Bono’s Big Ideas (for Africa of course)

new post on one of The Atlantic’s blogs breathily covers Bono appearing at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. to talk about Africa and foreign aid. It’s not clear why a publication like The Atlantic (or its online equivalent) is covering Bono giving a talk about Africa but the fact they covered it at all is part of the problem.

The post starts with a description of Bono’s attire. “Bono wore a rock star uniform of black jeans, a black v-neck t-shirt, black beads, and a black blazer, along with his trademark wraparound sunglasses.”

Bono’s appearance was to open this season of The Atlantic’s “Washington Ideas Forum.” We haven’t seen the full schedule, but, apart from the coverage that comes from inviting Bono, this is not promising. In fact, there are debates occurring right now in Washington, Addis Ababa, Mexico City, and around the world on how aid is delivered, and how it can be more effective. This week, the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB & Malaria is meeting in Geneva to decide on the future of their malaria initiative, among other decision points which will impact global health. The UK has announced it will no longer provide foreign aid to India, which is part of a larger debate around whether “middle income countries” should be eligible for aid at all.

Yet none of these issues are covered in the Atlantic’s international section.

Instead we’re treated to advice from Bono on how to change the world. He comes up with a “new” category of humanitarian: “the Afro-Nerd.” Then Bono said this: Instead of fighting companies or politicians, the young generation should fight against “all the obstacles to fulfilling human potential.”

I am sure that the recent deaths of 45 miners in South Africa had a lot to do with the behaviors of corporations, and that the price of drugs in developing countries is directly related to patents held by pharmaceutical companies usually based in the US or Europe (among other factors).

Perhaps one reason Bono is not interested in discussing economic power and its affect on development is that he unabashedly advocates for greater private sector involvement — without much thought given to promoting human rights in the private sector. According to the Atlantic piece, ‘He recently told Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola, that if Coke signed on to Red, it would be able to update its old “Coke Adds Life” slogan to “Coke Saves Lives.”‘

Last time I checked, Coca-Cola had been involved in some egregious human rights abuses, and continues to contribute to policies which prevent people in Africa and elsewhere from accessing free, clean water — I think we can agree they don’t deserve such a zippy advertising slogan.

We won’t say much more about the practices (if you care, look here and here for example) of one of the main sponsors of the event, Bank of America.

To the editors of the Atlantic, we beg you — please no more articles claiming to discuss African issues which are just about rock stars turning up at an American university. And when it comes to foreign aid and development, give us real debates. The issues are too important not to get serious coverage.

And to Bono: you have a pulpit. Please use it more wisely. At least we’re not as unkind as a commenter on our Facebook page: “Oh, spare us your platitudes Bono — just sing.”

* Gif via Anneke Hannine (on our Facebook page).


13 thoughts on “Bono’s Big Ideas (for Africa of course)

  1. Your advise to Bono is absolutely right “Use your platform wisely”. However, I really believe that Bono really geniunely wants to be helpful to Africa and believes his position or reach is the biggest asset he can contribute. Bono does not live in Africa and does not spend his full waking hours informing himself about the continent – he is full time artist and entrepreneur – and is therefore not going to be on the money on the what needs doing. So I think your advise is right on point – he should spend me time thinking about how wisely to use his position. But I believe his motives come from a good place and I think we should always consider that when we have a go at him.

    He can look to George Clooney for inspiration. Clooney is more focused – he chose one issue and is fully informed on it and works almost behind the scenes moving strategically, one step at a time towards a long term vision.

  2. why doesnt he get up on the stage and then say – i would like to introduce you to…. so and so and lets here the real story and the problems of a continent and the way the rest of the world is either fucking it up or bleeding it dry –

  3. I am not a critic of Bono, I think given how much others have done in the name of “helping Africa” or more politically correct “humanitarian aid” he has used his celebrity status alright. But, in this case as you point out Coca-Cola is not worth such a slogan.

  4. I still think Bono has done a lot to shed light on the main problems of Africa. And I’m not just saying this because I am a huge U2 fan 🙂 No one’s perfect, not even Bono but he should be given the credit that is due to him.

  5. This article would be much better if it offered more solutions, or actually gave props to any african people doing good work. But it seems to be guilty of the same shallowness it is accusing Bono. Being serious about these issues requires first treating everyone, black or white or blue or green or purple, with dignity and respect. How about highlighting the people-powered grassroots democratic movement in Senegal or tackling the unspoken evils hidden amongst the borders between African countries as a start to tearing down the great evil global wall between north and south? Let’s expand the kissing up to Coca-Cola discussion and talk about the bottled water companies in Africa (Kirene) which are depleting local aquifers and making people dependent on their expensive bottled water, like soda.

  6. Bono has repeatedly pointed out the corruption of governments in Africa, that food(s) aid donated don’t always reach their destination as people assume they are, being held or stalled by corrupt governments. Bono has repeatedly called for debt relief of poor nations. This is a start. Exploitation and corruption by big corporations and global brands is also a big problem. I am hoping that Bono sees any opportunity to speak on the struggles in Africa as a one more chance to spread the word. I am not saying he is a saint. He is a rock star. But, marginalizing him as just another Madonna is way off base.

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