The futility of Bono bashing

Tom Bailey

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Topics World

Over the past few years, a number of world leaders have fallen from power and into the annals of history, whether it’s the quiet death of a Kim in East Asia, the lynching of a tyrant in the Maghreb or an EU-engineered silent coup in southern Europe. What some may not have noticed however, is the knocking from grace of another unelected world leader: U2 front-man Bono, Emperor of Poor Africa, or, as Rod Liddle describes it, the ‘People’s Republic of Bono’.

But yes, it’s true: Bono’s crown has well and truly slipped. At a TED talk in Tanzania, for instance, the audience booed while he was on stage. And then in Germany, a group of anarchists chased him down the street shouting ‘make Bono history’. His Excellency Bono may still nominally hold on to the reins of his People’s Republic, but long gone are the days, it seems, when he could smugly saunter around the G8 summit giving advice to world leaders on how to ‘deal with’ Africa.

However, Bono’s falling out of favour with both the polite (and boring) society of TED talks and the impolite (yet slightly more interesting) world of the German radical left, is unlikely to signal a much-needed change in the West’s attitude towards Africa and its economic development. That’s because while Bono the man may be under scrutiny, the thinking he embodies is not.

It’s not just Bono, you see, who uses Africa as a stage for moral grandstanding; it’s not just Bono who sees the act of ‘doing something over there’ as a way to demonstrate moral authority and superiority. This use of Africa as a means to flaunt moral worth is also common to large swathes of the Western elite.

So, while Bono-bashing may be an enjoyable displacement activity, Western governments will continue to send tokenistic aid, charities will still keep declaring that your pennies will save X number of lives, and idealistic gap-year students will still go off to build schools in Zambia, as if a few Olivers and Tabithas from Surrey is what Africa really needs. What Africans need is not patronising hand-outs; they need real economic development.

Tom Bailey is studying for a masters in history at University College London. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter: @tbaileybailey

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