Whatever happens today, Live8 is already a success

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Indeed, it may be the closest anyone has yet come to staging a truly global event. It is to Bob Geldof's immense credit that he has applied all his inimitable drive and vision to seeing this project through. He has, almost single-handedly, put Africa on the rich world's map and done his utmost to keep it there. That Africa will be one of two priorities - along with climate change - at this year's G8 summit at Gleneagles is tribute to Geldof's commitment and sometimes infuriating persistence.

Criticisms can be made. Twenty years on, there is somehow more dissonance between the coterie of wealthy rock stars devoting time to this event and the world's poorest in whose cause they are performing. The absence of African stars on the main stages also represents a grievously missed opportunity. The organisers' fears that viewers would switch off is patronising, Eurocentric and ill-founded. It could have helped promote artists who are effecting change in Africa, through their music, their politics and their benevolence.

One welcome - and unexpected - effect of the conjunction of Live8 and the G8 is the upsurge of interest in Africa and the informed debate it has spawned. The debt cancellation agreement, which is to be sealed at Gleneagles, has been rightly applauded. But it has also prompted discussion about how far even the most generous amounts of aid and debt relief can solve the less developed countries' problems. For almost the first time, non-specialists are hearing the arguments that have raged in the "aid community" for years.

There are questions of principle, such as which is cause and which effect as regards poverty and poor governance. There are questions of practice, such as how can foreign governments and aid organisations ensure that money reaches the people who need it rather than Swiss banks. How is it possible to assist grassroots initiatives, when all permits lie through corrupt officials? And how far does aid without strings produce dependency?

That such fundamental arguments are suddenly being aired is an excellent development. If it means that rich governments will be less inclined to treat incompetent leaders with kid gloves in order to patronise them or sell them arms, it is high time. Bob Geldof's preoccupation with aid and debt relief may now seem a little old-fashioned and simplistic, but he takes the credit for starting the discussion.

The challenge is how to proceed. The priority must be to help Africa help itself; abolishing tariff barriers is just one route, but a crucial one. At the same time, the danger must also be avoided of treating all Africa as a single basket case. There are successes - countries, such as Mozambique and Ghana, which are enjoying economic growth and reducing reliance on aid. Some poor nations are starting to establish democracies, such as Mali and Senegal, and must be encouraged. Establishing what works across this variegated continent is crucial. However much our consciousness is raised by Live8, Africa's destiny rests with its people. When the music dies down, our commitment must continue.

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