Tuesday, June 18, 2013

George Monbiot: Bono can't help Africans by stealing their voice

The Guardian (UK)
June 17, 2013.
Because the U2 frontman and others like him are seen as representatives of the poor, the poor are not invited to speak
Bono in Tanzania
'Bono's positioning of the west as the saviour of Africa while failing to ­discuss 
the harm the G8 nations are doing has undermined campaigns 
 for justice and accountability.' Photograph: Gary Calton
It was bad enough in 2005. Then, at the G8 summit in Scotland, Bono and Bob Geldof heaped praise on Tony Blair and George Bush, who were still mired in the butchery they had initiated in Iraq. At one point Geldof appeared, literally and figuratively, to be sitting in Tony Blair's lap. African activists accused them of drowning out a campaign for global justice with a campaign for charity.

But this is worse. As the UK chairs the G8 summit again, a campaign that Bono founded, with which Geldof works closely, appears to be whitewashing the G8's policies in Africa.

Last week I drew attention to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched in the US when it chaired the G8 meeting last year. The alliance is pushing African countries into agreements that allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets. Ignoring the voices of their own people, six African governments have struck deals with companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont, Syngenta, Nestlé and Unilever, in return for promises of aid by the UK and other G8 nations.

A wide range of activists, both African and European, is furious about the New Alliance. But the ONE campaign, co-founded by Bono, stepped up to defend it. The article it wrote last week was remarkable in several respects: in its elision of the interests of African leaders and those of their people, in its exaggeration of the role of small African companies, but above all in failing even to mention the injustice at the heart of the New Alliance – its promotion of a new wave of land grabbing. My curiosity was piqued.

The first thing I discovered is that Bono has also praised the New Alliance, in a speech just before last year's G8 summit in the US. The second thing I discovered is that much of the ONE campaign's primary funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, two of whose executives sit on its board. The foundation has been working with the biotech company Monsanto and the grain trading giant Cargill, and has a large Monsanto shareholding. Bill Gates has responded to claims made about land grabbing in Africa, asserting, in the face of devastating evidence and massive resistance from African farmers, that "many of those land deals are beneficial, and it would be too bad if some were held back because of western groups' ways of looking at things". (Africans, you will note, keep getting written out of this story.)

The third thing I discovered is that there's a long history here. In his brilliant and blistering book The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power), just released in the UK, the Irish scholar Harry Browne maintains that "for nearly three decades as a public figure, Bono has been … amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful". His approach to Africa is "a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete".

Bono, Browne charges, has become "the caring face of global technocracy", who, without any kind of mandate, has assumed the role of spokesperson for Africa, then used that role to provide "humanitarian cover" for western leaders. His positioning of the west as the saviour of Africa while failing to discuss the harm the G8 nations are doing has undermined campaigns for justice and accountability, while lending legitimacy to the neoliberal project.
Read the rest here.
Comment: This article is a much needed 'undressing' of a neoliberal advocate and apologist no doubt spurred on by Harry Browne's book.

I have not read Browne's book yet so can't comment on its critique.  Though I am happy to see Monbiot take on Bono I don't think it goes far enough.  He should call Bono a racist based on his so called advocacy work in Africa.

The very basis of Bono's engagement of selected African development issues and the elites he engages is racist.  His formulation advances the white (wo)man as savior and Africans as the goods than must be packaged and arranged without contaminating the structural and ideological hierarchy of whiteness.

Bono is the post-colonial iteration of Kipling's white man's burden' and his presence in African affairs is racist.

I have been saying this for years and for years folks who are fans of his music and media personality have been reacting negatively in my admittedly small circle of interaction.

I remember a student once confronting me about my views on Bono after a spirited conversation in class.

She told me that one of her most memorable moments was meeting Bono.  "He is such a good soul and it is hard to believe he would be tricking Africans since he has nothing to gain from doing that," she said staring at me with a mix of bewilderment and anger.

Bono has manufactured his presence in African affairs.  It was an easy entry for a man who hardly threatens the structural conditions and history that makes him relevant to the elites he engages in the West and on the continent.

He is like a circus of privilege.  He picks and chooses battles and offers nothing more than the illusion that he can deliver change and a new engagement.  And as he does this he removes the voice and agency of the downtrodden and Monbiot argues.

It is an old story couched primarily in a racist imagination that cannot break the stranglehold of lopsided capitalist values that created a world where an uninformed clown like Bono thinks he is an agent for change.

What kind of change does he envision is the most relevant question.  This man's voice is absent in the Palestinian cause for justice.  He can hardly untangle himself from Israel and in recent years is known to have been present there on several occasions.

Have you heard Bono criticize Obama for his drone murders?  Has Bono appeared in protest next to the dead bodies of Afghan, Iraqi, and Pakistani children killed by the empire and its helpers?

Yet he is lauded in some influential circles.  A self-proclaimed radical who once said at a music awards ceremony that he and U2 "have been f*cking with the mainstream for years."

What nonsense.  Bono is the mainstream.  A superficial caricature at best who has enough access to imperial clout to make himself appear as he does in the picture above.

Bono's gaze is that of a colonial creation.  He is the post-colonial oppressor and no friend to oppressed people in Africa or anywhere else.


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