Dead Men Left

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bashing Bono (and Bob)

George Monbiot's on top form at the moment, here laying into a creeping cosiness about the G8:

Listen to these men - Bush, Blair and their two bards - and you could forget that the rich nations had played any role in Africa's accumulation of debt, or accumulation of weapons, or loss of resources, or collapse in public services, or concentration of wealth and power by unaccountable leaders. Listen to them and you would imagine that the G8 was conceived as a project to help the world's poor.

I have yet to read a statement by either rock star that suggests a critique of power. They appear to believe that a consensus can be achieved between the powerful and the powerless, that they can assemble a great global chorus of rich and poor to sing from the same sheet. They do not seem to understand that, while the G8 maintains its grip on the instruments of global governance, a shared anthem of peace and love is about as meaningful as the old Coca-Cola ad.

I can't fault him on the Bono. The whinnying one-trick pony appears to believe that sharing a "laugh" with Bush and schmoozing carpet-chewing fundamentalist spivs like Pat Robertson and Billy Graham is going to help Africa. Has he, as the nice NGO people say, "raised awareness"? Only amongst U2 fans; and for their own safety, these are people best left in total ignorance. So fuck Bono. ("Lennon and McCartney of global development": this alone would be unforgivable.)

Geldof, on the other hand, I raised a mild hurrah for earlier against a certain sneering amongst our more anarchistic comrades. It's his "awarness raising": there aren't any Boomtown Rats aficionados still alive, so Geldof must be communicating a little more widely. The successive media furores he's raised about the G8 have been impressive.

The devil is in the details. Geldof's big message is good. His actual proposals are less good. Saying George Bush has "done more for Africa" than any other US President is, given Bush's rampant support for free trade in Africa, laughable. Geldof counts aid spending, and then forgets what it comes attached to - in Bush's case, and in the case of the current G8 proposals, wholesale liberalisation: a continuation of the policies that have already brought so much devastation to Africa. As Monbiot says, there's no clear evidence of a critique here: instead, me, you, Geldof, Blair and Bush - oh, and maybe the odd African or two - are all on the same side together. If we follow Geldof here we are following him up the garden path.

The caution is needed, but Monbiot is perhaps becoming too worried: there is a sophistication within the global justice movement, a sophistication developed over successive mobilisations, and through a continuous critique, that has percolated down through layers and layers of NGOs, trade unions, churches and to hundreds of thousands of individuals. I do not believe that those who attend the protests in Scotland will be so easily led: not by Geldof; not, in more sophisticated form, by Oxfam. There is an experience in Britain, gained since 2001, of mass mobilisation; there has been a politicisation of all manner of civil society institutions since the "war on terror" was declared. The decisive issue in Scotland will be how the demonstrators against the G8 relate to that war.