…and then there was USA for Africa.
The refrain actually makes sense: “It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me“. This is perhaps the sentiment at the core of the 10 City Bridge Run. Joining together, the many thousands, even millions of you’s and me’s in the world can really make a difference. The question is of course, will we?
After Band Aid for 1984 and USA for Africa, did anything change? I think to say ‘no’ would be to miss the point. Sure, it wasn’t a silver bullet…but did anyone actually think that would be the case? In 2000 the Millennium Development Goals were agreed to by world leaders at a meeting with the United Nations. I don’t believe that achievement would have occurred if the profile from 1984 and beyond hadn’t have taken centre stage.
The sales from both albums showed the incredible interest in this issue, even if cursory.
What few people, including Bob Geldof, saw coming was the global financial crisis. As we draw close to the end of 2010, I was looking back on what people had to say about poverty in Africa in 2005. Bob Geldof for example, the aclaimed organiser of Live Aid and Live 8, who at the end of 2005 wrote for The Economist on how he “sees signs of progress in Africa” projecting a vision of the world from 2006 and beyond.
Bob Geldof is something of a paradox: once punk-rocker, and now elder-statesman of rock-royalty. We should celebrate people having the ability to change. If change wasn’t possible, it would be thoroughly depressing…just imagine what this would mean about Africa’s future and the burden the world would forever need to carry.
The key source of hope in Geldof’s article rested on the flurry of activity that came out of 2005 with promises of change. These included Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, Band Aid 20, Live 8, Make Poverty History and the jewel in the crown: the Gleneagles G8 Summit.
His caution seemed almost unnecessary, but now reads prophetic:
We must worry that the G8 governments, especially the Germans and Italians, do not backslide on their promises. So much also depends on the willingness of African governments to use the new resources effectively. It is a matter of urgency that both of these contingencies are monitored and reported on.
Despite its earlier rhetoric, the G8 (“Group of Eight” major economies) has fallen short of its pledges made at Gleneagles in 2005 to increase the quality and quantity of their aid and “keeps failing the tests it [the G8] sets itself” as was observed in September 2010 by Jeffrey Sachs and Steve Killelea in a report titled Holding G8 Accountability to Account. Just over 40% of the US$25 billion promised to Africa has been met. To put that into perspective, more money was spent on stimulus packages to ailing banks in the US during the 2007-2010 global financial crisis than has been delivered in aid to Africa across history.
The United Nations has unique convening power but has been seen many times over the last 60 years as unable to enforce commitments. Will the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) present a similar disappointment to the outcome of the 2009 Copenhagen United Nations Climate Change Conference? What will happen in 2016 if the 2015 time horizon for the MDG is failed to be achieved?
As 2010 draws to a close, how ought we to respond? Are the challenges insurmountable? Impossible? We need more than just hope to be able to report in 2015 that we are “starting to make poverty history”.
I met with my friend Janine this morning by chance while she was in the neighbourhood with her mother, and we stopped to talk over a coffee. Her mother, Ruby, is an impressive lady – gracious, good humoured, encouraging, full of life, and passionate.
I had heard previously about her mother’s life in South Africa – an heroic journey! Over coffee, Ruby gave her perspective on possibilities. She mentioned a recent South African tourism campaign called “Alive With Possibilities“. The video is inspiring, and worth watching below (2:02 minutes).
Actually there are two, and the second one shows the diversity to be found in South Africa, let alone across Africa itself as a continent. (a little longer at 5:53 minutes)
“Ok, nice videos, but so what?” you might ask. Why is this relevant to reducing child mortality?
The story of transformation within South Africa is nothing short of inspirational and needs little clarification. Certainly, the journey is not complete, and there is still a lot of progress to be achieved. There is a lot to celebrate all the same.
The same, too, I hope can be said for child mortality in 2015. The problems in sub-Saharan Africa presently are overwhelming. Insurmountable? “An incomplete journey, but much to celebrate“. Time will tell. Our involvement will ultimately determine how this narrative plays out.
Ruby went on to say how South Africa changed the tag-line from “Alive With Possibility” to “It’s Possible!“. Just a few words, but the meaning is completely different. This is the message we should take away for child mortality. It is more than identifying what is possible, but declaring and then working to achieve the possible itself.
During the 10 City Bridge Run, I am asking a question about reducing child mortality: “Is the seemingly impossible possible?” Please join us on this journey.
Maybe Nelson Mandela responded best by saying:
It always seems impossible until its done. (Nelson Mandela)
All I need to do is to believe. (Bishop Desmond Tutu)
If ever you thought you had it tough and couldn’t push yourself any harder, think about my mate Toby from New York. Toby has a real heart for helping people in Kenya and has been working for a few years on a project to build a medical facility for children (the first in sub-Saharan Africa…) where they have none, and so ran from ‘the sea to the stars’ recently.
From the Sea to the Stars – a charity run to get the last portion needed to break ground on Sub Saharan Africa’s first public kids’ hospital. 250-miles from the Indian Ocean to the ceiling of Africa – Mt Kilimanjaro running!
Awesome effort Toby! Kudos!
Extreme poverty and business development strangely enough go hand-in-hand. Effective business development can help to replace the burden on aid, but it is by no means a silver bullet.
Writing in the Financial Times, Michael Keating last week provided a good reflection about perceptions. This picks up an idea which the Swedish statistician Hans Rosling speaks about often- that is, the term ‘developing country’ is less relevant now than it was in the past. More so, looking at continents are ‘developing’ or ‘developed’ is just plain inaccurate.
The explosive growth of commercial activity in Africa, both local and international, cannot hide the reality that the continent remains a difficult place to do business.
Africa tends to get a worse press than it deserves, much to its own business community’s frustration. No one talks about Asia as a homogenous block in business terms, lumping Myanmar in with Malaysia, or South Korea with Nepal. Africa is equally diverse. Business conditions vary widely among its 52 countries.
Understanding ‘the other’ is an important step towards the eradication of poverty from our world.
Hans Rosling argues that the time has come to stop thinking of Sub-Saharan Africa as one place. They are such diverse countries.
If we are going to change our perspective on extreme poverty, maybe we should first get better fidelity on where the problems actually are, rather than massing it all together: ’22 of the world’s poorest countries are found in sub-Sarahan Africa’.
I am as guilty as the next person to have looked through this generalised view.
No need to throw the baby out with the bath-water. I think sub-Saharan Africa still has its utility as describing a geographic region. I guess we should be careful that it does not become as catch-all for all that we here.
Let’s start looking for the good as well as the bad.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a term used to describe the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara, or those African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara.
It contrasts with North Africa, which is considered a part of the Arab world.