LONDON, March 9 (Reuters Life!) - Investors should look past the dire images of poverty from Africa to see genuine opportunities, antipoverty campaigner Bob Geldof said on Monday, warning the global financial crisis would hurt the poorest worst.
Western investors as well as some African commentators and policymakers have long accused campaigners such as rock stars Geldof and Bono of effectively talking down Africa as they demand more aid for the world’s poorest continent, effectively making it less appealing.
But speaking on the sidelines of a British government-backed conference in London, Geldof said the combination between Africa’s natural resources and lack of infrastructure meant there was still money to be made, saying there was more to it than the “pornography of poverty.”
“If you are going to invest in Africa I would hope you would do some analysis and get past the imagery of the stick people falling over and the apparently endless conflict,” he told Reuters.
“There is less conflict in Africa now than there has been for ever. I would look at it as the sole continent on the planet which has yet to be built. I would look at the infrastructural opportunities and necessities — the most functional analysis would tell you you are going to get a bang for your buck.”
Geldof — who has campaigned on poverty in Africa since the Ethiopian famine of the early 1980s — said Europe’s connections to Africa offered a way out from energy dependence on sometimes unfriendly oil suppliers such as Russia.
“Whether we like it or whether we don’t we are compelled to Africa and vice versa,” he said. “Overtures to the gas and oil fields of Libya, Algeria, Angola, Nigeria are well underway — we will build our pipelines there. This interconnectivity to our continental neighbor is vast.”
An end to some of the Cold War and 1990s wars that ravaged Africa combined with heightened demand for natural resources from Asia pushed African economic growth to 6-7 percent in recent years, fuelling a sharp rise in investment.
Campaigners said not enough of the fruits of economic growth got through to the poor, but nevertheless poverty levels began to fall in much of the continent. The global financial crisis is seen threatening that.
At the same conference, the head of the African Development Bank told Reuters that growth would slump to 3.5 percent this year, warning of rising unrest, salaries left unpaid and even microcredit schemes to the poorest drying up.
Geldof said it was important Western countries did not cut back on aid or neglect Africa as they try to bail out their own banks. He said he believed the impact of the global financial crisis both on the West and Africa had been underestimated.
He said he did not believe it would simply be possible to return to the system of relying on high levels of debt and leverage even after the crisis, and that the worldwide financial pain could be deep and long.
“The effect on the poor is that we absolutely know that when the rich become less rich... the poor tend to become even poorer,” he said.
Editing by Dominic Evans