Wednesday, 06 July 2005
Bob Geldof confirms that, for him, African representation and empowerment is “not important”
Today, Bob Geldof finally put on the record what many development campaigners have suspected for a while - namely that the empowerment of African people to represent themselves and solve their own problems, rather than relying on rich, guilt-ridden celebrities to save them, is not important to him.
At midday, a group of spiritual and community leaders met in Cramond, just outside Edinburgh, to hold a vigil in advance of the opening of the G8 summit in nearby Gleneagles. At the vigil organised by Christian Aid, a group of traditional drummers from Ghana, Kakatsitsi, performed a Libation Ceremony in which they called on their ancestors to lend their spiritual support to the Make Poverty History campaign. After their ceremony, Bon Geldof made a short speech before talking informally to the assembled media, dignitaries and local people.
During his speech, Geldof announced that in Ghana, people think of him as a King, referring to the village of Besseasse in the Ashanti region of Ghana, which Geldof visited while making his BBC documentary series. At the end of the vigil, Geldof was approached by members of Kakatsitsi asking him to arrange for them to perform a similar ceremony at the Murraryfield Live8 later that evening. Kakatsitsi had performed such a ceremony in partnership with Drop the Debt in Genoa in 2001, at the opening of Edinburgh City Council’s events in the run up to the G8 and at the front of the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh on Saturday. Their proposal was to spend one minute leading the assembled crowd in a simple call and response interplay, summoning the spiritual power of the Ancestors to focus the minds of the G8 leaders on the negotiations ahead. The ceremony was to provide much needed African cultural and spiritual leadership within Live8, which has been the subject of considerable criticism for the predominantly Anglo-Saxon and celebrity line-ups, resulting in the exclusion and marginalisation of African voices or the inclusion of mere token representation.
Geldof replied that he had been bombarded by numerous Hollywood stars and other celebrities wishing to be included in the line-up and that it was therefore not possible to include the African drummers. At this point, the manager of the drummers intervened to point out that the purpose of the Make Poverty History campaign was not to support Hollywood stars or rich music-industry celebrities but to tackle the poverty and marignalisation facing African people. Surely, he suggested, empowering African people to speak for themselves and empowering them to solve their own problems rather than this being the remit of the ‘white man’s burden’ of guilt ridden super-rich rock-stars was of the utmost importance.
Geldof, apparently surprised by this criticism, replied that this was not part of his agenda. Just to clarify matters, Kakatsitsi’s manager asked again. “Do you not think that issues relating to African representation are important ?”. Geldof replied “Not for me. “
This latest episode confirms a growing consensus within the Make Poverty History coalition that Geldof is becoming increasingly arrogant, self-obsessed and caught up in the cult of his own personality. Several of the Christian Aid campaigners attending the vigil complained of the total lack of accountability of self-appointed leaders such as Bob Geldof and Richard Curtis of Comic Relief and that issues relating to the empowerment of African people as a primary means of poverty relief, taken for granted by most development campaigners, were being ignored. Concern was also expressed about some of the images from Saturday’s Live8 performances in London – Geldof posing on stage, fist in the air and looking out over the assembled masses and the obscene parading of the Ethiopian woman saved by Live Aid. Combined with the marginalisation of the African artists in Cornwall, campaigners are coming to draw parallels between Live8’s agenda and that of the colonial project of saving and civilising the Dark Continent.
The leader of Kakatsitsi, Nii Kwartei Owoo, expressed his frustration at Geldof’s failure to support African people saying “Bob Geldof claims to want to help African people. Yet he does not respect our culture or give us the right to speak for ourselves. He is using African people and African poverty as camouflage.”
Kakatsitsi can be contacted on 07766 5666691