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Does Africa need Bono and Geldof?

May 13, 2009

“Ireland,” I answered the taxi-driver’s question when I first went to Ethiopia in 2006.

“You know … Bob Geldof, Bono?”, I continued, confident he would recognise me as a countryman of the two rockers who many Westerners think fed the world during the 1980s.

“Bondof?” came the puzzled reply. “Oh, Ireland! … You mean Roy Keane! Gerry Adams! IRA!”

And so began a pattern of national identifiers that has lasted for my three years in this country the Dublin singers first introduced me to as a child during its ruinous famines. 

Footballing legend Roy Keane. Political firebrand Gerry Adams. Irish Republican Army. In that order.

Rarely a ‘Bono’ or a ‘Bob’ spoken.    

It’s not just that the people of this beautiful Horn of Africa nation are largely ignorant of the two men who still say it affected them like no place ever has.

It’s that, when they are mentioned, it’s usually in a critical tone that would surprise most Westerners.

Journalists often peg stories about the continent to what two of its most visible advocates say. “Africa aid levels a disgrace, says Bono”, “Give us your ‘effin money, says Geldof”.

Some say we journalists are lazy, others say their fame gives us a convenient way of getting stories into the Western media.

“For most Africans it’s a turnoff when Geldof/Bono are used to present a range of African issues,” Max Bankole Jarrett, a Liberian living in Ethiopia responded to one story last month.

“It perpetuates everything these guys claim to be speaking out against — an Africa that is weak and incapable of picking itself up.”    

Whether rich nations should focus less on aid and more on encouraging foreign investment in Africa is a hot topic for debate on the continent right now.     

“Even though Geldof and Bono now talk about investment, they will always be associated with negative images of Africa and that discourages investors and tourists,” says David Thomas, a Briton working on private sector development in Ethiopia.

“These Irish singers have been a great help to us. And we thank them,” Meti Yilma, a 30-year-old Ethiopian radio presenter told me recently. “But they need start to paint a more positive picture of Africa. Or else move aside for some African voices.”

Comments

Meti Yilma said, “But they need start to paint a more positive picture of Africa. Or else move aside for some African voices”. Hear hear! It is well overdue that Africans speak for Africa, including facing up to the responsibilities of governance and leadership. And if Africans cannot convince the Chinese or the Europeans or the North Americans of the merits of trade with Africa, then, to assume that China or the US or Brazil will listen to these 2 Irish singers _on Africa’s behalf _ is very patronising. All that it really does is keep the chimera that is Bono-Geldof on the celebrity news pages.

Posted by Jack Racey | Report as abusive
 

Ireland,” I answered the taxi-driver’s question when I first went to Ethiopia in 2006.

“You know … Bob Geldof, Bono?”, I continued, confident he would recognise me as a countryman of the two rockers who many Westerners think fed the world during the 1980s.

“Bondof?” came the puzzled reply. “Oh, Ireland! … You mean Roy Keane!
Gerry Adams! IRA!”

Conclusions

This is a really interesting and multi layered question. Having been a fan of the Boomtown Rats [I dont like Mondays - remember that], I do feel that Bob Geldof stepped up and marshalled help [Live Aid] at a time when it needed someone to step up to the plate and he did.
Recently, on the fringes of the G20 conference, he also stopped me in my tracks, when he said, change BAILOUT FOR AID and then do the Math.
I thought that a fine point.

The problem is that the Live Aid prism are the spectacles with which so many [including Ourselves] tend to see the Continent. And moreover, this has created a culture of dependency. Vast Bureaucracies [NGO World, the Civil Servants and the apparatus of Government whose sole raison d'etre is to perpetuate this myth - You will note that any NGO worth its salt must have a brand new Prado] sit atop Africa and bilk this system. I read a report that out of every 1 Pound you give in the UK between 3-5 English pence reaches its intended recipient.I call this dyslexic and inefficient. Sure there are extreme circumstances like famine and then we need a Rapid Response but note how the World is changing; we could get every African a Phone and then MPESA the money direct. Think about that but then a whole lot of Folk will be out of a job?

There is a whole smart new World out there and we need to smarten up.

This AID Architecture has colonised our minds, it has stifled entrepreneurship [and Africans are outstanding Entrepreneurs - You will find a market wherever you turn your gaze], it has skewed the risk reward profile and its like a fog of dependency that sits atop us.

I hear the call that Africa can articulate whats best for Africa but allow me to say this. Dominque Strauss Kahn asked to be that Voice re the Economy in Dar not so long ago. Why? It was because we were not standing up ourselves. To date has anyone in Africa put forward a Marshall Plan, a smart one.

Forget AID. It salves consciences but it is the least efficient transmission of cash. Its a joke.

Come build our Infrastructure. 3 lane highways from the Cape to Cairo. East to West. We will create a smart software, we will tell you how many cars and lorries pass on a real time basis. We will pay the interest from the toll receipts. Build us a high speed railways as well. We will pay our way and the c21st allows us to leapfrog.

Come and CARPE DIEM. This is the last convergence trade.

Posted by Aly-Khan Satchu | Report as abusive
 

I hate to hear this word ‘AID’. This is without prejudice to well meaning donors. All it does is stuntedand stiffle Africa’s growth and innovation whille enrich few Africans and the western donors. Aside that it create a psychology of dependence as much as it denigrate Africans intelectually. Where has the saying; ‘Dont give me a fish, teach me how to fish’ gone to? I suspect that the unwrtten fact is that if Africa become economically independent, it will adversely affect some people somewhere. I say it loudly, ‘Alms’ giving encourages idleness’

Posted by Kola Atolagbe | Report as abusive
 

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