Hunger Strike

Nearly two weeks after the down-with-hunger-and-poverty Live 8 concerts, and what's everybody remember?

The bitchenness (or not) of the Pink Floyd reunion.

The atrociousness of the MTV and VH1 non-coverage (“Let's go get a cheese steak!” a host bellowed at concert's end).

Madonna, maybe.

Just not Africa, which is what the whole thing was supposed to be about.

And that doesn't surprise Mark LeVine, assistant professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture and Islamic studies at UC Irvine and author of a forthcoming book, WhyTheyDon'tHateUs:LiftingtheVeilontheAxisofEvil. Despite hours of media coverage, LeVine says, Live 8 will do almost nothing to achieve head organizer Bob Geldof's oft-stated goal of wiping out poverty on the continent.

“The real issue is fair trade,” LeVine says. “This is a huge thing to achieve, but this is not on the agenda at all. Without fair trade, you're never going to achieve a major reduction in poverty. Poverty is a structural issue, and for people to think that all of a sudden the G8 [the world's leading industrial nations] are suddenly going to change the system, that's never going to happen.”

LeVine is more specific in an essay published last month in the online History News Network. “We first have to understand the history behind the poverty that continues to blight the continent,” he wrote. “For more than half a millennium, Africa and Africans have been the fuel that fired European capitalism and modernity. The kiln was colonialism/imperialism, and the costs of 500 years of European (and later American and Soviet) domination of the continent are almost impossible to fathom: Tens of millions dead. Almost as many enslaved. Hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of natural resources stolen or otherwise expropriated in a system that continues to this very day (Want just one example? Find out where and how Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson get the precious metals without which none of us would have a cell phone).”

LeVine points out a couple of Live 8's more glaring discrepancies—the embarrassingly small number of African musicians on any of the nine host countries' talent bill; the white wristbands worn in support of the effort that were made in Chinese sweatshops—but he directs his harshest criticism at the hypocritical celebrity culture that permeated the event.

“What's really the sacrifice of these celebrities? Just two weeks ago, Will Smith did a huge corporate gig for Wal-Mart, a company that's clearly part of the problem, not the solution. He's going to help bring about trade justice? Come on. I saw an interview with Bob Geldof yesterday. He was asking who these people were who were protesting the G8 summit—he even called them 'stupid.' So now he's unwilling to even recognize the contributions of these protesters, mostly because they aren't bringing about changes his way, so therefore they're 'stupid.' This from someone who used to be the lead singer of the Boomtown Rats—a punk, a rebel? Live 8 will certainly raise awareness like he wants, but promises from the G8 will not be kept—they never are—and things in Africa will get worse than ever.”

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