Thursday, June 30, 2005

Saint Bob and Digging Another Hole to Nowhere

The Globe and Mail -- On Sunday, I tuned in to the CBC's Cross-Country Checkup, the phone-in radio show for virtuous Canadians. The subject was aid to Africa. Caller after caller exhorted the stingy West, including Canada, to do more. Several of them cited the debt we owe to Africa to make up for the legacy of colonialism. Finally, toward the end of the show, a woman named Hannah came on. Unlike almost all the other callers, she was African. She came from Ethiopia, the country Bob Geldof tried to save in 1985. "Ethiopia is poorer now than ever," she said. "The money just goes into the pockets of the leaders."

You remember the starving Ethiopians. You probably tuned in to Live Aid. Maybe you even bought a copy of Do They Know It's Christmas?

I'm sorry to tell you it didn't help. The Ethiopians were starving because their leader, a truly nasty Soviet-backed dictator named Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, had launched a war that killed at least 100,000. He stole the food-aid money to buy guns and feed his armies. Despite Live Aid, more than a million people eventually died of famine. Today, Ethiopia -- where private property is still outlawed -- remains one of the worst-governed places in the world. As Hannah patiently explained to the CBC host, generations of aid workers have come to dig wells for the impoverished people of Ethiopia. But they are holes to nowhere.

Saint Bob's latest campaign to save Africa is an irresistible appeal to Western pity, sympathy and guilt. It is also more arrogant than those fantasies of any old-time colonial administrator or missionary. It assumes that if only "we" put our minds to it, "we" can "save" "them." The fact that we have been trying to do this for 60 years, without success, does not deter him. His solution is to do even more of it. If you doubt the wisdom of this, you are unspeakably callous.

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