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:
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:
Even the supplying of mosquito nets which Bono argued for in the US Congress isn't what Africans themselves would have asked for:
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:
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]