Middle class rising in Africa—any thanks to Bono?

Africa needs trade more than it needs aid from celebrities in the West

Rapport Press/Newscom/File
Bono, U2 lead singer and co-founder of The ONE Campaign and Product (RED), is shown in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with Eusebia Chilipwele, a former nurse and grandmother who now volunteers full-time providing home-based care to adults and orphans living with HIV/AIDS. Does celebrity activism in Africa really contribute to a growing middle class?

Sir Bob Geldof and Lord Bono can take the day off from their quest to eliminate African poverty today. A new report by the African Development Bank (PDF) shows that the African middle class is growing at a unprecedented rate, with almost 35% of Africa's population now being considered middle-class – an increase of almost 10% over the last thirty years. Measurements of living conditions are up across the board: electricity consumption has almost tripled since 1985, as has the continent's petroleum consumption. Although certain states in Africa, such as Liberia, continue to suffer from abject poverty, things are on the whole looking up.

Have the efforts of Elton John, Sting, Paul McCartney and other celebs finally started to pay off? Well, probably not – the report is distinctly lacking in references to celebrity activism. Instead, it says that the growth of this middle-class is due to social-economic opportunities provided by the private sector. Indeed, economic growth and an embryonic entrepreneurial spirit has led to formerly unheard-of levels of prosperity for many Africans who, instead of subsisting beneath the poverty line, are increasingly buying fridges, cars and televisions.

Sir Bob might argue that these changes were initially brought about by the West's aid generosity. Apparently not, as the report again states that macroeconomic policy changes are to thank for this upturn. In contract, over the last fifty years Africa gained little from $500,000,000,000 worth of poorly-structured aid that only encouraged aid-dependency.

Overwhelmingly, Africa needs trade, not aid. Trade was one of the key factors in the economic prosperity of the western world, and it can do the same in Africa. The current situation, however, denies Africa vital trading opportunities. The CAP impoverishes Africa. By having huge barriers to Europe's agricultural produce market, and therefore denying Africa the ability to trade in what they have a comparative advantage in, the CAP is plainly a raw deal. (Not to mention the fact that the CAP also costs each UK household £398 annually (PDF).)

While serious challenges no doubt lay ahead for Africa, notably HIV and its potentially devastating demographic impact, the route to Africa's long-overdue development is free trade, not another evening of banal comedy sketches, regardless of their benevolent intent. The current situation benefits only a small number of over-subsidised farmers, to the detriment of everybody else.

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