Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Development: the new media event for celebrities

African development has been on the periphery of everyone's front page for ever it seems...until now, with celebrities seemingly tripping over themselves to tell both Westerners and Africans themselves how they can develop sustainably. The usual prescription is environmentally friendly, with low carbon impact and low intensity: i.e. not too different to the non-industrialized, no electricity, poverty they presently "enjoy". Climate friendly but still impoverished, and with high levels of mortality from respiratory diseases and dysentery -- both problems fixed by such radical technological advances as electricity and plumbing, otherwise referred to as development born of free-market capitalism.

Perhaps the most high-profile example has been Bob Geldorf, who managed to resurrect his public profile by assuming the role of organizer of Live Aid and last year's high-profile campaign to impart guilt to westerners over the status of African poverty: sorry, to "raise awareness" of their situation.

However, as this story shows, Geldorf's exhortations and personal promises have fallen a long ways short of practical implementation: another case of encouraging awareness, making headlines and ignoring the hard graft of actual development.

Environmentalists have become the leading exponents of Marxist ideology. In the name of the environment, Africans are being told they should avoid the perils of capitalism, over-consumption and industrialization. Instead, they are informed that they will be happier if they retain their cultural traditions, their close to the land lifestyles, and resist succumbing to the malaise of western-style development: global warming.
Sadly, I wish I was exaggerating. But in the past few months articles expressing the very views I seek to parody have been expressed as serious academic and political suggestions for sustainable African development.

Oh, yes: better check to see if your diamond has Leo's seal of approval. A celebrity for every dogma.