Up until recently I didn't have that much time for Bob Geldof. The lyrics to Do They Know It’s Christmas? were ill-conceived and the recent Band Aid 20’s repeat performance was even more ridiculous — given that the main cause of the crisis in Sudan that it was meant to help was war and not famine. However, watching Geldof in Africa made me to reconsider the man.
Geldof on Africa was very good because it showed all the different sides of the continent — not just the war, disease and starvation, but also the astounding natural beauty and the more mundane, but still remarkable, everyday life of ordinary Africans. Perhaps the most shocking episode was on Uganda when the horrific torture and murder of children in an insurgency in one part of the country was juxtaposed with the “normality” of the consumer culture that existed in the capital.
Both the right and (sometimes) the left, have criticised the Make Poverty History campaign for ignoring the role played by both corruption and war in creating poverty and misery in Africa. However, in his programme, Geldof shies away from none of these issues and pulls few punches.
It’s easy to be cynical about wealthy rock stars flocking to the cause of Africa but I think that the programme shows that people like Geldof and Bono have at least grown to understand the issues better in the twenty years since Live Aid. It’s true to say that Live 8 and MPH don’t have all the answers about how to overturn the power structures that cause misery in Africa and elsewhere, but they have at least forced the debate about extreme poverty onto the public agenda in a way that has never happened before.