Leading Article: Where are you now, Bob Geldof?

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The Independent Online
The lesson today is how to die, sang Bob Geldof, and for a moment the world fell silent. One and a half billion people were watching. Thanks to global television link-ups it was the biggest concert the world had ever seen and it raised $100m for famine relief in Africa.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Live Aid and the cynics have been suggesting that it was, given the state of Africa now, pretty much a waste of time.

It was not, of course. Hundreds of thousands of lives were saved. But more than that, Geldof, in his own memorable phrase, "made compassion hip". The rock star's ability to stand his ground in a ding-dong with Margaret Thatcher or face down the Brussels bureaucrats made a new generation aware not just of the plight of the world's poor but also of the fact that ordinary people in the West can do something about it.

Ten years on Africa is still in dire poverty but the world in which it exists is rather a different one. The Cold War, with its proxy conflicts in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola, is over; apartheid has gone from South Africa; multi-party democracy has been introduced in many countries and most, under the tutelage of the IMF and World Bank, have gone some way towards liberalising and restructuring their economies, often with devastating results for the poorest sections of their populations. Despite all that Africa has largely fallen from the international agenda and the Cannes summit last month saw a downgrading of Europe's aid and investment in the continent.

Africa must compete, too, in an increasingly globalised financial environment. This creates opportunities for poor countries if they can take advantage of their low labour costs, but it also creates huge strains: their economies find themselves competing for foreign direct investment, which makes its calculations on the brutal realities of the corporate bottom line.

It is also a problem that a lot of such investment in developing countries is speculative and short-term; in any case Africa is all too often bypassed because it lacks infrastructure and an educated population. Deregulation of the international economy has increased the gap between rich and poor globally, just as it has within Britain.

Aid agencies and others concerned with promoting development among the world's poor have so far been unable to find a convincing strategy to cope with these new global realities. Yet it is important that some sense of public accountability and social responsibility be restored to the debate.

That was Geldof's triumph. He set aside the concept of enlightened self- interest on which the previous development consensus, embodied in the Brandt report, had relied. Instead he recreated a moral climate in which it became possible to say that it is simply wrong that so many people should live in such abject poverty in today's world. A decade later, that is a message which needs to be broadcast more urgently than ever before.