Frederick Studemann and John Reed, Financial Times (London), Feb. 1
Sir Bob Geldof has found himself at the centre of controversy again after the outspoken pop star and agitator revealed he was often “profoundly” bored by Africa — the continent whose problems he has done so much to bring to the attention of the wider world.
The Irish-born singer who 20 years ago launched Live Aid to assist famine-stricken Ethiopia, told Radio Times magazine that “the pace of change is far too slow and Africans excuse their own complicity in exactly the same way as our politicians”.
Sir Bob, noted for his earthy language, said he was as blunt with African leaders as he was “with our lot”, but that he “knew the consequences of saying ‘fuck off’, so I’m more patient”.
Sir Bob, a member of the Africa Commission, the high-profile international initiative established by Tony Blair, the prime minister, to promote development on the continent, has often been candid when assessing the effectiveness of his role in development policy.
But his latest comments, which were made as Africa has moved to the top of the agenda of the Group of Eight rich nations, drew criticism from some quarters in South Africa, where analysts said his remarks might be seen as “racist”.
“Here’s a Tarzan who trapezes into the continent to save it with his good works,” said Francis Kornegay, a senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Studies, a Johannesburg-based think-tank. He added that Sir Bob was bored “because people like him have a short attention span”.
Sir Bob also expressed frustration with his media role as “Mr Bloody Africa” and said society confused the roles of politicians and celebrities.
“Who’s interested if the leader of Niger goes on Newsnight? It’s ‘Get Geldof’,” he said with reference to the BBC’s prestigious current affairs programme.
“Forget us — the political repercussions of Live Aid rumble on and will wholly dominate the G8, from a prime minister and chancellor who watched on that day,” he said.
His remarks follow the appearance of numerous campaigning celebrities, including actors Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie and Richard Gere, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
U2 singer Bono joined Mr Blair, Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, Bill Clinton, the former US president, and Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman, in a session on combating poverty in Africa.
“Bono and I are under no illusions. We have the ability to articulate the great wound of the 21st century and have access to politicians,” said Sir Bob, who was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Mr Kornegay said one “can’t generalise” about celebrity campaigners, some of whom became “knowledgeable and understanding” about African issues”.
He added that Sir Bob was “being honest in revealing what many people suspect of high-profile celebrity entertainers who take on these issues”.