The Live 8 concerts themselves were adjudged a huge success, and a further testimony to the organizational and inspirational prowess of Irish singer Bob Geldof.
Geldof’s time in the pop spotlight — he first found fame as the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats — was already running out twenty years ago. Then, outraged by the famine gripping Ethiopia, he organized first a Band Aid single and then the massive Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia. Media beatification — and an honorary British knighthood — soon followed.
London and Philadelphia were again among the host cities on Saturday. The British concert in Hyde Park was the showpiece of the Live 8 enterprise. A lengthy bill of A-list stars, including U2, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Coldplay and REM entertained a crowd of over 200,000.
A huge crowd also gathered outside the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art. There, the concert featured major acts like Destiny’s Child, Bon Jovi, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder and Will Smith. Neil Young headlined the Canadian leg of Live 8, held in Barrie, Ontario.
Live 8’s organizers claimed that the event was a massive success. They asserted that the worldwide television audience for the ten concerts numbered around two billion people, and that almost 26 million people had sent their name via cellphone text message to support the campaign to help the world’s poorest continent.
However, even the concerts themselves were not without controversy. The original plan had been to host one concert in each of the eight leading industrialized countries that comprise the G8. However, after many African musicians and activists complained that they were barely represented in any of the gig line-ups, two further concerts were hastily slung together — one, in Cornwall, England, was designed to showcase “world music;” the other took place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Both drew relatively meager crowds and modest media attention.
In the wake of the concerts, the spotlight has turned to Gleneagles, Scotland, where G8 leaders will begin to meet today. As events move from the broad canvass of pop to the minutiae of politics will the broad swathe of the public who flocked to the concerts organized by Geldof stay interested?
One problem could be the degree of nebulousness at the heart of the Dubliner’s project. Whereas Live Aid had a specific goal — feeding the starving in Ethiopia — and offered a specific remedy — the public could donate money — the Live 8 project is more difficult to define.
It appears to share the goal enshrined in the name of a recently formed umbrella group — Make Poverty History. But how such an ambitious goal is to be realized appears a good deal less clear.
Geldof, Bono and a plethora of other activists have called for the West to drop the debt owed by African nations. But a deal has already been done on this score between the UK and the U.S. — and it seems unlikely that anything more will come out of the G8 summit on the issue, irrespective of the public pressure.
The specifics of the deal done almost a month ago between President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are complex, but basically involve the World Bank writing off debt, and institutions like the International Monetary Fund also coming to the aid of many African nations.
The sticking point in the G8 summit is not likely to be Africa, where most leaders, including Bush, have responded to Tony Blair’s pushing of the issue. Disagreements are more likely to come over climate change, where stark differences remain between European and American perspectives.
During a television interview in Britain this week, the president was asked whether other nations could expect him to sign up to binding legislation, similar to the Kyoto Protocols, that would cut greenhouse gas emissions.
“If this looks like Kyoto, the answer is no,” Bush responded.
At another point, he asserted, “the Kyoto treaty would have wrecked our economy.”
Ireland is, of course, not a part of the G8. But even there, some commentators have expressed concern that the Live 8 campaign has not given greater emphasis to the problems caused by political corruption in Africa.
“Cancelling the debts [of countries tarnished by corruption] will not make any real difference to their inhabitants,” Irish Times columnist Kevin Myers wrote last month, “though it might just make their rulers feel cocky and credit-worthy enough to seek more loans from the private sector to buy a few more limousines.”
Although the U.S. has committed itself to giving more aid to Africa, it is insistent that there should be some way of ensuring that good governance is rewarded and that aid money does not simply line the pockets of dictators. The U.S. has set up a particular program — the Millennium Challenge Accounts — that encourages democratization and transparency as prerequisites for top levels of aid.
However, some activists are still convinced that neither the U.S. nor the rest of the developed world are doing enough to bring relief to Africa.
Referring to the British government, Steve Tibbett, Action Aid’s head of policy and campaigns, said:
“It is shocking that the government is using millions of poor people to score a PR coup. Look behind the rhetoric and the reality falls far short. We are still nowhere near a deal that will effectively tackle global poverty.”
At a press conference in Dublin yesterday, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that he “felt no pressure” to increase Ireland’s foreign aid, despite the publicity granted to Live 8.
“I’m very proud of what we’re giving,” Ahern told reporters. “Most people don’t realize that we are giving