Friday, July 10, 2009

Bono on "Africa"

I think Bono's piece in today's New York Times was interesting. I started reading it thinking of it as another one of those people pontificating about the continent, from without. And while I still think it is/was, he makes some good points. Namely that there are many opportunities in many parts of the continent and there are champions in numerous countries for reform, for growth and much more.

However, what I still find missing is the connection to what role people themselves (for example the middle class he refers to) have to play. It's one thing to talk about African reformers and the role they play, it's a whole other to talk about the people in African countries and what they are doing in their country.

And then there's the whole thing about "Africa"!!! It is 54 freaking countries. I dislike the notion of Africa as one piece. I think the notion of us all being being African-American only adds to that misperception. I have objection to that assertion regardless, but it's made worse when it further conflates the continent into one giant country.

Wondering what others think ...


Ihotu said...

Kehinde, this is definitely an interesting article. I think, given his audience, Bono does a good job. His aim is to "rebrand" Western views of the continent much like he believes Ghana is "rebranding" (by not screwing up) the sense of prosperity and good governance among Africans. He probably is changing many people's minds, which is important. I just find he doesn't tell the WHOLE story about corruption.

Obviously he's using broad brush strokes since yep there are a LOT of people and countries he describes very simply, and I think he's far too idealistic and kumbaya-ish with the African-American phrase at the end...however what stood out to me was the phrase: "Ghana is well governed." Also: "The country’s economy was growing at a good clip even before oil was found off the coast a few years ago." He's assuming that good governance and a strong economy is dependent entirely on factors within a country... productivity of workers, "honesty," civic participation, etc. He doesn't mention how much debt has been paid to wealthy countries (that will remain nameless) from struggling that might otherwise have gone into building stronger institutions and funding civil society organizations. He misses the fact that discovering oil in a country actually has less positive impact on its people, but is known by the UN as the "natural resource curse" that leads to back-door deals with importing countries and government officials suddenly swimming in Swiss bank accounts and further emboldened to ignore their constituencies. Look at Nigeria, Bolivia, and others.

I won't go on since obviously I am very passionate about this... but Bono's assertion that "we are all African-Americans" just proves his naivete. If we really were all looking out for one another's interests, Bono would be leaving the task of "fixing" Africa to a few lucky reformers who have had public success in their anti-corruption work. We are all in this let's praise ALL that deserve praise, and criticize ALL that deserve criticism for contributing to corruption. We may find much of the finger pointing goes both ways.

Kehinde A. Togun said...

Ihotu - I agree that the weakest part of the article was the "we are all African Americans" bit. I'm not quite ready to sing Kumbaya when half of the people in the US (or the West) don't know that Africa has 54 countries and that there is more to the continent than HIV and corruption.

I certainly think that Ghana should get some credit. It has instituted several mechanisms for accountability and growth. Of course it still has miles to go. Ghana has also benefited from debt forgiveness; many other African nations have not been as lucky (Liberia being a powerful exception). I guess one can ask where the initial debts came from (answers may include, but are not limited to, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc).

I agree that it remains to be seen how Ghana's oil will play a role in its future. Most of my Ghanaian friends are troubled because of the potential for the resource curse extending into Ghana. Although to be fair, they have had some success with gold and cocoa. We'll have to wait and see.

I hope when the story is told, it's by Ghanaians themselves and not by Sir Bono.