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Live Aid: 25 Years Later

Is the developing world really helped by charitable aid and government aid?

by James Leroy Wilson
July 13, 2010

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Live Aid: 25 Years Later

Many years ago, I think in the 1990's, I heard an American rock critic on VH-1 mention the band Queen's performance at Live Aid as the greatest concert of all time. This opinion was affirmed in England, as it won a poll of "greatest gig of all time" in 2005.

The performance was 25 years ago today.

Thanks to YouTube, you can see what all the fuss was about.

It's been a quarter-century since the dream of Band-Aid, USA For Africa, Live Aid, and other celebrity-studded charitable means to stop the famine in Africa generally and Ethiopia particularly.

But one wonders how one should send relief in an area where famine was caused in part by civil war? The relief aid would become just another target of the warring factions.

Since then, little has changed on the continent. If anything, the wars became bloodier - in Rwanda, Liberia, Congo, and Sudan. Zimbabwe, which once exported grain, has itself fallen into famine.

The situation in much of Africa makes me wonder why any patriotic American, who also thinks of himself as a compassionate humanitarian, is at all obsessed with the Israel-Palestine conflict which involves a fraction of the death toll and suffering. It also makes me wonder why, in the mid-to-late 90's, the USA ever got involved in the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and ultimately decided to bomb Serbian civilians to protect the Muslim drug-runners of the KLA. How was the situation there any more serious than in Africa? If anyone was to intervene, shouldn't it have been other European nations?

I do not question the intentions of most of the rock stars, then and now, who participate in charitable actions in Africa and other places such as hurricane-torn Haiti. They probably think they are raising needed funds to save the lives of starving children. But I suspect they are unwitting soldiers in a neo-colonial policy toward the Third World.

From the U.S. welfare system to periodic invasions of Haiti to "aid" to African nations, the idea seems to be that people of African origin need to be "helped." That somehow, if we left them alone, they couldn't succeed by the standards we think they should meet.

I believe the mistake is how the great empires, specifically Britain and France, ended their relationship with their African colonies. The white imperialists believed that Africa should be made up of "nation-states" in the same way Europe was constituted of nation-states.

Perhaps they should have just pulled out entirely and left the Africans - spanning many different languages and cultures - to fend for themselves instead of leaving them with artificial borders. If and when something similar to a "nation-state" was cobbled together and applied for entry into the global community of nations, the application could be considered on its own terms.

The collapse of Somalia underscores the point. The violence and disorder in that "failed state" where "anarchy" reigns is thus:

There are still stone-age tribes in South America, Africa, and much of southern Asia. If missionaries want to visit them and evangelize to them at their own risk, no one should stop them. But trying to "civilize" them and turn them into political communities won't help them. If anything, the conflicts between ethnic groups would become bloodier as they each seek dominance in an artificial State.

I think the world is best served by leaving other nation-states and their warring tribes alone. I urge this not only as government policy, but in terms of private charity as well. It is one thing to help orphans who lost their parents when the house burned down in your neighborhood. It's quite another to give money to "foundations" and "causes" to "help" people far way. The intention of helping starving children is good, but the means are dangerous. "Official" charities must deal with our own government and corrupt officials in the government of the land they wish to help. The entire process is dirty.

Last January, a man told me he'd like to help the Haitians, but he simply didn't trust where is money was going to. He didn't know what was a self-serving scam and what was legit.

I share his concern. The fact is, 1.8 people die every second, for reasons we don't know and that are beyond our control. An earthquake here, a famine there, a civil war someplace else. Disease, accident, heart failure from old age . . . we can't prevent everything. My recommendation is to stop trying to fix the world. Yes, generosity is the key to saving the world, but give to those whom you know are in need, or those you trust will see your donation will be spent the best way.

I don't regret the spirit of '85 that brought about events like Live Aid. I'm thankful we can see what Freddie Mercury and Queen could do in a stripped-down "festival" setting as opposed to their dazzling full-concert performance. But let's be realistic: did the good intentions achieve anything?

We're better off looking after ourselves and those we know and trust. Those we seek to "help" through government intervention, or through private institutional charity mechanisms we don't understand, may be better off if we didn't "help" them at all.

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