Can Bono save the world? He's certainly trying to, but he may not be as effective as he thinks, according to the documentary "Give Us the Money" that premiered on TV Ontario (TVO) this week as part of a broader Why Poverty campaign.
The fascinating doc explores just how successful celebrity activists like Bono and Bob Geldof have been when it comes to achieving real change in poverty-stricken regions in Africa.
On the one hand, they've managed to bend the ears of powerful world leaders like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, George W. Bush and even the Pope on issues like debt forgiveness and AIDS prevention. They also raised millions of dollars with Geldof's famous 1985 fundraising concert Live Aid, which featured performances and impassioned pleas by everyone from Madonna to Elton John.
On the other hand, many Africans wonder how rich white guys have become their spokespeople on the international stage. In one of the doc's most thought-provoking interviews, Zambian-born economist and author of Dead Aid Dambisa Moyo says the actions of the likes of Bono and Geldof undermine not only African viewpoints, but also African leaders.
"Give Us The Money" Trailer -- Article Continues After Video
Senegalese activist Mariéme Jamme echoes Moyo's sentiments, remarking that, "Bob Geldof will tell you that because of Live Aid, this happened and you're the God, you're the savior. It doesn't work like that."
Other prominent African activists argue that Geldof and Bono's actions have saved lives and aimed a much-needed international spotlight on African issues.
It's a lot to ponder, which is why TVO extended the conversation beyond the film with a unique event featuring viewpoints from each side, moderated by journalist Ian Brown. Veteran CBC journalist Brian Stewart, who was on the ground covering the famine in Ethiopia in 1984, argues that celebrities like Bono and Geldof have worked hard to open the door to indifference.
Alnoor Ladha, the New York-based co-founder and acting director of TheRules.org, said that celebrity activism and Western-led "band-aid solutions" are almost a new form of colonialism. "The insult on injury is that we have a system that requires these people to exist," he argued.
Seven other equally fascinating documentaries will be airing on TVO over the next couple of weeks as part of the Why Poverty series, including "Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream." It contrasts life on the ritzy Upper East Side Park Avenue with that of the impoverished South Bronx Park Avenue in New York City.
TVO has commissioned several Ontario filmmakers to create short films exploring poverty in the province. You can view them online, along with more information about the Why Poverty initiative.
Whether you walk away from any of the docs with a new viewpoint or not, as Brown quipped, they certainly provide a great way to "show up your less informed friends in conversation."
The Why Poverty feature documentaries will air on TVO up until December 5th.