W F Deedes : Don’t blame it all on the West

As Bob Geldof and his supporters seek to raise our feelings for Africa with a march on the G8 summit and a second Live Aid concert, it is relevant to recall how he sprang to fame.

He inspired the first concert 20 years ago on behalf of Ethiopians starving to death under the rule of a tyrant.

Ethiopia was an independent state, never a colony, which had been governed in feudal style by Emperor Haile Selassie. It was plundered by Mussolini in 1935-36 and recovered by British and Commonwealth forces early in the Second World War and restored to the emperor. He was deposed and murdered by a Marxist revolutionary, Col Haile Mengistu, under whose harsh rule the people starved.

Why is all this worth recording? Because it is a reminder that not all African woes can be attributed to neglect by the West. That claim raises the temperature, sets people marching to attack greedy nations that misruled Africans in the past and now turn a cold shoulder to their needs. It also falsifies history. I have always conceded that we granted independence to Africa on the tail of Harold Macmillan’s "wind of change" too precipitately. No administrative framework was in place. The countries hastily granted independence were up for grabs.

By contrast, Southern Rhodesia was put on the road to freedom by Margaret Thatcher and with an orderly election. And who won? Mugabe, of whose misrule we still read most days of the week. There is no sensible way forward for Africa until we recognise the extent to which African rulers rather than the West are so heavily responsible for its plight.

Have Geldof and his friends any idea how much African nations spend on armies and arms? The total in any one year, if we ever knew it, would astound the world. Guilty men such as Mugabe and those who hold sway over Sudan from Khartoum spend a lot of money defending their backs, against enemies real and imaginary.

Is it any wonder that budgets for health and education suffer? What always distresses me most is that in countries such as Sudan, the Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Liberia, all of them laid low by internal conflict, restoration will be in the hands of Africans who have been denied education.

Then look towards Kenya, a potentially prosperous country so racked by corruption that it yields a fraction of its potential.

I once asked a leading African why so many of his continent’s rulers felt the need to acquire colossal wealth, spend much of it extravagantly and place the remainder in Swiss banks.

"In Africa," he replied, "great wealth is the measurement of a top man. And when he acquires power he is surprised by the number of relatives who expect to share the spoils. Then when he falls to a coup, it is expensive to go into exile with an entourage and guard."

I am as sympathetic as Geldof to the long-suffering African people who endure so much, expect so little and I accept that the West could give a helping hand over trade and debt.

But I also have a clear impression of our limitations and, when I hear President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa defending Mugabe and ticking us off for failing to understand him, I recognise what those limitations are.

It is my conviction that little will change in Africa until its women have a bigger say in running their own lives and Africa’s affairs. The dominant male has much to answer for: the proneness to fight, the promiscuity that speeds Aids, the enslavement of so many women.

So have a good concert, Bob, but change that great lyric about Christmas: "Don’t they know how much more they must do for themselves?"

In the Daily telegraph, 01/06/2005, available at :