Perhaps the most accurate description of Sir Bob Geldof is that he is a very smart person who happens to be a rock star. A founding member of the Boomtown Rats, in 1984 Geldof brought together a super-group of artists known as Band Aid to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Geldof has remained committed to understanding Africa ever since. In this interview with The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute, Geldof’s wit, musician’s penchant for words, and passion for Africa remain evident.
Question: How did you get interested in Africa? Where did your passion come from?
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Geldof: Initially, from the television in 1984. The BBC ran a report on Africa one day at the top of their main 6 news. The BBC gave 10 minutes to a report about what one of their journalists stumbled upon when he was covering the civil war in Ethiopia. There was a town in northern Ethiopia where literally hundreds of thousands of people just sat down to die. The report was absolutely devastating. It still resonates with me, and I sat there, very disturbed, and my wife had tears in her eyes.
I thought it’s not enough to put a pound (British currency) in the charity box. This requires something of the self. All I could do was write tunes, but I thought maybe we could make a record and get it out by Christmas. I thought we could make a hundred thousand pounds, give it to Oxfam or something, and be done.
I didn’t have the confidence that I could perform it myself, so I rang a friend in another band and said let’s do this together. That was Band Aid, which became a massive phenomenon and eventually raised $200 million in 1985.
I quickly realized that the way to get the politicians is numbers, and 1.2 billion people back in 1985 watched Live Aid. I was able to talk to Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan briefly, George H.W. Bush, Francois Mitterrand, and subsequently the pope and the Kremlin. It culminated 20 years later at the Gleneagles G-8 meeting (in 2005). The generation that had seen Live Aid was now in power. Our presence at the G-8 enabled (then-British Prime Minister Tony) Blair to push through the forgiveness of debt and the doubling of aid for Africa.
From that point on, you saw this development of economies in the stable states, and the rise of democracy. It wasn’t because of us but because of a whole series of events.
Q: What is driving the emergence of an African middle class? And what can the West do to help grow it?
Geldof: What’s driving it, of course, is development, economic growth. The amount it takes to be middle class in Africa is small compared to what it takes us to be there, but it is the way forward.
In about 2030, you’re going to have this vast amount of money being spent. New wealth is beginning to evolve, but it’s constant with the growth of cities. You see this massive urbanization going on, and it’s essentially chaotic. But we saw that too in the development of our cities.
I find great exuberance there. The potential for Africa is absolutely enormous. You’re seeing all the bumps of the past, but you’re seeing us in the present. To ignore Africa is to ignore 2050.
They’ve already made the technological leap. Kenya is so way ahead in technology. They will come up with some whiz bang app. And they invented virtual currency. We’re all talking now about the end of cash. They did it years ago. They never had cash. They don’t trust their government. They don’t trust their banks, so they invented an app that was not Bitcoin but a virtual currency where bills are transferred.
Africa is changing rapidly, and it’s going to be a major force in the world economy.
Q: Africa is home to the world’s 10 largest young populations, which suggests a growing workforce. How can Africa best capitalize on this?
Geldof: It is by far the largest, youngest working-age population on the planet. But are there the jobs to fulfill their expectations? Certainly there aren’t now, but it’s an economic question: Is there space for entrepreneurialism?
You do need a decent political system, and decent people to run a decent government until you can see the benefits of this population growth.
Entrepreneurs grow in a fully structured economy, when there’s a sort of middle economy. … There are very few SMEs (small-to-medium enterprises) in Africa, but there are some funds doing SMEs.
Africa has an economy at the top end, where you have global giants. And you have companies extracting resources. Then you have people scrambling for a living. Mrs. Miggins is on the street corner, and she’s got a couple of carrots, and she’s boiling up a pot with the carrots in it, and she’s calling it soup, and she’s selling it. And if she makes a bit of money, then she goes home, and she eats that evening.
A lot of inventions gain traction in the United States because you can commercialize your invention there and sell it into the economy. That’s what you need to happen in Africa. If an entrepreneur is going to gamble and put everything into a venture, where will they sell it? Who’s going to buy their product?
Q: What would you recommend to others who want to get involved in Africa?
Geldof: In 1984, the day after I saw the TV broadcast, I said that to die of want in a world of surplus is not only intellectually absurd but is economically illiterate and, of course, morally repulsive.
That still is true, and it is in our interest to immediately include Africa into the global economy. It is desperately in our interest, and, frankly, to leave it ignored and to just view it as sort of a humanitarian endeavor is not what the Chinese are doing.
The United States must engage on a whole other level than what it’s doing now. This is a vast part of the world, and it is immensely to America’s benefit to engage with them. And I just don’t mean on the political level. I mean on a huge economic level.
Article by The Catalyst, InsideSources