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Africans puzzled by Live 8 but hope for change

Few Africans watched the Live 8 gigs meant to highlight their plight but many said any bid to relieve poverty was welcome.
By Reuters | PTI, Johannesburg
PUBLISHED ON JUL 04, 2005 10:40 AM IST

Few Africans watched the star-studded Live 8 gigs meant to highlight their plight but many 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's Live 8 concerts, performed on four continents to help draw attention to poverty in Africa and press the world's most powerful leaders to cancel debt, boost aid and scrap unfair trade barriers.

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

"I don't know who Bob Geldof is," said Edward Romoki in downtown Johannesburg when asked what he thought of the man behind the concerts. "But people are speaking about poverty and there is plenty of that in Africa, maybe a concert like this can put Africa in the news and change things."

Maxwell Shirima, a 25-year-old who makes around $5 a day selling oranges at the side of the road in Tanzania said he had no idea there were any concerts being staged to help Africa.

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

Africans who knew about the concerts thought they were a good idea but wondered why their own musicians had been sidelined -- a criticism that prompted the last-minute addition of the much smaller Johannesburg gig.

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

At the Johannesburg show on Saturday some 8,000 people stared nonplussed at a giant screen beaming live footage of U2 and other western acts little known in Africa from glitzier concerts in rich countries.

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

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

Between pumping tunes, Zola and other performers drew huge cheers as they preached debt relief and free trade to a crowd largely unversed in international economics.

Despite scepticism over how much a bunch of rock stars could change their lives, many Africans were hopeful a meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) richest countries next week would yield results.

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

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

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

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