Celebrity activists who campaign about development are often sneered at by development economists and by commentators; they are variously accused of ignorance, of exploiting a cause to further their own career, or even of wanting to perpetuate poverty to justify their own public profile. Bob Geldof has given an extended interview on Development Drums about his work over three decades; you can judge for yourself if this criticism of celebrity activists is fair. (But beware: the language is colourfully and characteristically explicit in places.)  You can listen to the 35 minute version here, or listen to the entire extended interview.

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The Guardian development blog is running a series of end of year reflections on development, including one by me. Many of the articles are upbeat about progress in developing countries, but pessimistic about the short term economic prospects for the industrialised world and for global cooperation to tackle shared global problems.

The series so far includes:

  • Duncan Green from Oxfam, who contrasts progress in developing countries over the last year with the gloom of the ‘formerly rich’ countries of the G-8.
  • Calestous Juma from Harvard, who identifies regional integration and better links with the diaspora as key drivers of Africa’s growth.
  • Shanta Devarajan from the World Bank, who is cautiously optimistic, especially in the light  of increased demand by Africans for their governments to be accountable.
  • Linda Raftree from Plan, who also emphasizes progress towards more inclusive and open societies.
  • Kevin Watkins from Brookings and UNESCO, calling for “a properly financed global fund for education like those that have delivered such striking results in the health sector“.
  • Jonathan Glennie from ODI and the Guardian, who is pessimistic about the prospects for international cooperation in the face of rising protectionism and nationalism as a result of poor economic prospects in the US and Europe.
  • and my contribution, reproduced below, which gives a positive account of progress in many countries in Africa over the past year, and emphasizes the importance for developing countries of better global decision-making.

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Bart (eating injera and wot): “I wish I lived in Ethiopia”. Lisa: “Exotic. Vegetarian. I can mention it in a college essay. Mom: this is amazing!”.

The BBC has today apologised for giving the false impression that a substantial part of aid given to Ethiopia in the 1980s was diverted for military use.  This impression was given by a programme in March by Martin Plaut, and compounded by the BBC's publicity for the programme on television and radio and online.   It isn't just Band Aid to whom the BBC owes an apology, but to the British Government, other donors, a vast number of charities, and the public who gave so generously.  There is no evidence that any of the aid effort in the government-held areas of Ethiopia - the vast majority of the aid to Ethiopia - was diverted. The BBC report was about a completely distinct, and very much smaller, relief effort in rebel-held areas. Either deliberately or accidentally the BBC sexed up their report in a way that smeared an extremely successful effort to save lives and an operation of which those involved are rightly proud.   As Mark Twain remarked, “a lie will fly around the whole world while the truth is getting its boots on”.
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Here are some photos taken as we travelled around Ethiopia last week.

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This week I attended the inauguration a new Marie Stopes family planning clinic in Woldia in northern Ethiopia. Together with yesterdays announcement by the UN of a new "Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health", Every Woman, Every Child, this has led me to reflect on the importance of family planning and maternal health in Ethiopia and in other developing countries.  There is huge unmet need for family planning here in Ethiopia which, if met in full, could both directly improve the lives of many families in Ethiopia, and result in a substantial increase in incomes per head.  A decade of sustained access to modern contraception could have increase incomes per head in Ethiopia by roughly the same amount as the whole of today's international aid to Ethiopia.  The new UN strategy, Every Woman Every Child, isn't really a strategy, but it is a welcome restatement of the importance of the health of women and children. It is shocking that it is almost completely silent on abortion. (Here in Ethiopia, unsafe abortion is responsible for a third of maternal deaths.)

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I was very upset to hear of the loss of an Ethiopian Airlines plane from Lebanon to Addis Ababa this morning.

Many Ethiopian and Lebanese families will be grieving.

Ethiopian Airlines has an outstanding safety record.  The staff are… Continue reading

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