July 3, 2005

Africans puzzled by Live 8 but hope for change

By Rebecca Harrison

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Few Africans watched thestar-studded Live 8 gigs meant to highlight their plight butmany said on Sunday any bid to relieve poverty was welcome --even faraway rock concerts performed for rich whites.

Up to 2 billion people watched broadcasts of Saturday'sLive 8 concerts, performed on four continents to help drawattention to poverty in Africa and press the world's mostpowerful leaders to cancel debt, boost aid and scrap unfairtrade barriers.

Yet in Africa where most people are too poor to own a TV,only a fraction of those meant to benefit actually saw theevent billed as the world's biggest concert and those who didwere puzzled by endless footage of white men with guitars.

"I don't know who Bob Geldof is," said Edward Romoki indowntown Johannesburg when asked what he thought of the manbehind the concerts. "But people are speaking about poverty andthere is plenty of that in Africa -- maybe a concert like thiscan put Africa in the news and change things."

Maxwell Shirima, a 25-year-old who makes around $5 a dayselling oranges at the side of the road in Tanzania said he hadno idea there were any concerts being staged to help Africa.

"I haven't heard anything about it, but anything to help usis good," he said.


Africans who knew about the concerts thought they were agood idea but wondered why their own musicians had beensidelined -- a criticism that prompted the last-minute additionof the much smaller Johannesburg gig.

"What do participating musicians know about Africa?" askedSusan Outa, a student in Nairobi. "How do we know whether halfof them have even visited a single African country?"

At the Johannesburg show on Saturday some 8,000 peoplestared nonplussed at a giant screen beaming live footage of U2and other western acts little known in Africa from glitzierconcerts in rich countries.

But while artists said they would have loved to share thestage with international stars such as Bjork and Bono, theysaid the local concert offered a chance to educate youngAfricans about the issues behind their daily strife.

"As a young African man this gives me a chance to talk toother young Africans about the issues that are stopping themfrom being free," said Zola, South Africa's king of kwaito -- aversion of hiphop that grew from the townships.

Between pumping tunes, Zola and other performers drew hugecheers as they preached debt relief and free trade to a crowdlargely unversed in international economics.

Despite skepticism over how much a bunch of rock starscould change their lives, many Africans were hopeful a meetingof the Group of Eight (G8) richest countries next week wouldyield results.

"I hope the G8 will find a solution to our problems," saidunemployed 21-year-old Isa Mlambo in Johannesburg. "They alwayspromise, but I am hoping this time they will take action."

Kenyan student Phillip Khisa reckoned Africa must firstfight its own battles and wondered whether even debt write-offwould help a continent blighted by corruption.

"You know we have a greedy government. Even if they cancelthe debt, it will not help if the government is greedy. Seniorgovernment officials should cut their salaries first."

(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi andHelen Nyambura in Dar es Salaam)