“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.”

Uh Oh

It may take all hands. While Obama and his team were hardly the only ones to underestimate the depth of the problem they inherited in early 2009, their failure to define it from those early days has undermined a bedrock idea of American liberalism, the faith in the capacity of government to play a constructive role in the markets and make up for the limits of individuals to cope with them. Since unemployment has remained so high for so long while deficits have soared, it must mean the stimulus did not work and the money was wasted. Smaller government, less regulation and lower taxes, therefore, would be the only answer. And so, Obama’s challenge may be more fundamental even than reducing unemployment and winning re-election; he wants to prove that liberal economic theory can be adapted to the 21st century.

“The White House Looks for Work,” NYT

(Emphasis mine.)