Almost 20 years since the astonishing event that was Live Aid, Tony Blair has tried to reclaim some of his humanist political mantle by bringing Africa and the continent’s dreadful suffering to the fore of world politics. Will it be like past such declarations? Lots of nice headlines, photo-opps with Saint Bob of Geldof? But then prove to be like George Bush’s promises on Africa and Aids assistance last year – hollow and largely untrue; what there actually was had already been in place and came with many strings attached. In short will there be real action – will the ‘advanced’ nations actually do something?
On the BBC tonight images of dreadful suffering in the Sudan once more. Government troops, Arab militias, warlords – all fighting each other with the civilians in the middle once more. So dangerous what aid is available from charities and the UN cannot reach those who need it because it is simply to dangerous for their people to travel the land. Why is it that we can commit tens of thousands of troops and enormous resources to dubious wars but we cannot commit to fight the most insidious evils that have plagued our planet for century upon weary century? If we are to put British troops in harms way then at least make it for a good reason. These little local warlords lord it over a terrified, starving populace, waving their Kalshnikovs over their heads. I’m sure plenty of our soldiers would be all to happy to get into a situation like that to twat them and let the needed relief columns through.
Odd how we can continue to commit so much to our illegal war and occupation of Iraq but it would never cross the government’s mind to give the UN command of a pile of our troops and say to them, here you go – use them to protect those who have no protectors. Am I being naïve for thinking that this simple idea is a good one? Yes, I know it wouldn’t solve all their problems right away, but until these murdering bullies are dealt with – and there is only one way to deal with a bully – no charity or UN group can start to help the population of countries like the Sudan to recover and rebuild. And don’t you think if this was the sort of foreign military adventure we had embarked upon we may have really been making a better, safer world? Don’t you think we’d be making friends, creating goodwill with other nations when they saw we were prepared to endure hardships and struggle to help the helpless? Wouldn’t warlords world-wide be terrified that they would be next? That they would be brought to account? Wouldn’t it be nice to think that people being harmed by hooligans with guns, starved and ill would have hope again? Hey, you may say I am naïve. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
On a personal note though, I have to say it is worrying to realise that I work next to some people who weren’t even born when Live Aid rocked the world to feed the planet. Obviously that means there is something wrong with them – can’t be me… Surely it can’t be me getting… older… And worse than getting older, losing my hair and realising that the future isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be is the fact that 20 years later, in the 21st century people are still facing famine and civil wars in Africa. Does anyone remember the cartoon of the little starving African child sitting on top of the EU’s food mountain, remarking “ from up here I can almost see Africa”. When governments didn’t do it the ordinary people of the planet did move mountains – it must have been on the most positive vibe days ever in our little world. So much good will around the globe, so many working to help people they didn’t even know. So galling to think 20 years later little has changed.
But rather than end on a downer you have to look at the positive. For each of these awful situations there are still many people out there who risk their health and sometimes their lives to help people they don’t know. Oxfam, Save the Children, Medicins San Frontiers… It’s a long list of good people and because there are always people like this prepared to try to help for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do I do still have a little faith. It’s hard to hold on to when you see news stories like these, but you have to remember there are good people struggling to help total strangers. Why can’t governments follow these fine examples?
And what can we do? You and me on a personal level? We may not be able to do much, but we can make little differences. Buy Fair Trade where you can. Visit the Hunger Site every day. Set up a direct debit for one of the charities. It doesn’t matter if its just a few quid a month, the fact they know they get it every month allows them to budget more effectively and plan aid than relying on one-off campaigns. I do this myself and one day, if I ever escape Waterstone’s and get a job which pays a real wage I’ve promised myself I’ll up the amount each month. It’s the least I can do. And I mean that literally – all I did was fill in a direct debit form – some other folk do the hard things. They have to organise food, transport, carry it to people across all sorts of terrain in dangerous conditions. But it still makes good sense to me to do it, because if thousands of others are doing this tiny act each month then we help. We help someone we’ll never know. We make a small ripple of good will in the pool of the world, which is magnified by other ripples until one day it will become a wave breaking over the shores of despair and sorrow and wash them away forever. Perhaps I am naïve. But if I am then I am content to have the naivety.