Having shot himself in one foot over the original line-up for Live8, Bob Geldof is now aiming the barrel squarely at the other. Wednesday's announcement that African bands will, after all, be invited to perform at a Live8 event - the Africa Calling concert at the Eden Project - compounds the insult to the continent Geldof purports to help. The arrangements are getting more farcical by the day.
Geldof's arrogance is breathtaking. First, he dismisses the idea of having Africans on his bill since, supposedly, they are not big enough draws. Now, outrageously, he is planning to corral the Africans into Cornwall rather than allow them to appear on the same stage, on equal terms, with their European and American counterparts. And I thought apartheid was dead ...
At the recent Hay-on-Wye literary festival, Geldof was questioned over my attack in this paper on his failure to include Africans on the Live8 bill. His response showed that either he had not read my criticisms or, more likely, he twisted my words deliberately.
I, and several other prominent figures in the music business, have never called for an all-African line-up - I called for a mix of African and Western talent at every venue, a better representation by musicians from the continent to which he was supposed to be drawing attention. All that is needed is a smattering of Africa's finest across all five concerts. This would have been so much less patronising to Africa and could have done so much for African self-esteem.
Yet Geldof seems to believe that listening is a weakness. Despite demands from many quarters that an event which petitions world leaders not to neglect Africa should include, erm ... some Africans, Geldof did precisely that with his original Live8 bill. Now, his compromise is to ghettoise the Africans in the West Country.
I am delighted the Live8 organisers have now heeded my call to stage one of the concerts for Africa in Africa. The announcement of the line-up has been delayed while sponsorship is drummed up. This is, reportedly, because the organisers have only allocated a total budget of one tenth the hourly budget of the London show - tossing the Africans crumbs from the table of Europe's rock aristocracy.
Over the last couple of days, I have spoken to a number of African artists and their managers. They are deeply upset by the arrogance of an event meant to unify the world in support of their nations. They discussed a boycott or an alternative showcase concert on the same day, but, reluctantly, many have agreed to turn up in Cornwall.
They feel Geldof is holding a gun to their heads: it's this or nothing. He might as well put up signs around the lanes leading to the Eden Project saying, "Grateful Darkies This Way ..."
Geldof justifies this exclusion by Bob's First Law of Television: the worldwide audience will switch off instantly at the sight of an African swinging an electric guitar. This is offensive to Africans and insults all open-minded viewers and listeners, wherever they may be tuning in.
How dare Geldof presume the audience will react negatively? Perhaps quite a lot of viewers would enjoy a few African bands and may even find them refreshing after watching hours of clapped-out, over-familiar rock stars. Geldof also claims that, in the end, it all comes down to pulling power, ignoring the fact that several of the top African artists sell many more copies of their albums globally than some of those names on the Live8 bill.
Furthermore, to claim that African artists would be a television turn-off reveals Geldof's meagre knowledge of the continent with which he affects such empathy. Not all Africans live in mud huts without electricity, Bob. Millions of them have televisions. Those African viewers may themselves feel inclined to turn off when faced with a Live8 contemptuous of their finest talents.
I am coming, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Live8 is as much to do with Geldof showing off his ability to push around presidents and prime ministers as with pointing out the potential of Africa. Indeed, Geldof appears not to be interested in Africa's strengths, only in an Africa on its knees. A supreme manipulator of his own public image - who might have drawn admiring whistles from "Mother" Theresa in this regard - he has carved out a reputation, and created the myth of Saint Bob, by his attachment only to Africa's suffering.
And, as with the Albanian obscurantist, Geldof is a self-appointed champion of the wretched and downtrodden who is, simultaneously and incongruously, mesmerised by the rich, the powerful and those with A-list celebrity status. If Geldof has genuine empathy with the continent he claims to champion, he wouldn't be telling Africa's world-beating performers that they're not worthy to share a stage with himself and his tedious friends.
The author is a broadcaster and BBC Radio 3 presenterReuse content