If you're especially well-informed, you gleaned that the Live 8 spectacles were related to this week's G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, where the leaders of the world's eight richest countries (Canada, the U.S., the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia) are meeting to discuss global finance.
Organizers of the Make Poverty History campaign hoped that A-list celebrities would provide sufficient garnish to such a dour spread that people would perk up over global inequality.
"Do not disappoint us," penned spokesperson and organizer Bob Geldof in a recent open letter to the leaders picked up by British press. "Do not create a generation of cynics, do not betray the desires of billions and the hopes of the poorest."
One wonders when the odometer on Geldof's indignation rolled back to zero. The leaders of the G8 have been doing precisely those things for decades. It's more or less their job.
The rhetoric was crafted to inspire the leaders to move forward on policies that would benefit Africa, a continent that bears the scars of centuries of colonialism. Sierra Leone has the highest child mortality rate in the world. Life expectancy in Mozambique hovers around 40. More than three-quarters of the world's AIDS sufferers live in sub-Saharan Africa. Every day, thousands die from hunger or diarrhea.
These realities are generally understood, even if not everyone can cite the numbers. But the implicit message of most daytime TV charity appeals is that Africans are backward people unfortunate enough to live in a big, barren land full of scary things like lions and sandstorms. The recent media frenzy generated by Geldof and friends opened up an opportunity to bridge the gap between poverty knowledge and poverty action. Yet no news anchor has been up to it.
Africa used to be a lush, forested place, but over the centuries most of the timber ended up in the hands of European conquerors. Today, precious minerals and fossil fuels are extracted by foreign corporations. The G8 countries encompass only 10 per cent of the globe's population but control 60 per cent of its wealth. You don't need a degree to see that this means 40 per cent of the wealth is left for 90 per cent of the world to fight over.
And to prove they're not entirely stingy, the G8 are willing to help out in this regard. Except for Japan, all the G8 countries are among the top 13 global arms producers. (Canada's number 13.) The whole lot of them account collectively for 85 per cent of global arms manufacturing, and, as a recently released report by Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms points out, are the biggest scofflaws when it comes to arms embargoes. Of the 40-some large-scale conflicts currently raging, most are internal resource wars, and most are taking place in Africa.
It's against this backdrop that Geldof wrote his open letter, declaring without irony that the "real stars" of the show are the G8 leaders. This praise follows the often fawning coverage received by G8 finance ministers in June when they announced a debt-relief package for Africa.
In seeking to have the suggested plan ratified at the summit, many activists and NGOs have obviously gone the route of positive reinforcement. But in treating the summit, which takes place behind a 6-foot fence demarking a 500-foot perimeter, as a democratic event, debt-relief advocates sidestep the reality that both the "debt" and its "relief" are open to debate.
The suggested relief package, to which Germany and France are reportedly opposed, would only be offered to 15 countries and would not erase the debt but see it waived by a fixed portion each year for 10 years. But this would be put in place only after International Monetary Fund-style economic adjustments like the widespread privatization of social services and nationalization of industries.
There are also competing schemes for recouping the presumed lost revenue to the West, the most popular being taking the money from aid budgets. In other words, foreign aid could decrease in direct proportion to debt relief - gaining the poor nations exactly nothing.
When Canadian activist Penny Howard, in Scotland for the summit, was interviewed on CBC, she said she and her fellows were there to send the G8 the message that this is "not the way they should be running the world."
With Scottish police already using anti-terrorist laws to stop incoming protestors, there's an obvious desire to be polite. Still, thinking back only a few short years to the massive mobilizations outside past summits, it's hard to recall when, exactly, it was agreed upon that they should be running the world at all.