The West Can Rescue Africa; as World Leaders Meet for the G8 Summit, Sir Bob Geldof in Famine-Struck Ethiopia Makes a Plea for a New Marshall Plan

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 30, 2003 | Go to article overview

The West Can Rescue Africa; as World Leaders Meet for the G8 Summit, Sir Bob Geldof in Famine-Struck Ethiopia Makes a Plea for a New Marshall Plan


HERE we are again. I have been seeing again thin children, sick children, children who will not be alive next year. With Unicef I have been visiting villages who are looking famine in the face and people who face collapse with a weak resignation. There is a sickening sense of d?j- vu but times have moved on, and the problems have moved on. We need different solutions now, other, more permanent solutions. The seven men from the rich world who meet at the G8 summit on Sunday need to get their minds round it.

In the Eighties there was famine, and we all did Live Aid. There was a drought, the people lacked crops; but it takes more than drought and no crops to make a famine. We don't get famine in Kent, or in Kansas, when there is no rain - so why in Africa?

You need politics and economics as well as no crops to make a famine. In the Eighties in Ethiopia the politics was the longest war in the 20th century.

What Band Aid could only do was apply an emergency sticking-plaster until the politics of want are put at the top of the world's agenda.

The end of the Cold War saw the removal of the tyrant Mengistu, the politics not quite so bad, a people with new freedoms and no money at all. And we called for their debt to be repaid. We reimpoverished an alreadyimpoverished people. The pressure on the soil was unrelenting, the environment degraded still further. And globalisation more or less began then - an organic thing, not bad in itself, part of the way the world grows. But global trading rules were set - and the people who set the rules were naturally the people who did the most trading - us, the lucky ones, the better off.

Then a whole new factor came in on top: Aids. We in Britain have a social security system that can cope, but what if Aids rose to 25 per cent of the population? We couldn't cope. What then of Africa, with no money, little health care and no security system? I am in a country where teachers are dying faster than they can be replaced. Where I have just come from, when you take random samples you find 14 per cent of the population is HIV positive.

Add the endemic diseases, the tuberculosis, the malaria that strike the Aidsweakened, and in Ethiopia alone the result is one million Aids orphans.

These are children with no homes to go to.

What do they do? What can they do? Elsewhere in Africa they gather in gangs, and bad men give them drugs and AK47s, and lead them as private armed thugs and armies, as is happening in the Congo, where they have become proxies for other governments to wage still more wars.

IAM not saying it is our fault. I really, really am not saying that. The state of government throughout Africa is lamentable. Pressures are piled on pressures, economic, social, environmental; and now the added extra one, Aids. Good men try to do good things; but the law of unintended consequences wreaks its own havoc.

I have come this week from the breadbasket of Ethiopia, the south where they are used to drought, but now, for the first time ever, they have famine there. They are not used to that. With fertile soil they grow Ethiopia's cash crop, coffee, as well as food, and when food is short, they buy it. But now, for the first time, they have no money to buy food. …

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