenda was suffering from too much reality for Bono's taste: "What man or nation has ever become rich by holding out a begging bowl?" asked Mwenda.

Perhaps Bono was grouchy because his celebrity-laden "Red" campaign to promote Western brands to finance begging bowls for Africa has spent $100 million on marketing and generated sales of only $18 million, according to a recent report. But the fact remains that the West shows a lot more interest in begging bowls than in, say, letting African cotton growers compete fairly in Western markets (see the recent collapse of world trade talks).

Today, as I sip my Rwandan gourmet coffee and wear my Nigerian shirt here in New York, and as European men eat fresh Ghanaian pineapple for breakfast and bring Kenyan flowers home to their wives, I wonder what it will take for Western consumers to learn even more about the products of self-sufficient, hardworking, dignified Africans. Perhaps they should spend less time consuming Africa disaster stereotypes from television and Vanity Fair.
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Old 07-06-2007, 10:47 AM   #2
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Didn't Bono speak about investment in Africa? Isn't that the philosophy behind Edun? One of the ONE campaign's issues of concern is trade justice.

I think the author of this article may be misled. Yes Bono has spoken about increased aid, but I'm pretty sure he was encouraging investment as well...and so have other important figures who have spoken out about issues of interest in Africa.
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Old 07-06-2007, 10:50 AM   #3
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There is a good lesson in this article. All too often progress is ignored, especially if it fails to live up to unreasonably high expectations. Also, for centuries (I took a class on this called "image of Africa") Africa has been portrayed in the West in a particular manner. At first the derrogatory pictures of "savages" helped to justify slavery, then discrimination and colonial occupation (or, alternatively or maybe concurrently, the same logic that blacks were lesser beings justified the spreading of the images). Since the end of colonialism, the only pictures you see of Africa are either animals and pretty sunsets in National Geographic or pictures of famine, war, disease, and suffering. (This is not exclusive to Africa, even your local nightly news shows way more about murders and mayhem than anything positive going on in the community; people like to rubberneck at car wrecks.) This whole history of imagery of Africa continues to affect the way we in the West view Africans (as needing our help, or as being violent or war-torn savages) and it is important to acknowledge this and question how our perceptions are being shaped and what information is or isn't reaching us and why. And some of it is to raise money (all those pictures of the Ethiopian famine Exhibit A of this). But at the same time, there are real problems, and there are more people who are dying in war, child soldiers, affected by famine, dying of AIDS, or refugees than most places in the world in various parts of Africa, with these "plagues" affecting different regions to different degrees.

Then there is my biggest problem with Western "images of Africa." For the love of god we don't talk about "Asian problems" or "South American problems" or generalize European culture (where there isn't nearly as much variation in language as there is in Africa) the way we do with Africa. For many in the West Africa is one thing, this land mass that shares an identity or image in their thoughts, but Africa is made up of many countries (which don't entirely make sense, being formed by colonialists) and thousands of languages and tribes and cultures and ways of life. This article perpetuates it, Bono perpetuates it, there is a significant degree of truth to this on the continent (Ghanaians and Ugandans both excuse lateness with "African time," in the 40s-60s independence years and in the 90s "African renaissance" years there was a lot of writing on it by African politicians and philosophers) but this is partially shaped by a feedback loop of the Western "Africa" trickling back to Africa itself. (The African independence thinkers were strongly influenced by African American African Nationalists, though many have written that the Americans didn't know what was best for the continent or individual countries, and some have written what I say above about the countries and places being different and the concept of an African Nation being totally manufactured. You can buy West African drums in East and South Africa because tourists think they are just "African" drums even though the local culture has never encorporated them, same with various styles of jewelry, kente cloth, and whatever else a tourist might want to buy from their "African" trip - the regional or local meaning has been totally removed, they are just tourist goods all ove ther continent now because that is what Westerners have demanded - demand in the market sense.)

This is a big problem not just because it marginalizes or makes less significant a vast array of different cultures and histories (you would really piss off a lot of Irish if you lumped them in with Brits, etc), but because it takes away from locally targetted solutions to problems. Aid (grassroots economic development, AIDS education, etc) and political change (anti-corruption, anti-war, anti-poverty, whatever) can't be blanketly applied, but must be locally tailored in conjunction with local agency, which gets taken away by this concept of "Africa."

I deeply disagree that Bono needs Africa to save his career. That might apply to other celebrities, but because Bono is the one mentioned most by name, it seems directed at him.

Also, as for the Bono-Mwenda thing, though we already had a thread, development over the course of history and especially industrialization have been extremely painful and damaging to the poor (and middle classes, who might become poor). When the West industrialized, there was no one richer or more experienced to help mitigate these painful and harmful effects. When parts of Asia industrialized, various new strategies were tried but often governments just wanted to get industrialized quickly, to catch up, at the expense again of the poorest. THe later you industrialize, the further you have to go, because the industrialized nations have moved more and more ahead, so the more painful the process will be. So while countries won't get rich holding out "begging bowls," they should be open to industrialization (top-down development) in combination with aid that takes a grassroots/bottom-up development approach that is our best shot, after experience with industrialization elsewhere, at mitigating the harmful effects industrialization has on already vulnerable populations.
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Old 07-06-2007, 11:13 AM   #4
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What a shit article. This has all been discussed...
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Old 07-06-2007, 11:45 AM   #5
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Yeah, I've heard it all before.
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Old 07-07-2007, 07:19 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar
What a shit article. This has all been discussed...
agreed..
It's astounding the level of misinformation some journalist will rip off from the other misinformed.
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Old 07-08-2007, 12:18 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar
What a shit article. This has all been discussed...
True.

There are so many crap opinons about Africa, you wonder who is paying attention.

That's not to say a good criticsm isn't worthy of listening to.

It just usually misses the boat.
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Old 07-08-2007, 12:30 AM   #8
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Re: What Bono doesn't say about Africa

Quote:
Originally posted by MaxFisher


Why do aid organizations and their celebrity backers want to make African successes look like failures? One can only speculate, but it certainly helps aid agencies get more publicity and more money if problems seem greater than they are. As for the stars — well, could Africa be saving celebrity careers more than celebrities are saving Africa?

In truth, Africans are and will be escaping poverty the same way everybody else did: through the efforts of resourceful entrepreneurs, democratic reformers and ordinary citizens at home, not through PR extravaganzas of ill-informed outsiders.
Such cynical crap.

Here's one idea:
Find me one instance where Bono tried to paint anyone to look like a failure, with respect to aid.

Or DATA or One.org, for that matter.

Bill O'Reilly, the biggest douche cynic in the American media tried to paint Bono in this corner, it didn't work.
He turned around and ended up supporting the guy.

Go ahead and look, Bono didn't even speak ill of the Live Aid folk who gave the proceeds to leaders who squandered the money.

Let's talk about the problems in Africa and who would benefit if the problems were reported with accuracy.
The U.S., is trying it's hardest to use Africa as maybe the last bastion of goodwill during the Bush admin. It's probably not working, according to this schmuck, there isn't much to get upset about. All is well. Why does GWB still care? He didn't get the cynic memo.

Afircans, in vastly large part, aren't escaping poverty.
They need help, they just need it to trickle down to them, right?.....

Fuck off.
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Old 07-08-2007, 12:41 AM   #9
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I apologize for sounding like a rude arsehole.

I get sick of the crap surrounding Africa.

There are many folks who wait for the help to trickle down, act as if somewhat seemignly well-worded criticism is something near gospel and don't bother with any factual inspection at all.

Whatever we can do to avoid giving money away right????

Fuck it man. I can't deal with that IGNORANT cynicism anymore.
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Old 07-08-2007, 04:40 AM   #10
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"In truth, Africans are and will be escaping poverty the same way everybody else did: through the efforts of resourceful entrepreneurs, democratic reformers and ordinary citizens at home, not through PR extravaganzas of ill-informed outsiders"



TRUTH
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Old 07-08-2007, 04:45 AM   #11
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Educate yourself
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Old 07-08-2007, 09:20 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by shart1780
"In truth, Africans are and will be escaping poverty the same way everybody else did: through the efforts of resourceful entrepreneurs, democratic reformers and ordinary citizens at home, not through PR extravaganzas of ill-informed outsiders"



TRUTH
you forgot the ™
therefore
it is a Lie™
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Old 07-08-2007, 11:30 PM   #13
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Well, frankly, I see nothing wrong with the above article, because it is, for the most part, correct. That line about "entrepreneurs," "reformers" and "ordinary citizens" is correct too, as all three are the keys toward economic self-sufficiency. And what about Africa needing increased trade from the West instead of "handouts"? I'd agree with that too. However, that issue often gets thornier, since Western governments often put in obstacles, due to the agricultural lobby fearful of a flood of cheap crop imports. So when he says that it's easier for Western governments to handle "begging bowls" than trade talks, that's also correct.

That's not to say that Africa doesn't need targeted aid, particularly on issues of medical aid to deal with malaria, HIV/AIDS, etc. That's one subject that this article ignores, since he's talking strictly about economic conditions.

Undoubtedly, as is typical of one extreme argument versus another, the answer to Africa lies somewhere in-between Bono and William Easterly. One thing that I'd say would be worthwhile, though, would be for people to learn more about each individual African nation, rather than viewing "Africa" as one homogeneous, terminally impoverished, disease-infested famine stereotype.

FYI, the Brookings Institution is a non-partisan think-tank that is, nonetheless, accused of being "liberal." It's currently headed by Strobe Talbott, the former Deputy Secretary of State under former President Clinton.
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Old 07-08-2007, 11:36 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by Ormus
Undoubtedly, as is typical of one extreme argument versus another, the answer to Africa lies somewhere in-between Bono and William Easterly. One thing that I'd say would be worthwhile, though, would be for people to learn more about each individual African nation, rather than viewing "Africa" as one homogeneous, terminally impoverished, disease-infested famine stereotype.
There are a number of really great African economists who have basically said as much. I've posted the names of a couple of books and so on before. They are particularly critical of NGOs and what they see as Westerners dumping college-aged white kids into Africa who believe they're going to really make a difference....in their 4 month tenure. And they have a lot of interesting suggestions, particularly as to what type of manpower IS needed from the west. Engineers, medical personnel, IT people and so on.

And the second point stands as well. Take a country like Namibia - it's got some 2 million people and is largely unpopulated, much more like Canada than its African neighbours. It's also peaceful and differently developed. The needs or the economic output of the country are nothing like that of say, Ethiopia or Kenya.
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Old 07-08-2007, 11:37 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by Ormus
Well, frankly, I see nothing wrong with the above article, because it is, for the most part, correct. That line about "entrepreneurs," "reformers" and "ordinary citizens" is correct too, as all three are the keys toward economic self-sufficiency. And what about Africa needing increased trade from the West instead of "handouts"? I'd agree with that too. However, that issue often gets thornier, since Western governments often put in obstacles, due to the agricultural lobby fearful of a flood of cheap crop imports. So when he says that it's easier for Western governments to handle "begging bowls" than trade talks, that's also correct.

That's not to say that Africa doesn't need targeted aid, particularly on issues of medical aid to deal with malaria, HIV/AIDS, etc. That's one subject that this article ignores, since he's talking strictly about economic conditions.

Undoubtedly, as is typical of one extreme argument versus another, the answer to Africa lies somewhere in-between Bono and William Easterly. One thing that I'd say would be worthwhile, though, would be for people to learn more about each individual African nation, rather than viewing "Africa" as one homogeneous, terminally impoverished, disease-infested famine stereotype.
But I'm wondering if that stereotype is being perpetuated by articles like these. I think it is ridiculous of these types of articles to accuse Bono in particular of passing around this false stereotype. Bono has addressed African citizens as dignified. He speaks about the opportunities for investment, and encouraging fair trade.
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