Live8: Aiding Ethiopia’s rulers
Live8 and its leading spokesmen have received plenty of criticism. From the Right there are charges that there’s no point in development aid as it all gets diverted by corrupt African governments. From the Left the complaint is that Geldof and Bono give legitimacy to Bush and Blair. George Monbiot (Guardian 21/6/5), for example, says of the G7’s debt-relief package “Anyone with a grasp of development politics … could see that the conditions it contains – enforced liberalisation and privatisation – are as onerous as the debts it relieves. But Geldof praised it as ‘a victory for the millions of people in the campaigns round the world’ and Bono pronounced it ‘a little piece of history’”. The actual differences are just quibbles over economic policy (see article on page 1). Both Right and Left agree that, in Monbiot’s words, “The two musicians are genuinely committed to the cause of poverty reduction”, but are naïve in what they do and say.
While Geldof actually insists on others having “mental rigour and discipline” (Times 25/6/5), his own outpourings don’t withstand much examination. In the Independent of 11 June he said that “new political leaders like Prime Minister Meles here in Ethiopia – a really smart guy – are emerging, many of who show a new commitment to the common good of their peoples”. Three days earlier the security forces of Meles Zenawi’s government had killed at least 36 people in a violent crackdown on protests, which also included the arrest of more than 3600 people.
Meles is not a new kid on the block. He was one of the figures in Blair’s Commission for Africa (like Geldof). Since the overthrow of Mengistu in 1991 he has been the central figure in the Ethiopian government, first as President and, since 1995, as Prime Minister. He’s always shown the utmost loyalty to the demands of state capitalism. In the 1970s and 80s he was a member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front that saw Albanian Stalinism as a model. Since coming to power Meles has undertaken classic free market reforms with the privatisation of hundreds of companies and widespread cuts in government spending, particularly in social benefits and regardless of the famines of 1992, 1997, 2000 and 2002.
One area that was not reduced was military expenditure. It’s estimated that in some recent years only 2 or 3 countries have had a higher proportion of their GDP devoted to military spending. This is partly due to the continuing tensions with Eritrea. Between May 1998 and June 2000 they fought a war along a 500-mile front, in which between 100,000 and 150,000 died. Millions of dollars intended for aid was diverted into military activity and arms procurement, even during the famine of 2000. The subsequent ‘peace’ has been very uneasy as both countries continue to reinforce their frontline positions.
The “commitment” of Meles is the same as that of Bush and Blair and the leaders of every other state in the world, to the maintenance of capitalism, using war and repression wherever necessary.
In this context Live8 and its propaganda, which claims that capitalism can abolish the suffering and impoverishment it’s created, acts as an accomplice of powers great and small. Twenty years ago Band Aid and Live Aid raised between £50m and £70m. In Ethiopia, like nearly all the other NGOs, they went along with the policies of Mengistu’s Dergue regime. This included the forced resettlement of 600,000 to South West Ethiopia where the government was in full control. This process, “the biggest deportation since the Khmer Rouge genocide”, according to the president of Médicins Sans Frontière, resulted in the deaths of 100,000 (MSF’s estimate). Geldof said that “The organisations participating in the resettlement programme should not be criticised” and that “we’ve got to give aid without worrying about population transfers” (Irish Times 4/11/85).
NGOs are not neutral in a class-divided society. Both Live8 and Live Aid have shown how they act in harmony with our rulers and their ideology.