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WHY LIVE 8? : What is Make Poverty History?

What is Make Poverty History?

Make Poverty History is the campaign being promoted by the Live 8 concerts. But what exactly is it? Here Radio 1's Newsbeat looks into it.


Make Poverty History is a coalition of more than 400 charities, unions and faith groups ranging from Oxfam and Comic Relief to the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Although many people see it as a rebranding of previous campaigns with similar aims like "Drop the Debt" and "Jubilee 2000", Make Poverty History calls itself a one year campaign based around the G8 summit of world leaders happening at Gleneagles near Edinburgh in July. It says because the UK is hosting that meeting, and in charge of the European Union for the next six months, this is the year our politicians can put pressure on the world's richest countries to end the worst of the planet's poverty - especially in Africa.

In 2001, the 8 most powerful countries promised to halve world poverty by 2015 - even the chancellor Gordon Brown admits unless something changes, they won't achieve that target for another 140 years.


The reason Make Poverty History gets so many headlines is because of the line up of A-listers who front its events. The public face of the coalition is Richard Curtis, the man behind films like "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and the power behind Comic Relief. When he linked up with Band Aid guru Bob Geldof and U2's Bono, he tapped into 2 phone books stacked with celebrity contacts.

Politicians have been roped in as well. Bob Geldof got Tony Blair to join him in setting up the Commission for Africa to create a plan for the continent. But Make Poverty History's biggest coup was getting the world's most credible politician to launch the white wristbands in February. Thousands packed out Trafalgar Square to hear Nelson Mandela pledge his support to the idea:

"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom."

When they got involved with this summer's Live 8 gigs, the list of stars promoting the campaign grew further. So far more than 60 acts are confirmed to play in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Philadelphia on July 2, including legends like Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Robbie Williams and Coldplay. With every one comes another fan base of people being told about what's going on.

But the list of rich and famous can work against it too. Some people accuse some of the names on the list of being there for their own publicity rather than commitment to the politics.

Bono has spent months analysing policies. But he has admitted to Labour politicians that he hasn't the power to put them into action.

"I know what this looks like, rock star standing up here, shouting imperatives others have to fulfil. But that's what we do. Rock stars get to wave flags, shout at barricades, and escape to the South of France. We're unaccountable and we behave accordingly. But not you."

Snow Patrol told Newsbeat they are proud to be backing the campaign.

"Yes, maybe there's a little bit of naivety but its an extremely positive thing to do. What should we do… just roll over and say nothing? At least somebody is standing up and saying something and making people aware of it."


The key words are Trade, Debt and Aid.

The greatest pressure on the G8 leaders is to drop the debts owed by many countries in Africa. They owe money to the rest of the world and also to institutions like the World Bank that lends to struggling governments. The problem is particularly the interest, which means keeping up with repayments becomes more difficult.

But Make Poverty History has been accused of exaggerating the debt problem, especially on their website which claims "many countries still have to spend more on debt repayments than meeting the needs of their own people". According to the World Bank 38 countries are counted as highly in debt poor countries, of those 18 have had some of their debts written off, 9 are on the verge of it - with payment holidays. Only 11 have yet to get debt relief, most of those countries are at war and late on repayments anyway.

Bob Geldof also wants a doubling of aid to Africa. That has already been promised by the EU. But some experts say his examples of countries that have benefited with hand outs up till now - like Ghana, Mali and Ethiopia, could be matched with those where money hasn't helped. Like Kenya, Ivory Coast and Congo. A recent Action Aid report estimated 60 percent of donations is either wasted, misdirected or spent in rich countries on consultants.

Kendra Okonski from the International Policy Network says these policies have been a "demonstrable failure" for decades.

"Aid has tended to reward failing governments and undermine democracy, in Uganda, they're waging an illegal war with aid money that's given by the United States. If you say all debts are forgiven, it actually punishes countries which are doing a good job paying back their debt."

Make Poverty History is also calling for governments to drop taxes put on African companies trying to sell to the rest of the world. For many hardcore campaigners this is the key to Africa helping itself out of long term poverty. But they say those ideas aren't glamorous enough for celebrities to sell, so they've been all but ignored in the publicity campaign.


There's a programme of events for the whole year. Like an all-night vigil in London in April, Dawn French leading nuns to Downing Street and the Motiv8 4 G8 rally in London at the start of June. There are extra events planned to coincide with more meetings of world leaders in September and December.

So far two and a half million people are wearing the white wrist bands with the slogan on. They cost £1, the campaign say that just covers what it pays to make and send them out. But there was embarrassment at the end of May when it was claimed that the factories making them in China were sweatshops paying workers as little as 9 pence an hour - with illegal hours and conditions.

The "Click" TV ads were launched at the end of March featuring stars such as Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Justin Timberlake and P Diddy clicking their fingers every 3 seconds to signify how often someone dies of poverty. This is the ad that Bob Geldof showed again when he launched the Live 8 concerts at a news conference in London at the end of May.

They have also launched an online petition 'The Live 8 List' which they are asking people who visit the official Live 8 website and attend the events to sign.


Some campaigners are calling this a high risk strategy. They claim promising people who are usually turned off by politics that they can get instant results is pushing expectations too high. If nothing changes at the G8 summit, they could turn people off for good. There could even be a backlash against charities campaigning for longer term change. Bob Geldof says it's a risk worth taking.

"We can fail, but in so failing, we will triumph. It is a great and honourable failure for this country to try."

The last time the G8 summit was held in Britain was in 1998. A protest 70 thousand people strong went to Birmingham to try and force the leaders to "Drop the Debt". They formed a human chain right round the city centre. They claim they succeeded in getting debt relief on government agendas, but the fact another campaign is needed 7 years later implies they didn't get as much as they wanted.

Putting pressure on President Bush is the key to getting new promises from the G8 meeting. After years of anti-globalisation protests, he'll be kept well away from any campaigners. Bob Geldof isn't trying to persuade people to go to Gleneagles, but to stay 20 miles away in Edinburgh city centre. He's called for up to a million people to come to the city to show the leaders what they want them to do.

"They will have to talk about this. They can't ignore a million people."

He's hoping the press coverage will highlight the numbers to the leaders. But even the fanfare of announcing the celeb line- up for the Live 8 gigs barely made the American papers. The Washington Post was the only one to cover the politics of the event.

Make Poverty History say they will wait till the end of the year before measuring how successful they have been, because there are more meetings in September and December where commitments can be made.

Official site:

By Richard Westcott - Radio 1 Newsbeat

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