I don’t like the word ‘charity’. It implies too large a gap between giver and receiver to imply any kind of human touch. It also connotes, to me, a certain sort of smugness in some donors that soils the sound of the word for others. Furthermore, it’s far too frequently borne from guilt, rather than genuine care. At Christmas time in the UK – ‘time for giving’ - we’re bombarded by charity adverts, all competing for our attention, that show pitiful pictures of miserable poverty, accentuated by a token soundtrack of invariably over-sentimental cry-time music. We’re emotionally blackmailed into giving to all sorts of sources that we don’t take time to fully understand.
Of course, this is a good thing. Charity is a good thing. It helps people. But that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy the emotional coercion. There is even a saying over here: “As cold as charity,” to convey something being very, extremely, cold. No, I don’t like the word ‘charity’. I prefer the word ‘help.’ ‘Helping’ sounds, well, helpful. It sounds bright, optimistic and useful, probably something done with a smile on the face. Like helping a friend to paint their house. Or helping an infirmed person with the shopping and cleaning. Or even helping a village from the ravages of drought by helping provide education and resources to think ahead and combat the problem.
Yes I know- this is petty quibbling over semantics: the ‘help’ from the common person would generally be financial help that is taken and used by an organisation that specialises in helping, i.e. a charity.
So what am I getting at?
George W Bush, during the Air Force One flight he took to Africa back in February 2008, said in passing to Sir Bob Geldof (former rockstar and long-time Africa campaigner and philanthropist), that westerners should: “Stop coming to Africa feeling guilty. Come with love and feeling confident about the future.”
After all, there’s plenty to be confident about. Firstly there is a huge potential workforce in the continent that is hoping for direction, and work. It seems fair to say that many Africans would throw themselves into a task with vigour. They want to work, many of them, to improve their livelihoods and help them and their family reach the next level.
Secondly, Africa has gigantic expanses of arable land. In a funny sort of irony, it’s more than feasible that Africa- the continent that for so long has been associated with starvation-
And thirdly, Africa looks to become a principal centre for opportunity. It is growing faster than the rest of the world. The Mckinsey Global Institute records that real GDP for Africa rose 4.9% per year from 2000 to 2008 – more than twice its pace during the 1980s and 1990s.
Simply because of its status as a developing nation, there are so many windows of opportunity left to open.
I recognised it immediately on arriving in Tanzania. Sir Bob Geldof, who is infinitely more influential than me, has realised it for many years and he is now using his contacts, knowledge, energy and passion to do something positive about it.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Geldof is preparing a private equity fund to invest in Africa. Figures vary from £650million ($997million) to £1billion ($1.53billion), but whatever the amount, the man is aiming to secure large amounts of money to pump into African markets.
‘8 Mile,’ as the endeavour is to be known, (named after the distance between Africa and Europe, as taken across the Straight of Gibraltar) already has finalised pledges of £32.5million ($49.8million) from the African Development Bank and the same figure from the International Finance Corporation.
The money will be invested in chunks of between £10million ($15.3million) and £50million ($76.7million), in agriculture, telecommunications and finance.
Geldof said: “Africa is the last great investment opportunity left… Where is your money safest? Africa – that’s the truth. The fundamentals are staring you in the face. Infrastructure, mobile phones, consumer goods, it’s all growth.”
A stirring statistic that Bush Jr cited on the same Africa trip in 2008 was that Africa accounts for only 1.2% of World Trade. A 1% increase in World Trade from the continent is equivalent to FIVE TIMES the amount of aid it currently receives.
Geldof said earlier this year: “Poverty can be alleviated through aid, but will only be eliminated through trade, investment and growth.”
Surely Africa doesn’t want to be a charity case. Surely nobody wants people to feel guilt over them. And I believe it won’t be long before the fruits of investment burst across the last Wild Continent, spreading their sweetness throughout that Elysian land.