“What Bono doesn’t say about Africa”

Celebrities like to portray it as a basket case, but they ignore very real progress.

William Easterly in the LA Times (Op-Ed from 2007.)

The real Africa needs increased trade from the West more than it needs more aid handouts. A respected Ugandan journalist, Andrew Mwenda, made this point at a recent African conference despite the fact that the world’s most famous celebrity activist — Bono — was attempting to shout him down. Mwenda was suffering from too much reality for Bono’s taste: “What man or nation has ever become rich by holding out a begging bowl?” asked Mwenda.
Perhaps Bono was grouchy because his celebrity-laden “Red” campaign to promote Western brands to finance begging bowls for Africa has spent $100 million on marketing and generated sales of only $18 million, according to a recent report. But the fact remains that the West shows a lot more interest in begging bowls than in, say, letting African cotton growers compete fairly in Western markets (see the recent collapse of world trade talks).
Today, as I sip my Rwandan gourmet coffee and wear my Nigerian shirt here in New York, and as European men eat fresh Ghanaian pineapple for breakfast and bring Kenyan flowers home to their wives, I wonder what it will take for Western consumers to learn even more about the products of self-sufficient, hardworking, dignified Africans. Perhaps they should spend less time consuming Africa disaster stereotypes from television and Vanity Fair.

The excerpt came up (I brought it up) in this comments thread at Small Wars Journal.

Another commenter, Jason Thomas, made the following interesting comment in the same thread:

….A locally driven solution is so important. However, we have created a national government that reflects the deep seated nepotism and corruption endemic at the local level. But the local people dont feel like they are being led by example. How many local Afghas know who their national Member of Parliament is compared to their unelected Governor and District Governor. [sic]
Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., astutely pointed out in his 1977 biography of Robert Kennedy, the notion that reforms can be carried out in a wartime situation by a beleaguered regime is “the fatal fallacy in the liberal theory of counterinsurgency, with the United States so often obliged to work through repressive local leadership, the reform component dwindled into ineffectual exhortation.”

4 thoughts on ““What Bono doesn’t say about Africa””

  1. I am a member of the Rotary in my local community. We were approached by a member with an idea from his daughter who was in Africa on a missionary trip. Basically, some ladies in the village where she was staying were trying to improve their economic situation by starting a cottage sewing business. We got involved and provided new sewing machines and supplies to jump start their operation. I think we spent $2-3,000. Now they have a thriving business. Another project we did was to fund a water well at an orphanage in Africa. Several things were accomplished: clean drinking water which vastly improved the health of the children, excess water for irrigating garden crops, fresh garden produce for the children (again better health), excess garden produce to sell ($), and excess water to sell to their neighbors. Again, about $2-3,000 invested. Now Rotary match these funds mind you, but still a small investment all told.

    That is the kind of help that is needed. The old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching a man to fish applies here I think.

  2. @ Jeff The Bobcat –

    Stellar comment! Wow, what a wonderful thing you all have done. Really interesting.

    – Madhu

  3. An Orange County Congressman, Ed Royce I believe, has spent at least ten years trying to get tariff reform on cotton goods and cloth for Africans. The barrier has usually been southeast Senators who are Democrats. Hollings was one who had been a barrier for many years.

  4. Thanks for the comment MK.

    I’ve been spending some time on Easterly’s blog: AidWatch. For some reason, the corruption of the international aid culture interests me. Makes sense for a libertarian minded person, I suppose.

    – Madhu

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