Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Africa politely asks Bono to tone it down

Bono turned up at the Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference in Arusha. But if he was expecting to be received as a hero, he got something of a surprise, as journalist Jennifer Brea reports:

These speakers were selected to support a thesis, painfully obvious but somehow radical in this age: Africa won't be "saved" by aid, but by the ingenuity and determination of its own people.

Andrew Mwenda, an outspoken Ugandan journalist who was jailed last year for criticizing President Museveni, lambasted the Western world's "international cocktail of good intentions" for robbing Africa of its future. After all, what country has ever gotten rich from aid? What Africa needs is investment.

Near the front of the darkened auditorium a white man with orange sunglasses stood to object. It was Bono! The audience (myself included), exuberant in the presence of celebrity, craned their necks to catch a glimpse. Aid saved Ireland from the potato famine, Bono declared.

Hmm. Not sure I'd have invoked the Potato Famine, where starving Irish watched their crops disappearing overseas, where the famine was mainly a result of the rich seeing the poor overseas as being inferior, and well-meaning attempts to 'help' by outsiders made the problem worse, Bono.

In a conference where the main focus was on how the West sees Africa as a problem for it to be solved, rather than a place where people can find their own solutions, Bono hadn't got off to a great start:
George Ayittey, author of Africa Unchained, a wildly popular book which argues Africa's problems should be solved by Africans, was bumped from his scheduled spot so that Bono could play a prerecorded greeting from German chancellor Angela Merkel on the importance of honoring aid commitments to Africa.


Even the supplying of mosquito nets which Bono argued for in the US Congress isn't what Africans themselves would have asked for:
Kenyan economist James Shikwati, who in advance of the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles famously asked rich nations, "for God's sake, please just stop" giving Africa aid, thinks even misery is an opportunity.

We can fight malaria by distributing free mosquito nets, which may cost $10-$60 each by the time you get them down often impassable dirt roads. Or, as Shikwati suggests, we can train locals how to operate a business spraying homes with an insecticide that will keep them mosquito-free for six months at about $2 a family.

We can spend billions importing medication, or you can invest in local farms that grow the Artemisinin, a Chinese herb with potent anti-malarial properties, and the factories that process it.

We can continue the endless cycle of need and dependency, or you can create jobs, develop indigenous capacity, and build a sustainable future.

Bono's desperate attempts to be loved only made things worse:
After his impassioned defense of aid, an African man in the audience asked Bono, "Where do you place the African person as a thinker, a creator of wealth?"

[...]

Visibly wounded by the question, confused how anyone could misinterpret his good intentions, Bono, like the proverbial white man with black friends, set out to prove how down he is with the black man.

Africans are the "most regal people on earth" and music is their DNA, he told the room of mostly doctors, engineers, and businessmen. He then began singing a traditional Irish dirge to show us how Celtic music has Coptic roots, and so is fundamentally African. I wasn't the only one giggling in the back row.

Bono, in his awkward defense of his "Africa credo," also represents our fundamental failure to listen.

The next time Bono pops up claiming to speak for Africa, wave your Red American Express card at him and ask on whose authority?

[Thanks to Michael M for the link]


6 comments:

karlt said...

That's the funniest thing I've read this week. I'd give my pension to have been there to see the smug little bastard put down like that.

Franco said...

Great article! This is why I come to Xrrf. :)

Cobardon said...

Yeah, you and Radcliffe and Maconie given their 'Stuff and Nonsense' section this last couple of weeks...unless those guys are sharing a source with this blog, I think they may be cribbing...

Anyway, the speakers at the conference were right of course. Which is why fair trade is far more important than aid - give Africa the means to compete and it surely has the expertise to do so.

I'm still sure that the current moving up of Africa on G8's agenda has more to do with fear of Chinese investment (which is flooding in) allowing Africa to compete on an even footing and shake off western dependency.

Anonymous said...

It may make nice copy, but Bono was actually not received with ill will. Yes he had an argument. This is not uncommon. George Ayittey looks rather pleased to see Bono, if you ask me.

simon h b said...

Anonymous #4: It is actually possible to be friendly with people you disagree fundamentally with, you know, and what's important about the session was not whether or not Bono was received with ill will - he wasn't, as the "politely" in the headline should have made clear - it was that speaker after speaker rejected his vision of where the future lay for Africa, and some even suggested he might be making things worse.

Perhaps the blogs written by people at the event might explain this more clearly:
Zoo Station
My Heart's In Accra

Oh, and if Bono wasn't received with ill will, he certainly responded with some: arrogantly shouting down Andrew Mwenda.

Lisa said...

Thanks for comments. Its great that so many people are talking, but are we able to do more?
Malaria kills 3,000 children daily. I want to do more than complain about Bono.

Advanced Bio-Extracts Limited is the largest producer of artemisinin to treat multi-drug resistant malaria, outside of the traditional suppliers in China and Vietnam.
- US$20 Million planned investment in East Africa
- 165 full-time staff
- Approx contract 7,000 farmers for raw material production in 2006
- 50 Million ACT malaria treatments to be manufactured from 2007 production

A to Z is a bednet company operating in Arusha, Tanzania. They are investing, creating jobs and fighting to stop the spread of multi-drug resistant malaria.

Do you know about other good projects in Sub-Saharan Africa? Are you in a position to invest? Do you know a person or organization that is interested to invest?

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