Veteran satirist Tom Lehrer said that the world of comedy changed in 1973 when the greatest living war criminal, Henry Kissinger, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. ‘At that moment, satire died. There was nothing more to say after that’.
If, during BonoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cosying up to the G8 last summer, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d done a sketch about him launching a consume-to-give campaign, urging people to buy products made by sweatshop barons Nike and Gap, it wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seemed like a cheap shot.
It wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve gotten plain unfunny if IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d said thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœhelp Africa by buying a special mobile phoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ idea.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just one of many whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve written about how Central African mining of coltan – the metal for mobile phone chips – is the catalyst for the largest war on earth and the destruction of World Heritage rainforest habitat and wildlife.
To say Bono would endorse flogging a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœsexy, sophisticated, groovyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ phone for Africa would be too far gone. He couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t possibly be so ignorant. Someone who says heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been spending years looking into AfricaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s problems would surely have stumbled across a war that has killed tens of millions over the last 12 years, drawing in troops from Libya in the north to Zimbabwe in the south.
Yet as Bono edited an edition of The Independent on Tuesday for his Red campaign, all this happened and more. He fakes humility, claiming rock stars canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t instigate real change, with an clever-clever wink that saying so in a campaign edition of a national newspaper means the opposite.
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a dab hand at declaring one thing about himself when the opposite is true. In his speech to last year’s Labour Party conference he warmly compared Blair and Brown to Lennon and McCartney, yet in The Independent he claims to have been constantly Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbanging my fistÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ on their doors.
He uses his one-day tenure to allege that concentrations of power and wealth predicated on poverty are actually some kind of mechanism for eradicating it.
He gets Radio 1Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s Zane Lowe in to discourage any altering of political power. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not that multibillion dollar corporations donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to help, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just that they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t figure out how to and weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been slack in showing them.
The only thing people who are trying to make a difference can do is work alongside corporations. We’re not going to abolish big business, people aren’t going to stop drinking Starbucks and buying Nike, but you can say to them, ‘There’s a big difference you can make and if we find a way to make it easier for you, would you contribute?’
The contents got as incongruous as the Ã¢â‚¬ËœGenesis 1.27Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ on the cover. (ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the bit that says God created humans in His image. Thanks for that, Bono); Condoleeza Rice claiming that anything by U2 would be in her all time top ten. Yeah, right.
The role the rich play in creating poverty isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t dealt with anywhere. Conservative Party consultant Bob Geldof takes a look in that direction and turns away. He laments how Ã¢â‚¬ËœAfrican states never developed from the skittish single-commodity market into a more balanced economyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ without asking who forced the single-commodity economies on them and prevented any change.
He says there should be Ã¢â‚¬Ëœno enforced liberalisation by the IMF, the World Bank or the EUÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. That would be enforced liberalisation such the G8 making debt relief conditional upon measures to Ã¢â‚¬Ëœboost private sector developmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe elimination of impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreignÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, and not actually cancelling any debt until such measures are up and running.
Those would be policies that Geldof praised to high heaven last summer, scoring them Ã¢â‚¬Ëœeight out of tenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Indeed, in this supposedly critical new article he contradicts himself and reiterates his support, calling them Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbrave and bold political breakthroughsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
The overall message is that Africa is a helpless starving victim and we are the people who should generously help out of the kindness of our hearts. The fact that Africans had been feeding themselves perfectly well for millennia until colonialism just doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get a look in.
The attitude is one of stirring us to charitable consumption. Yet our consumption is the engine of the problem. We are still the colonial power, just without the imperial troops. The farming methods we impose that ruin the soil and ecosystems, the cash crops grown in them for our demand, the vicious client governments we set up and support, the arms we sell them, the minerals they supply for our fuel and jewellery and hi-tech gadgets; these cause the problems. We canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t consume our way out of overconsuming.
Just as we may say we want ‘no war for oil’ but by our oil-thirsty lifestyles we demand the war it requires, so we find poverty distressing but are not prepared to give up the ‘rights’ and goods that can only be made possible for us by the poverty of others. We would like to see change, but not at the expense of our comforts.
One Labour MP recently conceded,
We are imprisoned by our political Hippocratic oath: we will deliver unto the electorate more goodies than anybody else. Such an oath was only ever achievable by increasing our despoliation of the world’s resources. Our economic model is not so different in the cold light of day to that of the Third Reich – which knew it could only expand by grabbing what it needed from its neighbours.
We get our out of season fruit and our cut flowers at the expense of their staple crops. Put simply, we are rich because they are poor, and they are poor because we are rich.
As Nyarai Humba said
I hear tell
that the Ã¢â‚¬ËœWestÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ claims
Ã¢â‚¬ËœThird WorldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ countries
owe them a debt.Ã‚Â
The white people them
They come to our countries
the holocaust of slavery
the evil, parasitic, violent process
them call colonization.
What this means is
them rape Mother Africa
took her children to use as donkey
went right inside Mother Africa belly
and steal her resources
send them back home
to the Ã¢â‚¬ËœwestÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
We the Africans,
funded the industrial revolution
with our blood, sweat, and tears and
So I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really understand
what the Ã¢â‚¬ËœwestÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ means
when them talk
Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbout Ã¢â‚¬ËœThird world debtÃ¢â‚¬â„¢
I believe them have no shame
I know they full of untruth
they lie to themselves constantly
cause truth will kill them fe true.
I ask you to reconsider
who owes whom?
The west owes Africa
a debt so great
them can never
It is an obscene insult to think our responsibility is merely charitable, and it is a nonsense to think we can do it by means of corporations selling us phones built on African blood. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a nonsense to think a corporation can be truly moral at all. A public company has a duty to maximise profits to its shareholders. To stray from that is actually illegal.
Corporate WatchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Corporate Law and Structures report explains,
profit is absolute, social and environmental values are relative: their first aim is to make as much money as possible, but given two ways to make that money they choose the one that requires the least murder, blatant theft or environmental destruction. Then they pat themselves on the back for being so responsible.
The solution, much to the distress of the corporations Bono and friends court, is not something they can sell us like a Make Poverty History wristband made in a Chinese sweatshop. For corporations and their agents in government to make poverty history they would need to dismantle the power they derive from poverty.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s beyond turkeys voting for Christmas, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more like expecting the farmers to baste and cook themselves for the turkeys to eat.