Bob Geldof: Africa has become a living wound. Now we have the chance to heal it

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Eat your dinner, they told me as a boy, think about the poor starving children in India.

Eat your dinner, they told me as a boy, think about the poor starving children in India.

In those far-off days the concern of the adult world was for Asia. It had a huge population and gloomy prospects in the eyes of economists.

The people of Africa were poor, too, but they had riches in the form of gold, diamonds and copper - and ground so fertile that plants grew overnight wherever you dropped a seed the day before. Africans earned double what Asians did. Africa would be all right.

Forty years on and things are not all right. Africa has stagnated while Asia has seen an astonishing turnaround. First the tiger economies of east Asia leapt ahead. Now India and Bangladesh have followed. Today Asians earn double what Africans do. And life expectancy in Africa is now 17 years less than in India. Why has Africa fallen so far behind?

What we have done on the Commission for Africa - as our declaration in The Independent today tells the world - is analyse the situation, define the real problem and come up with a plan for change.

Our report is being launched in the year that Britain is in the chair at two of the world's most powerful economic groupings - the European Union and the G8. Many of those serving on the commission are political leaders in power. That means it offers the chance of real change.

If other nations can be persuaded to adopt Britain's plan then poverty in Africa could be on the way to eradication. Tony Blair has called Africa a "scar on the conscience of the world". But it is not just a scar. It is a living wound - one which causes one in six African children to die before their fifth birthday. And millions more to go to bed hungry every night.

Our report tries to tackle that. The question we set ourselves was simple: why? The answer, we found, is a complex cocktail of causes: war, and a lack of mechanisms to stop conflict which are taken for granted in developed economies; bad government; corruption.

But the most damaging problem is not the most dramatic. It is what, in the opaque jargon of development, is called "lack of capacity". That means poor roads, broken-down lorries, telephones that don't connect and power grids that regularly black out. It means civil servants who do not have the skills, training, money and basic equipment - let alone the computers - to collect data, formulate sound policies and then deliver the services that ordinary people require.

That is not all. Africa's parliaments, newspapers and judges do not have the ability to hold the continent's governments up to proper scrutiny. Crumbling clinics and schools deprive people of health and education - and their nations of a skilled, healthy workforce. It's an economic climate in which companies and individuals are afraid to invest their money to create jobs.

On top of that Africa cannot produce enough goods of the right quality, or - ironically - cheaply enough, to compete on world markets. And what it does sell is subject to scandalous unfair taxes and tariffs imposed by rich nations.

Then there is debt. For every £2 we send them in aid they have to send £1 back in debt repayments - on debts which are odious as well as onerous.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the Commission for Africa has come up with suggestions which can make significant improvements in each of these areas. But it will need strong action from Africa, and strong backing from us in the rich world.

Change has already begun in Africa, though the rest of world has hardly yet noticed. Now industrialised economies must do three things. We must end the furtive and immoral practices which hinder growth in Africa - scrapping subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy and US Farm Bill. We must abolish the tariffs that prevent Africa's products from entering our markets on equal terms. And we must do away with the debt that clings like a heavy parasite to the body of every man turning the soil in his field, every woman carrying a heavy pot of water from the well, and every child who cannot go to school.

When we have stopped doing the things which harm Africa we can work on improving the way we help. We must improve the quality of our aid (the commission's 400-page report suggests in detail how). And we should double the aid we give Africa - from $25bn (£13bn) to $50bn a year within five years - and then, if that has proved effective, treble it to $75bn a year.

We have produced a package which will stretch governments in Africa and the rich world. It is for others to use words like historic. But I have a hunch that if our plan is adopted this could be the decade when, with our help, Africa's fortune turns. The tide of misery can become a tide of opportunity.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have ensured that the issue of Africa will be there on the top table when the world's most powerful men meet at the forthcoming summit at Gleneagles in Scotland in July. The job of the rest of us is to push them to adopt the plan. If they do, the legacy of our times need not be fly-covered children dying on our television screens every night.

Instead we can imagine for the children of Africa the kind of future that every mother and father in this country takes for granted for their own children: that they go healthy and happy to school; in a nation that can feed itself and trade fairly with the world; under a government that makes life better not worse; in a country which is part of a prosperous, safe and secure world. That is the common interest of us all. As Gary Gilmore said: "Let's do it".


The commission for Africa finds the condition of the lives of the majority of Africans to be intolerable and an affront to the dignity of all mankind. We insist upon an alteration of these conditions through a change of policy in favour of the weak.

Having analysed and costed how this may be achieved, we call for our conclusions to be implemented forthwith in the cause of right and justice and in the name of our shared humanity. On the edge of this new century, in an age of unprecedented wealth and economic progress by all continents, it is unacceptable that Africa drifts further from the rest of the world, unseen in its misery and ignored in its pain.

The commission, its members acting in their capacity as individuals, has assimilated the analysis of years and all extant reports into our findings. These clearly show how things may have been otherwise.

However, we exist in contemporary realities. The world is vastly different to that of 20 years ago when we forcefully acknowledged the pity of the great african famine of 1984-85. The world, then locked into its Cold War political stasis, remained rigid in its competitive ideologies. The breaking of this deadlock, and the increase in global trade that followed, allied to new technologies and cultural shifts, have created a more fluid, less predictive yet more interdependent world.

This world in flux has brought great opportunities along with confusion, change and anxiety. But such change poses great possibilities for us all and especially for Africa, that great giant finally beginning to stir itself from its enforced slumber. We need, then, to seek to understand these newer forces in play about us, attempt to define them and in so doing set the framework for policies that favour the poor.

The great nations of the world, in alliance with their African neighbours, must now move together, in our common interest. How they may proceed will be determined by each nation's needs and desires. But all must immediately begin the journey that leads us to the ultimate common destination of a more equitable world.

Our task was the first step. It is done.