Thursday, April 10, 2008

American Idol, Bono, and Africa

I watched the "Idol Gives Back" episode of American Idol last night, as well as the one they did last season. The intent of the show is to get people to donate to charity funds like the Children's Defense Fund, the Global Fund, Make It Right, Malaria No More, Save The Children and the Children's Health Fund. This year there were segments on New Orleans and Appalachia, as well as on Africa. The images of poverty and sickness in Africa are particularly compelling, especially in context of that continent's history and perception of never-ending poverty and civil war, as well as malaria and AIDS epidemics. Many of the celebrity presenters became emotional as they asked for donations.

But are donations what African nations need?

In an article titled "U.S., European Subsidies Undercut African Farmers", NPR reveals the following:
The United States ships millions of tons of food aid to Africa each year. While the food is desperately needed in many parts of the continent, some activists and economists say the inflow of huge amounts of surplus Western-grown grain stifles agricultural development in Africa.
In fact, this article is one in a 5 part series that NPR did in October of 2006 titled "Africa's Lagging Development".

In June 2007 the group "Technology, Entertainment, Design" held its annual conference in Tanzania. U2's Bono has long been a vocal proponent of aid to Africa, and in fact was the one that pushed to bring the conference to Tanzania last year. He spoke at the conference, but was actually angered by some of what was said; mainly because rather than focus on more charity work, many presenters instead spoke up about increased investment in entrepreneurship in African nations. One notable presenter was Andrew Mwenda, who said that decades of outside aid has accomplished little in Africa, and in fact can be blamed for the continuing troubles there. A video of his speech follows:

For his part, Bono responded to Mwenda by noting that,
Well, I will tell you that 20 million children in Africa are going to school today as a direct result of debt relief, 3 million right here in Tanzania alone. The reason Ireland now has one of the hottest economies in the world and gets all this direct investment from companies like Google and Intel is that they realized Ireland had an extremely well-educated population. Even I was extremely well-educated. Combine a well educated population with the kinds of tax relief that was offered to companies coming in and you have economic growth. Only the state can offer that package...

3000 African kids will die today of malaria so you have to work on the micro as well as the macro economic issues."
I think that some sort of middle ground between American Idol-like charities and Andrew Mwenda-like entrepreneurial growth is warranted. Clearly there are people suffering today that need assistance. But what about tomorrow? Liz Dolan writes:
I have worried in the past that because so many of the resources that come to Africa come in the form of aid, that Africa's best and brightest are working for NGO's and charities, instead of starting their own small businesses. Two years ago I met a fantastic young man in Lusaka, Zambia running an orphanage. His managerial skills were so impressive that I couldn't help thinking to myself whether the country would be better served if this young man were given the money to start a business instead of an orphanage. Does aid create a brain drain away from agriculture and industry and towards relief work? It clearly can.
Perhaps for too long the emphasis has been on immediate relief at the expense of long term growth - a sort of give a man a fish vs teach a man to fish scenario. Here's hoping we can change that.


UtahTeacher said...

Great look at the difficulty in achieving the balanced middle-ground in most public policy.

Though I'm a little suspicious you're just putting more popular entertainers in your posts to get those Archuleta groupies back to your blog. =)

Cameron said...

You caught me! Now everyone wondering if Bono is Mormon will be flocking to my blog. :-)

I'd actually been meaning to write this post for a while. I've had the Bono TED conference links sitting in a pending post since last August, and the Idol thing pushed me to finish it.

Incidentally, those TED talks are pretty cool. If you go to their website they have talks by some heavy hitters posted each week.

J. Doug said...

Once again you've proved your smarts. I agree with you. I really appreciated the TED talk. I thought that it was good. More than that I appreciated the Liz Dolan quote. She is on the money with that.