Leading article: The merits of healthy scepticism

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The Independent Online

As with everything associated with this summer's musical extravaganza, last night's premiere of the Live8 DVD in London, was a media-savvy affair. The DVD will be in the shops next month, with a percentage of the cover price going to charities working in Africa. As with the concerts, the project is commercial, but with a charitable objective. It is what we have come to expect from the Make Poverty History coalition.

But yesterday's launch cannot disguise the fact that the lustre of this summer's anti-poverty crusade is starting to dim. Criticism of what world leaders delivered at the G8 summit is growing. And with justification. On first inspection, the package unveiled in Gleneagles was impressive. Aid to Africa was doubled to $50bn and the debts of the 18 poorest nations were cancelled. But the small print was critical. Many pledges were double counted. And the eight governments gave themselves until 2010 to meet their commitments. That is not to say the exercise was worthless. But it was not quite the historic triumph hailed by many.

In retrospect, it is regrettable the campaign was seized upon by celebrities who ended up serving the ends of politicians. Bob Geldof said "unless you engage with the political process you aren't going to get political and economic justice." This is true. But engagement must be married to scepticism. It is not clear that this was the case.

Mr Geldof argued this week that Live8 had heightened young people's awareness of Africa's problems. This is highly questionable. Sadly, those huge concerts were not really about Africa at all. After all, performers from Africa were banished to Cornwall as an afterthought and given barely any time on screen. This was a tragically missed opportunity. Presenting African culture to the global audience would have been hugely beneficial.

Events since the concerts have left more profound disillusionment. The famine in Niger soon after Live8 made people wonder why such a preventable disaster had not warranted a mention during the concerts. Famine has now taken hold in Malawi too. And the inadequate response to the Kashmir earthquake has demonstrated just how miserly some rich nations can be in the face of disaster and suffering.

In the end, the Live8 concerts were more about celebrities and politicians than the causes they claimed to espouse. They underline that the future of Africa must be - and will be - in African hands. Debt relief and aid, while desirable, are no substitute for free trade and good governance. What we must do is scrap our obscene subsidies and trade restrictions that cause impoverishment across the developing world. This is what people need to focus on as preparations begin for world trade talks in December. At best, Live8 made faltering steps in the right direction, but the real journey is only just beginning.

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