Bono, O'Neill End Africa Tour, Leaving Africans Wondering What Will Change

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6.1.02 - Associated Press

By Andrew England, Associated Press Writer

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - The Irish rock star and the American treasury secretary joked and argued their way across Africa for 12 days, raising awareness of the problems faced by the world's poorest continent, but also displaying the differences between the passionate liberal's and the pragmatic conservative's ideas on how best to help.

U2's Bono, wearing designer wraparound glasses, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill in his Wall Street business suits, were nicknamed the odd couple during their visits to African hospitals, schools and businesses.

Most of the Africans they met had never heard of either man before, but they don't much care who brings attention to them, if the high profile trip will bring more aid. Those with experience dealing with the international community, though, doubt it will.

"One cannot exaggerate the political significance of it because the key constituency O'Neill deals with is very different to the people Bono speaks to," said Yao Graham, coordinator at Third World Network (Africa). "(But) it will take more than this trip ... for the attitudes and views of the Bush administration on African problems to change."

The trip, which ended Thursday after visits to Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia, was conceived after Bono cajoled a skeptical O'Neill into seeing for himself how important debt relief, fair trade and effective aid are to Africa.

Throughout the tour, where they shook hands with HIV (news - web sites)/AIDS (news - web sites) victims and hugged orphans, the two debated and joked - O'Neill, 66, sometimes put his arm around Bono, 42, and described how they had bonded.

At an Ethiopian coffee company, where workers earn less than a dollar a day, they discussed why the Ethiopian firm got so little - 4 U.S. cents per kilogram - for coffee compared to the price of the brew in the United States.

The rock star and the politician often disagreed, but there was plenty of backslapping, and both said they had benefited from the experience.

"I think everyone on this trip is going to be changed by it. He's (O'Neill) not the suit and tie you all tend to think he is. He has a hard head, but he also has a heart," Bono said.

O'Neill was noncommittal about possible policy changes.

"I want the advantage of a week or 10 days to reflect on all of the many things we have seen ... before we try to condense these 12 days into advice and recommendations to the president about policy changes," he said. "We are determined that we are going to do whatever we can together to make a difference and make it fast."

Bono hogged the limelight and was hailed as the compassionate rock star.

"We feel the United States has totally distorted African development, whereas people like Bono. He's trying to find out what the people really need," said Opa Kapijimpanga, a Zambian who is coordinator of the Zimbabwe-based African Forum for Debt and Development.

The fact that few Africans had heard of Bono was irrelevant, Kapijimpanga said - Africa has little to lose.

"Anybody, and it doesn't matter where they come from, anybody who tries to push for a more democratic global system is welcome," said Kapijimpanga.

Colonial and Cold War policies, corrupt governments and unfair trade polices between poor and rich nations have been blamed for Africa's woes. Half the continent's population - 340 million people - live on less than $1 a day.

World leaders believe African economies need to grow 7 percent per year to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015, but the chance of many succeeding is unlikely. Last year, the continent achieved real GDP (news - web sites) growth of 3.4 percent.

African Development Bank president Omar Kabbaj said official development aid will have to at least double if the growth targets are to be met.

Foreign aid to Africa was dlrs 19 billion in 1990, but has fallen to dlrs 12.7 billion, said Jamie Drummond, spokesman for Bono's DATA advocacy group.

Despite the praise for Bono, most people realize that it's O'Neill who will have the biggest influence on U.S. policy.

"For us I think the only interest is in the treasury secretary in terms of whether the United States can be persuaded to provide some more funding to Uganda." said Vincent Edoku, chairman of the Uganda Debt Network. "I heard about the treasury secretary but didn't know he was coming with that Bono man."

Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on June 1, 2002 4:43 PM.

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