Geldof, Bono et autres moisissures
And so it has been with Blair's Africa initiatives, heralded by the establishment of the African Commission in February 2004, a year after millions protested against the invasion of Iraq. In March 2005, the commission put out a report entitled Our Common Interest: an Argument (Penguin) while Blair's crusading humanitarianism has been endorsed by the likes of Bono and Bob Geldof. At the same time, the Make Poverty History campaign—a coalition of several non-profit organisations and charities such as Oxfam and Christian Aid—stepped on to a high-profile stage with Nelson Mandela addressing a huge rally in Trafalgar Square. He urged leaders of the G8 to recognise that the ‘world is hungry for action, not words’. All then proceeded to congregate at Edinburgh at the beginning of July this year, the leaders and their sanctioned ‘protestors’, to enact a choreographed set of protests and equally ritualistic responses. A host of celebrities in designer clothing and expensive sunglasses, sporting white Make Poverty History wristbands, the accessory du jour, proceeded to exhort the crowd to demand that poverty in Africa and elsewhere be made to magically vanish.
I have heard similar sentiments from every African campaigner I have spoken to. Bob Geldof is beginning to look like Mother Teresa or Joy Adamson. To the corporate press, and therefore to most of the public, he is a saint. Among those who know something about the issues, he is detested. Those other tabloid saints appeared to recognise that if they rattled the cages of the powerful, the newspapers upon which their public regard depended would turn against them. When there was a conflict between their public image and their cause, the image won. It seems to me that Geldof has played the same game.
He seized a campaign which commanded great public enthusiasm, which had the potential gravely to embarrass Tony Blair and George Bush. He asked us to focus not on the harm the G8 leaders were doing, but on the help they might give. When they failed to deliver, he praised them anyway. His endorsement and the public forgetfulness it prompted helped license them to start reversing their commitments. When they did so, he said nothing. This looks to me like more than just political naivity. It looks as if he is working for the other side.