Music

The Voice of the Kalakuta Republic

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The Afrobeat star Femi Kuti, son of the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti, talks with the L.A. Weekly:

Q: What's your take on Bono and concerts like Live 8 that campaign on behalf of Africa?

A: Bono doesn't need to tell us that we are poor. We know we are poor. All these concerts come and go and nothing changes in Africa.

Q: So then what's the best way for concerned Americans to get involved with helping Africa?

A: Not to feel sorry for us but to be positive toward us. Do more business with us. Come and visit us. We, in turn, have to get stronger and not rely on leaders to do everything for us. We must take action ourselves. But Western democracies must also stop turning a blind eye to African corruption and start taking action—then we can start moving forward as a nation.

Unfortunately, the interviewer doesn't ask what sort of "action" Femi would like those Western democracies to take. (From his comments here, I'd guess he means cut off aid.) But he does elicit an interesting answer to this query:

Q: You've said in the past that you don't believe in democracy. What do you believe in?

A: I'm going to be a leader of myself. All I can do is just try to be a good human being and fight to eradicate bad vibes like jealousy and greed from my way of thinking. I want to be happy and make other people happy too.

Most of the time, anyway. In a follow-up story, the Weekly reports that during Femi's show at the House of Blues last Friday, "a less-than-perceptive crowd cheered wildly when Femi took a mid-set break to address the plague of corruption among African leadership. 'Our leaders take the people's money and come spend it in places like Los Angeles,' he said, surprised when his words were greeted with hoots of joy from the crowd."

"You're not listening," a frustrated Femi scolded.

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  1. Turn off the corrupt leaders’ pay-per-view during aid concerts.

  2. What, was it GOP Debate Audience night at the House of Blues?

    “Yeah! Spend our money! Kill people! Woo-hoo!”

  3. That’s an absurd position, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that. As the mayor of NYC during 9/11, I demand an apology.

  4. “Do more business with us.”

    “..stop turning a blind eye to African corruption..”

    “Our leaders take the people’s money and come spend it in places like Los Angeles.”

    I like Femi, but if he wants to speak on issues of international economics, he needs to bone up on what “doing business”, “African corruption” and “the people’s money” have in common before he suggests any course of action based on these.

    What Live 8 et al are attempting to do is an end-around the “African corruption” because otherwise the funds they raise would end up as “the people’s money” being spent in “Los Angeles” by corrupt African leaders. (We see ’em all the time, out here … parading around on the Walk of Fame …)

    “Doing business” is what begat the current situation, so benefit organizers try to get the money they raise directly into the hands of those who are trying to help the people of “Africa” without going through the corruption filter.

    If he’s going to make statements about solutions, Femi should pay attention to the larger issues, and not so much to his own sense of embarrassment at being on the wrong end of the pity stick.

  5. WOOOOOO, *FAMOUS ARTIST* JUST SAID *MY TOWN NAME*!!!!! FREEBIRD!!!

  6. I’m pretty sure that he meant Lifting trade restrictions when he said “Do more business with us”.

  7. “‘Our leaders take the people’s money and come spend it in places like Los Angeles,’ he said, surprised when his words were greeted with hoots of joy from the crowd.”

    Crowds of idiots aren’t unique to Los Angeles but, gee whiz, what a bunch of idiots!

    …oh, and just for the record, I’ve seen idiots all over America cheer at the prospect of our own leaders squandering our own money. Comparatively speaking, applauding another country’s leaders for squandering resources on us is probably better than…

  8. I’m pretty sure that he meant Lifting trade restrictions when he said “Do more business with us”.

    Indeed. Sounds like a trade-not-aid position, which wasn’t really what Live 8 was all about.

  9. I’m pretty sure that he meant Lifting trade restrictions when he said “Do more business with us”.

    Whatever. Until the people in a politically corrupted nation take their own stand, any legitimate business with that nation will only succeed in profiting the corrupt leaders and perhaps a handful of business owners who kowtow to them. The “trickle-down effect” still ain’t working …

  10. Crowds of idiots aren’t unique to Los Angeles but, gee whiz, what a bunch of idiots!

    Dude, have you *been* to the House of Blues? On Sunset, or, probably, any of their locations? If you can make out distinctly what anyone is saying into the mike at that place, I will stand and cheer you myself.

  11. James – that’s true in the worst of the African countries, certainly. Especially oil rich or diamond/mineral rich countries. But agricultural goods and manufactured goods aren’t quite the same as mineral wealth. Kleptocracies can certainly make life more difficult for farmers selling their goods abroad, but there are plenty of examples of trade lifting people out of poverty.

  12. BTW – Did anybody else read that headline and think “Wait, I thought Kinakuta was a sultanate?”

    No? Just me then.

    *kicks pebble*

  13. Microloans you can do online go directly to the party who wants to, for example, buy a cow or farm equipment or a sewing machine, so that they can make money and repay the loan. The repayment rate is something like 95%.

    After you’ve loaned out say, $100, and it’s repaid you can re-loan it to someone else.

  14. You can do the micro-loans that atrevete mentions above at kiva.org

  15. Micro-loans are a terrific idea that have worked very well for many on the African continent. Similarly, humanitarian aid programs have also proved to be quite beneficial.

    But until there is some way for well-meaning investors and entrepreneurs to bypass a corrupt government trade system, what are the odds that said investors/entrepreneurs will inadvertently end up enriching the corrupt leadership? Pretty good, I’d bet.

    All substantial trade goes through the same system, the same ports, the same red tape. Investment in many African nations is often profitable at the expense of the people of those nations, notwithstanding the “good” nations, lunchstealer. The problem is how to “do business” with those living in the corrupted countries, not in the “good” countries who have already worked out how to help their constituencies and minimize corruption.

    The nations Live 8 et al seek to assist are not the “good” countries, which is why Femi’s comments seem more like a defense of his perception that receiving aid is shameful (my interpretation of his comments) and less like a well-thought-out economic development proposal.

    The folks at the HOB didn’t understand his point, and I believe it is because he hasn’t refined it enough, yet. What Los Angeleno wouldn’t cheer the thought of foreign capital flowing into their city coffers? Femi failed to make the connection because, IMHO, his underlying concern isn’t focused.

  16. BTW – Did anybody else read that headline and think “Wait, I thought Kinakuta was a sultanate?”

    I caught your cryptic reference!

    But honestly, the first thing I thought of was illustrator Mike Kaluta. (Somewhat overdesigned, not-great-to-navigate Web site hier.)

  17. On a dismal note, I note that giving aid to Africa encourages the recipients to have more children, which then leads to dire circumstances when the crops don’t come in as planned.

    And, perhaps he should respond to this guy. I don’t know what he’s singing, but it’s probably not too healthy.

  18. Microloans you can do online go directly to the party who wants to, for example, buy a cow or farm equipment or a sewing machine, so that they can make money and repay the loan. The repayment rate is something like 95%.

    Taking on high-interest debt is far more likely to make a poor person poorer than richer. Nobody thinks that this would help poor people in America, so why would it help poor people in Africa? How can anyone believe this nonsense?

  19. man the first thing i thought of was “unknown soldier.”

    is femi kuti worth looking into if you liked a lot of pop’s output?

  20. The Afrobeat star Femi Kuti, son of the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti

    Umm…Me not know either son or papa…we who are not cool are also not worthy.
    Curse my lack of global awareness!

  21. Micro-loans? Is that where you give your bank account number to a Nigerian prince who needs to hide his father’s assets?

  22. crimethink,

    No, microloans involve reputable (usually) non-profit websites which allow Westerners to loan money to non-Western small businesses run by individuals. See http://www.kiva.org

  23. Taking on high-interest debt is far more likely to make a poor person poorer than richer. Nobody thinks that this would help poor people in America, so why would it help poor people in Africa? How can anyone believe this nonsense?

    Wait, microloans are “high-interest debt”? What is your basis for saying this?

  24. I know about the Nobel prize. It says something about what is in fashion, but that’s all.

    People may want to believe that taking a 20% loan on a cow is the path to riches, but excuse me if I point out that it makes no sense whatsoever. It can’t even work in theory, never mind in practice.

  25. Trading with Africa isn’t going to do a damn bit of good until they can get their house in order with respect to corruption. Femi has a point that Africa is so corrupt that the money ends up being spent in LA on Ferraris. What he fails to explain is why we should look positively upon that type of culture when it shows no signs of changing. All trade will do is make things worse. Africa isn’t just poor, it’s broken.

  26. “All trade will do is make things worse.”

    I may be wrong, but I beg to differ. Trade is not the same as charity.

    Maybe, just maybe, if we could refrain from cutting the legs out from under African farmers by throwing free “food aid” around, they could find the basic underpinnings of an economy. And if we really wanted to try something radically different, we would buy African agricultural products, instead of protecting American farmers from the African juggernaut.

  27. Max,

    They’re not high interest loans. Reputable American websites refuse to deal with lenders who loan at high rates.

    In America, availability of credit is vital to economic growth. What makes you so skeptical about the ability of credit to even have *some* benefit to African small-business people?

    I am inherently skeptical of the effectiveness of much Western do-gooding re: Africa, but no one has provided me with any good arguments for why microcredit ought to receive scorn. It seems like a very good way of stimulating economic growth while avoiding the corrupt central governments.

  28. @TLB

    And, perhaps he should respond to this guy. I don’t know what he’s singing, but it’s probably not too healthy.

    I don’t know if it was healthy – but it was sure a lot of fun!

  29. A dentist friend of mine sold his practice and then spent a year in Africa fixing poor rural villager’s teeth. It was kind of a twist on the doctors without borders schtick.

    When it became apparent that he needed an assistant he taught the biggest, burliest villager how to properly extract teeth in about a month (that is an entire commentary on the silliness of US licensing laws in and of itself, but I’m not going there).

    Couldn’t always get drugs, so in old west style, they used booze. He talked about one patient who refused pain meds at all and sat stoically still while he extracted five rotten teeth with no anesthetic and no alcohol. Boy Howdy!

    The stories are shocking, fascinating, and heart warming. It may not be the only way, but this is one way that real Africans receive really desperately needed help. And they ain’t spending that in LA.

    Your results may vary.

  30. The Voice of the Kalakuta Republic

    See, Jesse is exactly the guy who would know what that means. I only know one other person who would (Bobby). Me? I know who The Monkees are and who wrote Day Dream Believer. I even can claim to have seen Hoyt Axton at the Golden Bear, but I had to google Kalakuta Republic. Thank the lord for the Al Gore’s Internet.

  31. BTW, in case anyone is wondering, the foregoing is not a diss.

  32. In America, availability of credit is vital to economic growth. What makes you so skeptical about the ability of credit to even have *some* benefit to African small-business people?

    The legitimate capital needs can be supplied more efficiently by the for-profit sector.

    By making loans that lack a rational economic basis, all you are doing is giving people rope to hang themselves. Do Visa and Mastercard also deserve the Nobel prize? They make loans to poor people, too.

    It seems like a very good way of stimulating economic growth while avoiding the corrupt central governments.

    I wonder how clean are the various bankers and middlemen involved in microcredit. My guess is that some people are doing quite well.

  33. Max, you seem to be bringing a lot of skepticism to the table but not much evidence. Do you have any actual facts about these microcredit profiteers? I’ve seen quite a few stories about how successful microcredit has been in places like India, where the for-profit sector is not exactly lining up to make loans one cow at a time. Maybe those stories deal in cherry-picked anecdotes – if you’ve got it, how about a link to the “real story?”

  34. Did anybody else read that headline and think “Wait, I thought Kinakuta was a sultanate?”

    No.

  35. I’ve seen Bono’s work on Africa knocked often not only for the content of his efforts but on the claim that his status as a rock star doesn’t give him any particular expertise and that musicians should stick to music.

    Femi Kuti does have the claim of African residency in his favor, but he seems to have completely escaped criticism based on the fact that, as a singer, he’s no better qualified to speak on what benefits Africa than Bono is.

  36. The legitimate capital needs can be supplied more efficiently by the for-profit sector. By making loans that lack a rational economic basis, all you are doing is giving people rope to hang themselves.

    Maybe so, but it hasn’t happened. For some reason, the Visa company hasn’t been chomping at the bit to loan some poor African seamstress $100 so she can buy a sewing machine, sew more efficiently and make more money. But those who donate to groups like Kiva.org DO make such loans.

    So how is this hypothetical seamstress being given the rope to hang herself?

    Maybe it’s a misunderstanding? When Atrevete said “the repayment rate is 95 percent” he was talking about how many people pay their loans back, NOT the interest rate they’re charged.

  37. And, perhaps he should respond to this guy. I don’t know what he’s singing, but it’s probably not too healthy.

    “This guy” is Nkem Owoh, a Nigerian comedian. If you’re taking the song as a defense of 419 scams, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Owoh played a con man in a movie, and the song appears in the film.

  38. PBrooks: you are missing the reality in Africa. There is no rule of law. Money that goes into the country rarely makes it to the people who earned it, especially farmers. Roving gangs of thugs control the countrysides, and food (whether bought or part of charity, whether for domestic or export) rarely makes it to its intended location. Private gangs of thugs must be hired to protect such commerce, and the only ones who can do that are part of a large organization, which are invariably corrupt as hell. My point stands, Africa will never improve until there is a solution to the corruption problem. Just check out Nigeria, fer chrissakes.

  39. I’ve seen quite a few stories about how successful microcredit has been in places like India, where the for-profit sector is not exactly lining up to make loans one cow at a time.

    Let me reiterate my main point. Nobody thinks that Visa and Mastercard are the key to riches for America’s poor – indeed, easy credit can be a snare. Why would this kind of debt be any more beneficial in Africa or India? The implausible claims of success only increase my skepticism. (Do Indian cows piss gold or something?)

  40. Do America’s Poor use their Visa and Mastercards to buy cows and sewing machines so they can earn a better income? America’s poor tend to be screw ups who don’t even have the wherewithal to finish high school and still expect to get paid a “living wage” for jobs they show up drunk to. Of COURSE easy credit is a snare when you’re buying beer and basketball tickets and crap they advertise on late night infomercials.

    Not the case in third world countries.

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