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Killing Africa Softly with their Songs

The power chords of U2, Bon Jovi and the reunited Pink Floyd may have focused attention on African famine and poverty during the recent Live 8 concerts, but all in all, the concerts were a very small brick in the wall obscuring the real reasons for African poverty.

The main success of the recent outpouring of sympathy has been to focus attention on the G-8 conference earlier this month and away from the primary causes of African poverty— corruption, and the brazen lack of accountability that have characterized most African political systems.

If the Live 8 promoters were genuinely concerned about wiping out poverty in Africa, they would have quit crooning about "20 years ago today" and mobilized global public opinion to put pressure on the African leaders to live up to their own promises to adopt principles of good governance.

So far, signs of change are as confusing as Pink Floyd lyrics.

Instead of plucking heartstrings by parading a survivor of the Ethiopian famine of 1985, Bob Geldof should have used his stage to zing African leaders.

In recent years there have been extraordinary changes in African politics, often described as the "African Renaissance," that have gone largely unnoticed in the U.S. and Europe. In 2001 the New Partnership for African Development was adopted by 53 African governments. The partnership was a bold statement by African governments that the continent’s development depended just as much on domestic reform as on a restructuring of aid and trade policies. The agreement sent a strong signal that African leaders were determined to accept responsibility for Africa’s development.

Another momentous step came when the notoriously ineffectual Organization of African Unity was replaced by the African Union in 2002. The OAU was criticized inside and outside of Africa for its dedication to a policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of African states. Blind adherence to this policy meant numerous African countries retained the colonial vampire-state model that centralizes power, crushes dissent and sucks the life out of the national economies for the personal benefit of "public" officials.

In the name of African sovereignty, African leaders were shielded from external criticism. Everyone agreed to stay out of each other’s business, and fended off criticisms from non-African governments by invoking the doctrine of anti-colonialism.

This pattern of "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" was replaced by the African Union’s clear recognition that the continent’s social and economic problems would not be solved unless principles of good governance became the norm in Africa. All 53 member states have promised to make good governance a priority and hold themselves accountable to the new standards of good governance.

Is this direction sincere or is it little more than a strategy to keep the international donor community happy and the aid flowing?

So far, signs of change are as confusing as Pink Floyd lyrics. The most troubling indicator has been the repeated refusal of African Union officials to condemn the regime of Robert Mugabe. Mugabe’s policies have turned Zimbabwe into an economic disaster. African human rights groups and opposition parties, particularly in Zimbabwe, recognize that real reform in the direction of good governance will not take place unless there is powerful pressure on African leaders. This kind of pressure can come only from the G-8 and the international community.

African leaders have taken important steps in recent years, but they still have not translated their bold rhetoric into behavior. African Union representatives, at the group’s July 5 summit in Libya, called upon the G-8 to cancel all of Africa’s debt, drastically increase aid, and refrain from placing any conditions on future aid. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pronounced, "If you give a poor man money, you don't ask him to change his clothes or the way he prays." The best way for the G-8 leaders to fight poverty in Africa is to respond: "We cannot increase aid and cancel debts unless we are confident that the people who control the fate of 850 million Africans care about fighting corruption and promoting transparency and accountability."

Live 8 performed a vital service by focusing global attention on the suffering in Africa. Now it is time for the citizens of the G-8 to demand of African leaders the same standard of good governance that we expect of our own leaders. This is not colonialism. It is nothing more than forcing African leaders to keep their promises.

Why do Bob Geldof and Bono focus their efforts on London, Paris and Washington, D.C. when the people who most need to feel the pressure of global public opinion sit in government offices across Africa?