Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The only thing clear about the purposes of Live8 is Geldof's need to flatter leaders

There is the saviour's certainty, which reveals awareness without understanding

A handful of good men made this event happen. Some among the new generation of attending citizens were (perhaps) radicalised into questioning this grotesquely misshapen world, where countless (in truth uncounted) children die of starvation and preventable diseases while foolish fashionistas throw away seasonal handbags that cost £1,000.

More importantly the media jumped on board and did Africa. Thousands of images of small, shiny, black-skinned children with accusing eyes flooded our land and overpowered the conscience of each of us. But what was it for? I still don't get it.

I am trying to understand as the litter and scraps of the day float around and those who were there convey what it was like and what it all meant. I confess I cried when Miss Dynamite sang Redemption Song, a beautiful rendition of a never-ending search for black salvation. But the rest of the day was giddily confused and confusing.

They care so much about Africa, yet they couldn't share the limelight and day with Africans as brothers in arms. Instead, African musicians had to be grateful for a small and wrenched concession - far away in Cornwall, in the ghetto, they played and learnt to stay in their place. Oh, but they did allow Kofi Annan to come on. Wasn't that enough? He wandered on to the stage looking bewildered, took the microphone and thanked Geldof et al on "behalf of the poor". For this duly humble message Kofi got subdued applause.

Michael Goldfarb, an American radio journalist who works from London, tells me he was moved that so many young people he interviewed were there not for the music but the cause. He is a reliable witness, so I take his words seriously. They wore many-coloured charity rubber bracelets and endorsed T-shirts; they clicked their fingers as instructed, to mark yet another needless death of a wretched child in Mali, or Zimbabwe or Congo - bourgeois politics which stayed within the comfort zone, but at least they were trying.

Some, however, were straightforwardly there for the show. One journalist wrote yesterday: "This was not a day for self-indulgent forays into unfamiliar B-sides ... While the line-up might have been too bland for some and not ethnically diverse enough for others, it does offer a fair summation of where popular music is right now."

With Live Aid and Red Nose Day I knew what was expected and why. Geldof and others wanted our money for an undertaking that was as clear as clean water. The detractors who accused Geldof of "mugging" them in their own living rooms were sad misanthropes.

Due to that day, my mum has had a magazine photograph of Geldof on her wall, next to her carpet picture of Mecca. She donated a large proportion of her small supplementary pension. Yes, some of the cash raised was co-opted by the dictator Haile Mengistu, responsible for a reign of terror in Ethiopia. But lives were saved by Live Aid, indisputably.

Birhan Woldu, an emaciated Ethiopian child, was shown on our screens. We rushed to give more money. On Saturday she stood on stage, a beautiful young woman who so nearly got buried in the famines all those years ago. But to see her being led on and off by Madonna took away the respect Woldu was entitled to. An African woman with such a story was not enough. A fake blonde celeb had to flank her to make her more attractive to the audience.

Then Madonna, a landowner who resents blameless ramblers walking through her estate, calls for a "revolution". Can you blame me for feeling nauseous?

We haven't even got to the really stinking hypocrisy. Is it true that the Geldof girls were flown in by helicopter, so that they could be there to remember the poor and dying? That even on such a day, VIPs couldn't bear to mix with the common folk because that (presumably) would be, like, a tad too democratic? That there had to be a VIP area where champagne bubbled for paying corporate clients?

Geldof is very rough and tough when he objects to G8 summits which are bloated with luxuries. His acolytes might have timorously suggested to him that there is something even more unseemly about Live8 performers in Philadelphia getting goodie bags worth £7,000 each.

Next question from this sceptic. Why were artists not allowed to slag off Blair or Bush or Brown? (Or to mention Iraq?) These leaders tacitly support the exploitation of resources by Western companies in Africa, unfair trade barriers too, and the immoral arms exports. They infantalise Africans and cannot see them as equals. But please don't dare to mention these small matters, commanded St Bob. Thanks to these unspeakable tongue-tying orders, Blair was not called to account for the viciously cruel deportations of African refugees back into the hellish countries they fled.

And again, should we not ask whether this blockbuster was meant to attack the rich G8 leaders for the state of Africa, or to flatter them into acting now? The answer is sadly that he has gone for flattery rather than rage. How else do you explain the loving photographs of Bob and Tone? And Bob and Gordon?

Finally, how did Africans feel about the projection of their continent by Live8? Every Ugandan, Kenyan, Ethiopian, Sudanese, South African, Zimbabwean, Nigerian, Egyptian, Rwandan, Ghanaian, Cameroonian, Tanzanian, Sierra Leonean, and Congolese African I know found Live8 baffling or offensive or naïve. They admit that bad governance, historic betrayals and trade handicaps have left their continent trailing behind in the global marketplace. They know they cannot turn this round without Western participation. But they feel humiliated by the image of their wondrous continent as lost and in need of white prophets.

The solution, they say, lies with Africans themselves. And with outsiders who love and understand the unbreakable spirit of Africa. The irony is that when you read Geldof's new book on what he calls the "luminous continent", you can feel his deep love. But always there too is the terrible virtue and saviour's certainty, which reveals awareness without understanding. I am reminded of a line in The Man Died by Wole Soyinka: "History is too full of failed Prometheans bathing their wounded spirits in the tragic stream." It may be a warning to Sir Bob.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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