Sunday 18 February 2018

Ian Birrell: Geldof's obsession with aid hurt Africa. But now trade is healing the scars

Bob Geldof. photo: Getty Images
Bob Geldof. photo: Getty Images

Ian Birrell

I FIRST became aware of Bob Geldof in 1977 when I bought the debut single by The Boomtown Rats. In those days, he was pretending to be a punk. Since then, he has been an activist, actor, champion of fathers' rights, DJ and multi-millionaire media mogul. Now in his latest guise he is, to use his own vernacular, a private equity whore.

Some might have qualms about this secular saint joining an industry under attack by everyone from the President of the United States to street protest groups. Others might feel he is cashing in on his status as self-appointed saviour of Africa by chairing a fund seeking to invest $450m on the continent. But not me. And not just because that first hit was called "Looking After No. 1".



Although Geldof is no fan of the church, I am reminded of the biblical quotation that there is more joy over one sinner repenting than all those righteous souls in no need of repentance. We can rejoice at his realisation the future of Africa depends on trade, not his myopic obsession with aid. It is just a shame that this comes after three decades in which so much harm has been caused by promoting a corrosive culture of aid dependency and portraying Africa as a helpless supplicant, devastating its image.

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