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Geldof Continues Fight Against African Poverty
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Geldof Continues Fight Against African Poverty


The rock singer Bob Geldof wants to raise awareness about poverty in Africa again. He has announced plans for a group of concerts to be held on July 2nd in London, Philadelphia, Berlin, Paris and Rome. The artists Coldplay, 50 Cent and U2 are among those scheduled to perform. Twenty years ago, Bob Geldof was the driving force behind Live Aid. It raised tens of millions of dollars to help fight famine in Africa, but was criticized as politically naive. This time around, Bob Geldof is not trying to raise money. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.


Bob Geldof might be older and his tangled hair whiter, but he hasn't lost his vitriol. His new concerts, called Live 8, are scheduled just days before world leaders will meet for the G8 in Scotland.

Sir BOB GELDOF (Live 8): They must know that when they come to Scotland, they must have the will and the support of their electorates to change things, and if they don't want to do that, don't come. Let's not have a G8. Just don't come.

BLAIR: Bob Geldof's pleas were similar when he launched Live Aid 20 years ago, but back then, he berated regular folks to dig into their pocketbooks.

(Soundbite of Live Aid)

Mr. GELDOF: Now you've got to get on the phone and take the money out of your pocket. Don't go to the pub tonight. Please, stay in and give us the money. There are people dying now, so give me the money.

BLAIR: At the time, Geldof's band, the Boomtown Rats, were stars in England. After seeing a BBC documentary on famine in Ethiopia, Geldof helped organize the charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas" and then conceived the Live Aid concerts. The lineup included U2, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, The Pretenders, Paul McCartney and David Bowie.

(Soundbite of Live Aid)

Mr. DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) We can be heroes and just for one day.

BLAIR: Live Aid claims those July 1985 concerts alone raised $80 million, and Geldof promised that money would go towards fighting famine in Africa.

Mr. GELDOF: You can be absolutely sure that on the day you die, there'll be somebody alive in Africa because one day you bought a record or watched a pop concert.

BLAIR: Geldof's statements reflect his idealism at the time. The foundations he created bought or leased ships and trucks, medicine and food, but in Ethiopia and Sudan, they ran up against reality, starting with corrupt governments and abysmal transportation systems. One relief worker called it `Blind Aid.' Doctors Without Borders accused the Ethiopian government of using Live Aid and other relief efforts to help fund a massive resettlement program that led to the deaths of thousands of people, a charge Geldof denied at the time.

Ms. NANCY BIRDSALL (The Center for Global Development): It's no wonder that these groups were annoyed with still another group entering into what is a very large, complicated and, in many settings, chaotic system.

BLAIR: Nancy Birdsall is president of The Center for Global Development. She says coordination among the numerous aid groups working in Africa is often not as effective as it could be.

Ms. BIRDSALL: You insert then into this system one more ingredient, which is reflecting the tremendous energy and goodwill of rock stars and of millions of young people. That's a good thing, because more people understand what the issues are, but it's a best thing--we go from the good to the best if more of those people learn about the system and learn how to push for the best possible public policy.

BLAIR: Twenty years later, now Sir Bob Geldof seems to agree. He's continued to work on global poverty issues and last year was appointed to Prime Minister Tony Blair's Africa Commission. Geldof is still very proud of what Live Aid achieved, but he announced that Live 8 will not be a fund-raiser.

Sir BOB: I couldn't see how anything could possibly be better than that glorious day 20 years ago, but Bono and Richard in particular kept saying, `Do it again,' and I didn't understand to what end, what could we do that was in any way different? It couldn't be about charity anymore. We knew too much.

BLAIR: The Richard Geldof just referred to is Richard Curtis, who wrote the movie "Four Weddings and A Funeral." At the press conference last week, Curtis said now he and Geldof understand better where to focus their energy.

Mr. RICHARD CURTIS (Writer/Director): I remember Bob saying to me that the lesson that he learned was that he thinks he made more money over tea with Mitterrand than the whole of Band Aid and Live Aid put together. The final epic responsibility does lie with the politicians, and that's wisdom that we should act on, I think.

BLAIR: And this time, Bob Geldof says he doesn't want money, he wants people. He wants them to, quote, "tilt the world a little bit on its axis in favor of the poor." Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GELDOF: (Singing) Ooh...

THE BOOMTOWN RATS: (Singing) Tell me why.

Mr. GELDOF: (Singing) ...tell me why, I don't like Mondays.

THE BOOMTOWN RATS: (Singing) Tell me why.

Mr. GELDOF: (Singing) I don't like Mondays...

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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