Changing perceptions of Africa, Life Changes Part 1

by oneafrikan on July 31, 2005

I wrote recently about 3 events which I felt were significant in my life, and I’ve finally settled down to write about them. Knowing me this will be the first installment of three.

The Live8 concerts.
By now, if you’ve not heard of the Live8 concerts, then you’ve either been in the outer Mongolian reaches, or you’ve had your head in the sand. ;-)

Whether you’re a cynic or not, you can’t deny the effect that the concerts have had on the world. I’m not going to stand up and say that the concerts have changed the world forever, because they haven’t. That would be silly and I’d lose any credibility with you. Rather, I’m going to suggest that the concerts have created a tipping point, where the plight that they served to highlight has once again become part of the “global” consciousness, albeit with another perhaps more important theme.

And that theme is “Trade, Not Aid”
If you were at one of the original Live Aid concerts, or you managed to watch one of the many documentaries about them on TV before the Live8 events, then you’ll no doubt have seen some of the shocking imagery that Bob Geldof used to shock people into digging into their pockets to donate to the campaign. This might refresh your memory:
Live AidLive Aid 2

Why is this significant?
Because for a long time, I think people had this distorted unrealistic view of Africa, which was unfortunately partly perpetuated by Geldof and the Live Aid concerts. Remember the images of the baby trying to find the blanket? How could anyone forget?
I think these images created a negative, reliant, dependant image of what Africa is and was. All of a sudden, Africa was poverty stricken and in need of a collective bleeding heart – I don’t for a second believe that was the intention, but I think it did happen even though this in itself was probably not a bad thing at the time, because without a doubt, those people needed help, and Live Aid brought that help. Regardless of that, Geldof did raise awareness and did do massive good. That moment when Geldof brought the woman in white onto the stage at Live8, the one from the original Live Aid movie of the poverty where she was a starving baby, was awesome and intense for me. She is a beautiful women now, and it seemed to me at the time that everything that Geldof had stood for then, made sense. And for that I am grateful, because no-one else did or was doing anything meaningful to help.

As an African, I’m sometimes shocked by the images I see in the media.
Not because they’re wrong, or shocking, but rather because for all the massive poverty and starvation and disease and war and economic ruin, Africa is a land of proud people who smile at you with honest smiles, who work their land honestly, and who hold the same ideals with as much value as you probably do. In this instance if you’ve not yet been to Africa, then I’m going to have to ask you to trust me on this one.

Give any African the choice between pre-determination (as a result of an image in the press) or self-determination, and I think you’ll find most all Africans choosing self-determination. Yet, the sterotypes often in the press don’t really help that self-determination come to life. Rather, they reinforce the negative perceptions people have, and create a negative cycle which is really hard to get out of. But that is changing slowly.

And that is why Live8 was a life changing event.
For the first time, on the world stage, people were told that Africa needed Trade, not Aid. Trade is going to give Africa the foot up that it needs. Trade is going to incentivise Africa’s leaders to do the right thing when faced with difficult decisions. Trade is going to motivate and drive the entrepreneurs of tomorrow in the Africa of today. Trade is going to give communities the chance they need to grow and develop and support themselves. Trade will create sustainability, not the dependance of aid. Let me say that again, so that I state my position clearly:

Trade will create sustainability in Africa, not the dependance of foreign aid.

The Live8 concerts, and the stuff leading up to the G8 summit, all played their part in creating an awareness which I hope will continue to go beyond an initial zeal, and that makes me feel excited to be an African. We’re in a time when people seem to be accepting that Africa is more than just a place of poverty and war and starvation, but a place of beauty, opportunity and abundance.

And that is good.

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