Michael Jackson takes the rock stars' guilt trip

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OVER THE past 15 years a string of rock stars have tried to engage with Africa's disaster zones, with varying degrees of success. The latest is Michael Jackson, who is negotiating to donate up to pounds 75m to create four African universities, which would be named after him.

Jackson, who was in South Africa earlier this week to buy a pounds 40m share in the Sun City casino resort, already has investments in Namibia, a sparsely populated country with a growing tourism industry. During a visit there in May last year, the singer announced a scheme to build casinos in the north of the country. Jackson's plan for the universities - in Tunisia, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa - is being negotiated with a consortium led by a Malaysian entrepreneur, Abdul Rahman, and was first reported in The Independent on Sunday last month.

It may be down to the size of Africa's real need for help, or perhaps it is because of rock star guilt about making so much money with an art form which originated in Africa, but Africa's only competition as a target for rock star largesse has been Aids research.

The biggest charity event in history was aimed at raising money for Africa and was run by a dishevelled rock star. Bob Geldof's Band Aid record and Live Aid event raised over pounds 120m from a public shocked by the images coming from the famine in Ethiopia.

At the height of the greedy Eighties, Live Aid managed to reconnect some rock stars with their consciences and generated a million more charity tours and concerts. From Greenpeace to Amnesty International, from freeing Nelson Mandela to saving Brazilian rainforests, it became hard for some of the world's needy to avoid rock star guilt in the immediate aftermath of Live Aid.

And Africa is at the heart of the latest campaign by stadium rockers to make the world a better place. U2's Bono is fronting the Jubilee 2000 campaign to get the third world debt burden lifted for the new millennium and while Geldof and Live Aid raised pounds 130m in 1985, Bono wants to have the pounds 145bn paid by Africa in debt repayments every year lifted by the end of this year.

More modest, but more consistent, rock star giving to Africa is to be found amongst those who have had a long-standing artistic and political connection with the continent.

Peter Gabriel started his long love-in with Africa when his 1980 song "Biko", about murdered South African activist Steve Biko, acquired the status of an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement.