By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Magazine
It's four months since Live 8, and world poverty is very much not history. As campaigners mass in Westminster for the biggest show of support since the summer, what happened to the Make Poverty History campaign?
If rhetoric alone could solve world poverty it would have all come to an end four months ago today.
Saturday 2 July, 2005, was Live 8 Day. Around the world hundreds of thousands of people gathered at pop concerts under the banner of Make Poverty History.
More than 200,000 people marched through Edinburgh, near to the forthcoming G8 summit of world leaders, the Pope sent a message of support, Gordon Brown applauded the display of solidarity and the pop musicians indulged in some hearty sloganeering.
"Are you ready to start a revolution?" yelled Madonna from the stage of the London concert to a sea of appreciative fans. "Are you ready to change history?"
Four months down the line and revolution feels like it's been put on hold.
This can't have been a total surprise at Make Poverty History (MPH) HQ. Its tactic of placing so much emphasis on the G8 summit meant once it ended interest would inevitably wane.
The bomb attacks in London, which coincided with the meeting, were an unwelcome and overwhelming distraction from the issues in hand, and the story fizzled away.
Many of the white wristbands that became so ubiquitous in the early summer have now been cast aside, the pop stars have gone back to their day job, the media spotlight has shifted and poverty in the developing world is anything but history.
Yet the dedicated core are still plugging away and Wednesday marks the biggest fixture on UK soil for them since G8. Activists will descend on Parliament to urge support for reforms to global trade rules, which they believe are hobbling the growth of many poor countries.
Fairer trade is one of MPH's three headline aims, the other two being:
- more and better aid to poor countries, and
- the cancellation of Third World debt.
So what, if anything, has been achieved?
"No one has had any debt cancelled yet," says Stephen Rand, co-chair of the Jubilee Debt Campaign. The statement will perhaps surprise those who banked the campaign in the run up to G8, and who heard news of a deal at the time.
Job done. No?
Eradicating poverty is a complicated business and MPH has clearly struggled to reconcile the broad sweeping emotive statements that spurred millions of people to lend their support, with the messy reality of international diplomacy.
While G8 sanctioned the debt deal, it's still up to the creditors - chiefly the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - to write-off their part of the debt.
"The IMF is pretty certain. If they can work out the technicalities it will come on stream from 1 January. That's when the first chunk of debt will be cancelled."
The World Bank deal would start from 1 July next year, but that is more in the balance, says Mr Rand.
And if they happen, these deals will only affect 18 countries, mostly in sub Saharan Africa. That's less than a third of the 60 countries MPH says are crippled by extreme poverty.
Nevertheless, if these commitments are honoured, it will be a "good start to making progress on debt" says Mr Rand.
On the aid front, G8 did stump up the extra cash called for by MPH ($50bn a year), but delayed its payment until 2010. MPH wants it now, and senses some donor countries may be backsliding on the commitment anyway.
The big worry now is trade and all eyes are fixed on the World Trade Organisation summit in December. MPH wants the US and the EU to open its markets to developing countries - an act that would inevitably undermine farmers in rich countries.
Do you wear a Make Poverty History wristband?
I never did 67.36%
I wore one in July but not now 13.24%
I still wear one 19.40%
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion
"It's a bit of a glass half-full, glass half-empty story," acknowledges Mr Rand.
Truthful it may be, but it's not a slogan that will sell a million new wristbands, nor inspire passionate applause from a park packed with pop music fans.
But that may be no bad thing if there's any truth in rumours that MPH, an umbrella organisation representing dozens of diverse groups, has weathered internal rifts about the role of celebrities, and politicians backing its campaign.
In July, Charles Abugre, head of policy at Christian Aid (one of the prime movers within MPH) said the campaign had been "too superficial" and "turned on its head by celebrities".
The feeling is perhaps echoed by those who believe the rallying cry of the campaign, to "make poverty history", was over-simplistic and hopelessly optimistic. The result - a lot of disappointed and disillusioned people.
The Scott Monument in Edinburgh, where thousands gathered to petition G8
Christian Aid's spokesman, John McKie, acknowledges there was "disappointment and anger" in July "about the way the G8 responded on aid and debt issues".
"But we've regrouped and we're moving on," he says.
And while MPH's more fair-weather supporters might only be tempted back by the promise of seeing rock stars on a sunny day, many of the dedicated can be found in the movement's religious heart.
"Still lots of churches have MPH banners up," says Mr Rand. "There's certainly a core of commitment among churches to wipe out poverty as there is among other religions."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
The sentiment behind the campaign was whole-heartedly backed by so many but the follow up to July has been poor. We were encouraged to 'add our names' but how many people signed up on the day? What were they signing up to? Neither answers available from the official website. Rather than being the start of a revolution it was the end of hyperbole. I feel let down, not by lack of results, but by poor communication of them.
Og, Canterbury, Kent
The people of these countries will go on suffering no matter how much rhetoric is delivered from the mouths of Bono, Chris Martin et al. It is not us who need to get our priorities sorted out, but the so called rulers of the countries in need.
Wayne Heath, Manchester
I think we need to start by reducing poverty in our own countries. There are plenty of people in the UK, and the US, who fall below the poverty line. Let's sort out what we can influence easiest first. If we can't do that then what hope the rest of the world?
When Live8 came up I thought back to Live Aid in 1985, and only then realised how smug we'd all felt at how much we cared. This time round? Well it was a good gig and something was needed to make the G8 realise that some people do care about this. But it was never going to solve the problem overnight. My church is still involved, but none of us went to Hyde Park in the summer. Maybe that says something.
Rhetoric or blind faith ? Surely doing anything is better than doing nothing ? Either way we are in the same position as we were four months ago. No debt cancelled. Aid still not improving. What does this say for the people of the world who were so ardently caught up in Live8 and the star studded line up of high profile celebrity ? I was one of those people. I was moved by it all. I attended the concert and I gave what money i could but I personally cannot ignore the heartbreaking theory that maybe all we were doing by the end of it was attempting to revisit a moment, a time past when something like this actually prompted action.
Despite the noble efforts of messers Geldof, Curtis & Bono, the MPH campaign will only ever serve to highlight what is happening in far off places and not on our doorsteps. This is not 1984 and these issues are not new and shocking to us any longer. Sadly, other things have happened closer to home which have taken a higher priority in the minds of ordinary people and this makes the plight of people on another continent less important to us. It's not right, but it is human nature.
Gary Bowyer, Sutton, Surrey
This article repeats the line that "fair trade will eliminate poverty". Sadly most Africans don't make anything that I wish to trade for. When Sierra Leone makes a good small car or a DVD player I'll be interested...as it stands I just don't want millet or sorghum, regardless of how great the trade deal is.
We give priority to the conservative-led witch-hunt which has resulted in David Blunkett's resignation rather than the real issues in this country and the world. We cannot then be surprised when people neither know little/nothing and do little/nothing when they are fed news by the media that does not inspire interest nor encourage action. Perhaps the media could use more of its might to help with the real issues in the world?
Alison Perks, Birmingham, England
I have worn my wristband since the start of the campaign and will continue to do so as I feel this issue is worthy of my support. I attended a march locally, to support those who were in Edinburgh for G8 and will do all I can to support initiatives to raise awareness of the inequality in our society and world-wide. In the future people may look back and wonder how so many of us ate well and lived in comfy homes while so many of our brothers and sisters were starving and cold. What will they think of us I wonder? I feel that it would simply be impossible for me to ignore the plight of people in poverty now that I am aware of the issues surrounding trade and trade justice. I pray that the future will be brighter for all.
N.G.O's have been ,and will continue to support the poor all over the world. They are supported by dedicated volunteers. MPH has raised the profile and hopefully inspired more people. Unfortunately while governments prevaricate and move on to the next vote grabbing issue the plight of the poorest gets worse.
mary williams, Okehampton
What an odd story. I'm not aware that the Make Poverty History Campaign asked Sir Bob and Co to jump on their band-wagon. That they did no doubt helped to raise the profile of the appaling way in which we trade with our poorer neighbours in the third world. Just because the pop stars and politicians have forgotten about such an issue, doesn't mean that the thinking public have got bored so easily. As I recal, we have now had two delclarations from Mr Brown about reduction in thrid world debt. One around the millenium, and another after the G8 Summit this summer. So if nothing has changed, it would appear that it is the politicians who are failing to following through on their press conference promises, not the campaigners.
Brian Hill, Oxford, England
It may have fizzled out of the media spotlight - but not everyone relies on the media spotlight for their current affairs. I for one still do things to help out. This was before, during and after Live 8. You may not hear much about it, but a large majority of others still do.
Adam Finch, patchway, bristol
Oh please...it was never going to be an overnight thing. Is the BBC seriously saying that Poverty was expected to end on July 9th. Obviously not! Sigh! MPH had to do what it did to engage the media as the media seem sadly incapable of reporting anything of substance unless it is entertaining...and so it had to be entertainment. The struggle continues...poverty still kills. Vote with your money. Support Fair Trade.
City Hippy, London
Its intersting isn't it, the paradox of churches being on the front-line of MPH when Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. Nevertheless he also called for believers to help the poor and needy, and so we press on doing what we can, knowing in our hearts that "One Day" poverty will be history.
Steve Ryder, London
Whatever happened to the make poverty history adverts on TV, the ones with celebrities clicking their fingers??
Ben Phillips, Oswestry, Shropshire
As an academic working in the field of development it is interesting to see how the Make Poverty History campaign four months on has had a neglible impact on both public perceptions of development and on policy. The widely held view in this sector was that it a celebrity fashion (e.g. no African artists playing Hyde Park), by people who had virtually know understanding of the issues. When Bob Geldof declared that he gave the G8 10/10 for aid and 8/10 for trade was met with absolute incredulity from those working in development, and that these criticisms were ignored by the media, just reflects how shallow MPH was.
Wearing wristbands is a way for people to express support for a cause without actually doing anything. Wristbands don't improve the lives of needy people. Money and actions help people. The ubiquitous wearing of meaningless wristbands does more than to diminish a sense of genuine urgency about the real issues. Waer a wristband and the world WON'T be just great!
Rupert Jenner, London, UK
WHERE do I buy a wristband!
rupert, covent garden
Im afraid you are all wasting your time...a few music concerts which only provide money to dvd makers (and most the organisers) anyway wont solve anything.. there will always be poor and rich..giving money to corrupt african presidents is not going to help! They need real governments with people with morals!
I'd like to know whether everyone who bought a white band, or went to one of the G8 gigs actually changed any of their lifestyles as a result of what they learnt? I know so many people who say they support Make Poverty History but still don't even buy fairly traded coffee! If you were at the concerts or wore a white band, please don't be a hypocrite - there's really no excuse.
James Peterson, Wolverhampton, UK
There is a road that leads somewhere that is paved with good intentions, according to an old proverb.
That is still true, and where it leads is misery.
I'm afraid that we, the people, have ceded power to politicians, and they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Ronald King, Purfleet, England
Let's have a rally next year with the slogan "Cure all Illnesses!" Add some pop stars promising a revolution, and we can all get excited about what we're going to achieve. And then go home.
Robert Ulph, London
What's ironic is that many of the people who wear the wristband don't buy fair trade products, like bananas, tea and coffee. Wearers can often be seen moving the arm with the armband over the fairtrade bananas to the "cheap" bananas.
It's up to both us and the political leaders to make a difference.
John Airey, P
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