Live 8.1

The Live 8 concerts are being held with the best of intentions, all would agree. But not all agree that they will have the best of outcomes. We’re seeing asome cautious questioning of the celebrity strategy for world change in print and online.

Ethan Zuckerman, the American blogger who knows Africa well, raises some questions and concerns and says, “This is yet another reason why I don’t get invited to cocktail parties.” Among Ethan’s concerns:

No matter how dumb you think the leaders of the G-8 nations are, they’re not dumb enough to conclude that people are flocking to a rock concert because of their passion for reforming trade policy. Perhaps if thousands of people were marching in the streets to demand an end to EU dairy subsidies rather than to see U2…

… But in the age of citizen journalism, it’s pretty easy to hear what smart, opinionated Africans think about Live 8 directly from their blogs. I just did a roundup of African bloggers writing about Live 8 over at Global Voices. You may be unsurprised to discover that, generally speaking, there’s less enthusiasm for Live 8 on the continent than there is in the US or UK.

While it’s admirable that thousands of bloggers have added Technorati badges to their pages to promote Live 8, to support African debt relief or to try to revive Bob Geldof’s career. But it would be a damn sight more useful and transformative if bloggers would go a step further and start reading some African bloggers… perhaps starting with some of the folks who are justifiably skeptical about the value of yet another rock concert. Allow me to recommend Thinker’s Room’s “Live Aid? Please!“, Sokari Ekine’s “Live 8419″ or Gerald Caplan’s brilliant piece in Pambazuka.

Go read those links at the end. Go read this, too on British concern: “This is simply an exercise in white, Western megalomania.” And keep up on more links at Global Voices.

: Even The New York Times issues a dose of skepticism about celebrities change agents:

Aid specialists are not nearly so confident, however. “It’s a good thing, in that the focus is on Africa,” said Richard Dowden, leader of the Royal African Society, a private policy research body. “The danger is that it concentrates on one big push, and if you don’t get what you are asking for, you are setting yourself up for disillusionment.”

Indeed, some fundamental assumptions of the campaign are also being challenged. Will good intentions be thwarted by corrupt governments? Can African administrations cope with a surge of increased aid? “The future of Africa is not going to be decided by rock concerts but by African politicians making good decisions,” Mr. Dowden said.

Sir Bob dismisses those concerns. “I am withering in my scorn for the columnists who say, ‘It’s not going to work,’ ” he said. “Even if it doesn’t work, what do they propose? Every night forever watching people live on TV dying on our screens?”

In fact, there are those who argue that doing something for the sake of it can be as damaging as doing nothing. Even the Live Aid concerts 20 years ago “did harm as well as good,” said David Rieff, a New York-based writer and authority on humanitarian aid. “The Live 8 phenomenon is part of this Western fantasy of omnipotence,” Mr. Rieff continued in a telephone interview, “a politically correct version of the imperial impulse to give some money and all will be well, as if the problems of Africa are just the results of our not paying enough attention.”

: I listened in on a conference call about Live 8 for bloggers and I’ve been reading about the attempts to make it a blog cause. But something bothered me about this, too: Bloggers were offered a chance to cover the concerts but there were conditions: They had to sign the pledge and advertise the concert. But will they require The Washington Post to sign the pledge and promote the concerts before being allowed in to cover them? If not, why should bloggers be treated differently from other media? Doesn’t this just guarantee that blog coverage will be sympathetic? Is it sufficient that the bloggers’ views on this will be as transparent as the Live 8 badges on their sites? Or is the promise of backstage access an attempt to influence their views?

: I’m not trying to dismiss Live 8 or the blogging efforts and certainly applaud the motives. But it’s good to see that the strategy is open for questioning.