Ethan Z, over at excellent My blog is in Cambridge, but my heart's in Accra
blog, wrote an interesting entry on the whole Live 8
series of concerts (described as part of a day of action across the world which kick-starts The Long Walk to Justice that calls on the leaders of the world’s richest countries to act when they meet in Gleneagles on 6th-9th July
Ethan makes some very cogent points about the way Live 8 was organized (with hardly any actual African artists). He offers some good suggestions about how the well-meaning can sensitize themselves about Africa in a more substantive way than simply going to a concert or putting a fancy banner on one's blog. Try reading a blog written by actual Africans, he suggests. There are many out there (he suggests a few).
However, the main point of Ethan's entry had to do with the whole notion of celebrities getting involved with causes. I share Ethan's ambivalence about the celebrity causes thing. Debt relief is a potentially good thing (if properly implemented
). But it's a potentially good thing on its own merits, not just because Bono or Bob Geldof says so.
Yet it's tricky. The main reason I care about third world development issues is because I lived in Africa. My concern was only vague and theoretical before then. Most people don't have the good fortune to live abroad. And you aren't going to learn anything much about development issues by reading the mainstream US media.
So does this mean that the only people who can care about development issues are people who've lived in lesser developed countries? In fact, this goes against everything I believe. Having lived in Africa, I WANT Americans to care about the place, even those who haven't been there. I WANT them to learn more about places they've never been to. In fact, that's a major reason I started this Africa blog in the first place!
I remember back when Princess Diana got involved in the landmine question. I wondered how those ordinary activists felt. They worked on the issue for years to little effect but then this fancy royal flies in and suddenly it's the cause célèbre du jour
But on the other hand, at the end of the day, the Ottawa treaty banning landmines was signed. Most countries (not including the US) do not use landmines anymore. Is it really important who gets credit? As an activist, is it about you or the cause? Do you think any anti-landmine activist would say, "I think we should revoke the Ottawa treaty because it wouldn't have passed without star power"? I hope not. If so, they are not real activists.
(And if credit does matter, the International Committee to Ban Landmines, not Princess Di, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize)
Yes, it's unfortunate that many people won't learn much about important issues of international development unless a princess or a rock star picks up the mantle. But it's reality. And given all the serious problems facing both the world and individual countries, can you really blame people for not focusing on 10,000 issues at once?
Most people aren't going to the Live 8 concerts because of their concern for development issues. HOWEVER, once there, they will be a captive audience. Once there, they might learn a thing or two about issues they hadn't considered before. They might go home and be spurred to learn a little more. The mere fact that the concert is being held is giving development issues a lot of publicity in places where they usually wouldn't be written about... thus exposing the ideas to people who might not read Foreign Affairs
It's easy to say, "I know so much about development issues and Live 8 can barely scratch the surface." And it's may be true. But f you want to get people interested in development issues, you have to start somewhere. You don't just wake up and become an expert on something. You can't just count on position papers and academic journals to rile up the masses. So while I really don't care much one way or the other about Live 8, if it spurs a bit of interest in what's going on outside America's and Europe's borders, then far be it from me to complain.