Contemplating Bono

WHAT are we to make of a multi-millionaire on a mission to save the poor of the earth?

We could say that he’s a bloody hypocrite. We could say that he has no qualification for the job other than being famous. We could speculate about his motives and his ego. And we could sit back and enjoy a few cheap sneers.

Many of these reactions have undoubtedly greeted the emergence of Bono as a champion of the poor. Most of them are wrong-headed and pointless.

I despise celebrity culture. I foam at the mouth when I see the amount of coverage given to famous people. The likes of ‘Hello’ and ‘VIP’ magazines make me want to throw up.

I have a natural leftist scepticism for the big charity showcase where the stars show off their shiny teeth and their designer care for the world. Yuk!

Maybe I’m standing up for the local lad here but I don’t think that’s what our Bono is about.

But talking about what motivates Bono is just a side issue. The question is whether he will do any good. The answer is yes.

Bono didn’t invent the campaign to write off the debts of the poorest countries of the world. It’s been going for a long time now.

What he did do was give the campaign publicity and some of the energy that has made him the success that he is. In the real world communication is vital. Bono used his rock star status to bring the debt campaign to a wider section of the public. Once there, public opinion can make a difference.

The debt campaign has enormous potential for good. The poorest countries in the world are spending fortunes to service debt repayments while huge sections of their population die of malnutrition or preventable diseases.

It’s not just a moral case. The AIDS crisis in Africa is destroying the economies of the poorest countries and destroying the potential for development.

The Economist magazine reports that Botswana, for example, will have 32 per cent less economic output by 2010 because of AIDS. An entire generation of children are being left orphaned across Africa with consequent damage to the education system and the fabric of society.

The thing is, that AIDS should not be having such an impact. If the drugs that are available in the West were available in Africa, the human and economic cost would only be a fraction as severe.

The African countries do not have the money for these drugs. The West has.

Bono has been trying to convince donors, especially the US, to pay for these drugs to save the lives of millions and improve global economic conditions into the bargain.

He managed to get the US Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, to accompany him on a trip around Africa to see how bad the situation is.

The fact is, that the US has the power, the drug patents and the cash to transform the situation. And Bono has the ear of the Treasury Secretary and millions of young voters in the US simultaneously. You can’t tell me that this is not a positive development.

So ok, it’s not revolution, but it is addressing the situation now. Bono could sit on his butt sunning himself just like many other millionaires.

He hasn’t. Good for him.

As well as that…

Millions face hunger in southern Africa

BY the end of this year some 13 million people will be depending on food aid in Malawi and Zimbabwe after another disastrous harvest.

Already in some districts of Malawi people have begun dying of hunger. Families are beginning to turn up at aid stations with elderly people and children having already succumbed.

Concern has launched an appeal. You can ring them on 1850 410 510 and make a donation using your credit card or whatever means are available to you.

New Government must stick to aid promise

One of the most positive steps taken by the outgoing Government was to increase Irish aid to the Third World. They actually spent this money and there is precious few votes in it for them.

As well as that, Bertie Ahern has made a commitment to bring Ireland’s aid up to the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GDP.

Now that the public finances don’t look so rosy I hope that the incoming Government will stick to these promises.

Ireland does very well out of the global economy – we need to put something back in.