By Lesley Wroughton
ABUJA, Nigeria (Reuters) - The recent goodwill of wealthy industrialized countries toward Africa could dissipate unless the continent tackles corruption, rock star and activist Bono told African finance ministers on Sunday.
"There is a window of opportunity but it could close if things like the corruption issue are not tackled or the peer review mechanisms are not felt to be real," the U2 frontman said in the Nigerian capital Abuja in one of his first speeches that emphasized malfeasance on the continent.
"The single biggest obstacle to business and the renewal of the economies in the south is corruption and the single biggest obstacle to getting start-up money for those businesses, if you want to look at aid as investment, is corruption."
Rich nations pledged last year to double aid to Africa by 2010 and cancel debts of some poorest countries, but Bono said those promises could be withdrawn if recipient governments weren't clean.
"The small 'c' in corruption is a plague as deadly as the HIV virus and it is not just the businessman, the ones that are hurt the most are always the ones that have nothing," he said.
He said taxpayers in countries like the United States were demanding more accountability from their own political leaders on where aid was spent and proper monitoring of the funds, adding: "Even European donors are thinking more carefully about who they give increased aid flows to."
Sounding more like a politician than a rock star, Bono said companies wanting to do business in Africa should see transparency as the price of admission.
"Any company that sees Africa as an economic opportunity, and we hope more of the do, has a social and moral responsibility to invest with integrity. Corruption is a problem in Africa but not just yours, it's ours," he added.
On oil, Bono said African oil-producing countries were also the weakest on transparency, and singled out Angola.
"When we ask where all these oil profits are going, we ought to be asking at the same time where the pay-off is coming from," he said. "Every corrupt transaction involves two parties, maybe more."
The continent was open to new opportunities and wanted to help itself through increased trade, Bono said, adding, "We have to accept that a lot of the aid in the past has done more damage than good."
"The West really has to understand that Africans don't want aid, they need aid, and what Africa desires and what (it) deserves is trade as a route out of their present difficulties," he said.
"Africans may be more sick of AIDS, TB and malaria but they are plenty sick of aid."
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