Bob, Blair and the White Man’s Burden

spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics
  • If Bob Geldof is looking for another antiquated white artist to fill the bill for the Live 8 concerts, might I suggest Rudyard Kipling and his classic 1899 release, The White Man’s Burden?

Take up the White Man’s burden/The savage wars of peace/Fill full the mouth of famine/And bid the sickness cease.

Of course, Geldof, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are not advocates of racial supremacy. But their crusade for Africa shares some Kiplingesque assumptions about ‘our’ burden. The underlying message is that we have a moral responsibility to speak on behalf of Africa and save Africans from themselves, whether they like it or not. That is a message far more effectively delivered these days by an outraged Irishman than an English imperialist.

Mr Blair and Mr Brown imagine themselves as contemporary missionaries, going to the Dark Continent to ‘heal it’, in the Prime Minister’s famous phrase. If the politicians are playing the part of an ersatz David Livingstone, the rock crusaders, Geldof and Bono, are acting the role of Henry Morton Stanley, taking the missionaries’ sermon to the world. It is a case of ‘Dr Blair-Brown, I presume?’, and our grateful politicians might well echo Livingstone ’s reply to Stanley: ‘You have brought me new life.’

As with earlier moral crusades in Africa, the crusaders are seeking to give themselves a sense of worth and purpose. In order to show that we are on the side of Good, we need a symbol of Evil. In Livingstone’s time, it was the Arab slavers in Africa. The worst we can come up with today are a few touts selling Live 8 tickets on eBay, who have been denounced as vehemently as if they had been selling Africans into slavery.

Kipling called on the West to take up the White Man’s burden on behalf of ‘fluttered folk, and wild . . . Half devil and half child.’ Now government-backed campaigns promote a similar image of Africans – half hapless infants, half corrupt brutes. Either way, they clearly cannot be left to run their own affairs without supervision from an army of international banks, agencies and charities.

The problem is not the self-promoting rockers fronting the campaign, but the self-serving politics behind it. It is bizarrely patronising to see headlines such as: ‘Why Africa needs Bono’. But ‘Why Africa needs Gordon Brown’ would be just as bad. Geldof complains that the media treats him as ‘Mr Bloody Africa’. Yet there seems no shortage of Mr Africas willing to act as spokesmen for 900 million Africans.

When Geldof told President Museveni of Uganda: ‘Your time is up, go away,’ he was widely reported as speaking up for the people of Uganda. Less widely reported was the demonstration by hundreds of those people outside the British High Commission in Kampala, protesting against such interference in Ugandan affairs with banners proclaiming: ‘Geldof, sober up and shut up’, and ‘No to drug addicts and rock homos’. Nor did it make many headlines last month, when the Foreign Minister of Mozambique called on Europe to drop its misguided opposition to the use of DDT to kill malaria-spreading mosquitoes, or else come up with another cheap and effective solution: ‘They have to give us alternatives, not blah, blah, blah.’

Back in the world of media blah, blah, blah, Geldof announced in February: ‘More often than not, Africa bores me profoundly.’ Whereas the Africans, I am sure, never get tired of hearing our self-appointed ‘Mr Africas’ telling them how to live.

  • Michael Jackson’s trial was a three-month carnival of much that is worst about our prurient, sordid, celebrity-obsessed and pervert-hunting culture.

But the jury’s verdict, and the press conference that the jurors gave afterwards, were a reaffirmation of human rationality. Battered on all sides by waves of misanthropic ordure, the jury room remained an island of sanity in which 12 women and men debated the evidence, confronted their own concerns about Jackson’s behaviour with boys, and rightly decided that they could not find him guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. It was a triumph for the jury system, and a reminder of its importance to those who now want to limit the right to jury trial here. What part of ‘not guilty’ don’t they understand?

Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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