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July 05, 2005

the new missionaries

I didn't watch any of the Live 8 concerts, but I was intrigued enough by the newspaper coverage that I checked out the official website and some prominent links, including DATA ("debt, AIDS, trade, Africa"), which is supposed to be the source of information for the Live 8 movement. I am struck by the overwhelming image of Africa as pathetic and needy, exemplified by the videos of orphans and "street toddlers." With the exception of Nelson Mandela, there are no prominent African adults on these websites, saying what they think about the continent. There is very little about the assets and capacities of Africans. The few positive remarks tend to emphasize the crucial role of outside assistance. For example, "Mozambique's economy grew at an astonishing 12 per cent in the 1990s when aid constituted 50 per cent of its income." (Could Mozambique's growth rate have had anything to do with its own people and government?)

We're told, "LIVE 8 is about justice not charity." But saying that doesn't make it true. Justice would require collaboration and respect, which I don't see on the websites. Justice is a political concept, and the Live 8 movement has no politics (other than the demand that Western elites provide more cash).

All this matters because the developing world is littered with the refuse of good intentions. From missionaries to the Western-trained mandarins who ran countries like Tanzania and India under Nehru and Mrs. Gandhi, people with good hearts and lots of cash have been damaging economies and undermining self-respect for generations. I think justice would mean considerably more aid, and better trade policies, for Africa. But it's not worth raising a few billions if Africans obtain no power, and all the decisions are made by Western celebrities.

Posted by peterlevine at July 5, 2005 10:28 AM

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