How can the West help Africa? A global Q&A

Saturday, 10 cities around the world will host some of pop music's biggest names as part of the "Live 8" concert series (www.live8live.com). Organizer Bob Geldof hopes large turnouts will pressure the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations, meeting in Scotland next week, to help put "an end to poverty" in Africa. He also hopes the rock shows will boost awareness about Africa's plight - and how the wealthy world can help.

The Monitor decided to find out what some Western concertgoers really know about Africa, and where there is - and isn't - common ground with Africans.

Our correspondents spoke with eight ticket-holders for concerts in Philadelphia, London, and Rome. They also interviewed eight people in Senegal and Nigeria, two indebted African nations.

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As it turns out, the two groups have different priorities. Nearly every Westerner mentioned HIV/AIDS as a top African problem. Only one African did. Every African cited poverty as a major worry. And most wanted investment - not aid.

We also asked some lighter questions. Could the Westerners name even one African leader? (Only half could.) Did the Africans know what U2 is? (Most didn't).

The Africans universally agreed that their continent is culturally richer than many Westerners can imagine, but that their leaders are fundamentally corrupt. That's why this group all advocated that "strings" be tied to aid to prevent it from going astray.

What Africans, Westerners know about each other

George David Malik, a bartender from Dakar, Senegal.

What is the biggest problem facing Africa? Poverty. In Senegal, the capital [Dakar] looks nice, but in small towns people sometimes have only one meal per day. Prostitution is growing in Dakar because people need money. Girls who are 14 or 15 years old leave school and go to nightclubs to meet men and get money to support their families. Then come health problems, and there are no services for them. Finding work is difficult.

Will debt relief, one of the G-8 proposals, help Africa? Because of the debt, the population pays the price. The cost of sugar and food increases because the state cannot pay [interest on loans from rich nations]. Each time the regime changes, the new one has to pay the old one's debt, but really it's the people who pay.

What should people know about Africa that they probably don't? Family comes first.... We respect our parents and do what they tell us to. Also, we are not like Europeans - you have one or two children. Me, I am one of six children - three boys and three girls. I live at home with all of them.

Name the heads of state for the following countries (where the five main Live 8 concerts are being held):

United States: George Bush

Britain: The guy there, Bush's friend. Is it Tony Blair?

Italy: They have a queen, don't they? No, I only know the pope.

Germany: No idea.

France: Wait, why can't I remember? Wait a sec. No, I forget.

Ousmane Kane of Saint Louis, Senegal, a student at the University of Dakar.

What is Africa's biggest problem? Civil wars. People are fighting over money and wealth - or to become a president so they can get rich.

Do you think the G-8's plans will help? To help us, they should not give money. That will only make us less happy. The people who need it most don't get it. Only the big politicians get to keep it for themselves.

Should the West attach strings to future help? African leaders are mostly not serious about improving things. People must explain to our leaders that if they don't change, they will not get aid money.

Charles Okolie, a student at the University of Lagos, in Nigeria.

On what should Africa's leaders spend money they save from debt relief? Education.

What do you think they'll spend it on? They'll embezzle the money - take it to the US and open an account for their families.

How can the West best help Africa? Invest in us, especially in us students. [And] encourage us by ... awarding scholarships.

Mustzapha Diop of Kaola, Senegal, a student at the University of Dakar.

Which helps more, trade or aid? Even if we are given billions of dollars, it's like all the other billions of dollars that disappeared. The West must invest in Africa and help us develop our agriculture sector and our factories. Look at India. It is poor, overpopulated, and underdeveloped, but it produces enough to support itself.

Genevieve Faye of Joal, Senegal, who is studying human rights at the University of Dakar.

What should people know about Africa that they probably don't? Our warmth, and that our family is the most important thing. That is our wealth - always helping each other out.

Christina Leto, a lawyer from New York who's working in London and will be attending the concert there.

Why are you going to Live 8? To be honest, because it'll be a lot of fun to see all those bands.

What impact will this concert have on Africa? In the long run, not much. Initially people will think about Africa's problems, but then, like everything else, people forget.

Dave Slimings, a graphic designer from Brighton, England.

What should wealthy nations do to help Africa? Countries like [England] and America have a big voice in the world, and it's down to [us] to bring these problems out in the open. Especially America, with its huge food mountains can help. The question is what do we give them - financial aid, food, or clothes?

Has hearing about Live 8 raised your awareness about Africa? The downside of this concert is that Live Aid [the 1985 concerts to help Ethiopia famine victims] was organized to raise money, and this is just raising awareness. I think it should have been treated in the same way as Live Aid. We could have exceeded the money from Live Aid.

Name the current leader of any African country: Pass.

What is the G-8? The G-8 is all the world's leaders, where they all get together and have a cup of tea and decide things.

Francesco Colangelo, film director in Rome.

Name the current leader of any African country. I can't. I lack the knowledge. But I am also a victim of a lack of information. Africa is talked about only as a marginal place. A place that does not matter. It is not important in dominant culture. Its leaders do not often make the news here.

Luana Salvatore, editor of a Duran Duran fanzine from Foggia in southern Italy.

Why are you going to the concert? We really appreciate what Bob Geldof is doing and we want to support him. But also I wouldn't miss the chance to see Duran Duran.

How has your awareness been raised by hearing about this concert? I was shocked by a documentary I saw on Sky TV here in Italy about the original Live Aid project.... There was a woman Bob Geldof helped back then, and she is really better now. It gives you hope. It makes you think it's possible to do something to improve people's lives.... Organizing a new concert now makes people think about it again, people who perhaps had forgotten.

Claire Teschendorf, a PR assistant from Australia, who's living in London.

Why should the West help Africa? Because they have, in a lot of situations, gone in and tried to conquer them and settle there. And they left the place in a worse state than they found [it].

Should the West attach strings to aid? It's quite rude to be telling other countries how to spend money. But maybe something where, like Australia with its tsunami appeal for Indonesia, they had interest-free bonds and loans [and] there was a board in place to see how money would be spent.

Kevin McGeehan of West Chester, Penn.

Why should the West help Africa? The ease of travel around the world means that [Africa's] problems will end up in the West.

Gianluca Nicastro, TV producer from Rome.

Why should the West help Africa? It's a moral duty. People who are fine should help people who are dying. Not to mention our colonial history. It is almost our duty to help because of the past.

How has your awareness been raised by this concert? It makes me think there is hope in the world. There are people - perhaps braver than me - who are able to do something. It makes you think about these problems. And talk about them.

Can you name one African leader?

Here's a summary of what else the concertgoers and Africans had to say to the Monitor.

What is 'Live 8'?

7 of 8 Africans did not know

(Answer: Saturday's concerts.)

Can you name all the members of the G-8?

Africans: 0 of 8 could

Concertgoers: 2 of 8 could

(Answer: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States.)

What is 'U2'? 1 of 8 Africans knew it was an Irish rock band, which will be performing in London Saturday.

Concertgoers who could name one African leader: 4 of 8 (Most popular answer was President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, with 3.)

What is the biggest problem facing Africa:

Africans' top answer: Poverty (7 of 8 respondents).

Concertgoers' top answer: AIDS (6 of 8 respondents).

Should strings be attached to Western aid:

Africans: 8 of 8 said yes.

Concertgoers: 3 of 8 said yes.

What can the west do to help Africa most?

Africans:

• Educate us and "stop selling weapons to African countries."

• Help end Africa's wars

• Give aid that is "better organized and more carefully watched."

• Create "programs that can help with things like AIDS."

• Open up trade.

Concertgoers:

• Cancel debt "so that Africans can control their own destiny."

• Provide healthcare, education, and "help educate them in ways to grow crops well and be self-sufficient."

• "Debt relief is a start, but the continent needs to reform its political and economic systems."

What should the West do to help Africa? Go online to share your views at www.csmonitor.com/specials/readerswrite/live8.html

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