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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bono thinks Africa is Rebooting: The OS Changed

I just read an opinion piece written by Bono in yesterday’s New York Times.  The article is titled “Africa Reboots”.

Bono along with Jeff Sachs, I think are the most relentless crusaders for direct financial and material assistance to Africa. Some people prefer to call this kind of assistance “AID”.

Bono is no doubt a great storyteller!

But I think somehow his reading Africa wrong. The people he met on the pavement in western, eastern and southern Africa seem to be saying something more profound. They do not sound like an old computer that is rebooting.

DJ Rowbow of Ghetto Radio in Nairobi and Ms. Diogo in Maputo feel land sound like a SuperDuper OS.  
Bono’s attitude heralds a new dawn for Africa’s relationship with the rest of the world. Africa is ready to negotiate a new partnership for its development. There are new possibilities and opportunities for providing the much needed growth and progress in Africa. If the breathtaking transformation in Asia is anything to go by, Africa is the next best bet.

Yes, Aid has its place but it is no longer the only game in town.

Here is what I think is the best part of Bono’s story

I SPENT March with a delegation of activists, entrepreneurs and policy wonks roaming western,   southern and eastern Africa trying very hard to listen — always hard for a big-mouthed Irishman. With duct tape over my gob, I was able to pick up some interesting melody lines everywhere from palace to pavement

So I was listening. Good for me. But did I actually learn anything?

OVER long days and nights, I asked Africans about the course of international activism. Should we just pack it up and go home, I asked? There were a few nods. But many more noes. Because most Africans we met seemed to feel the pressing need for new kinds of partnerships, not just among governments, but among citizens, businesses, the rest of us. I sense the end of the usual donor-recipient relationship.

Aid, it’s clear, is still part of the picture. It’s crucial, if you have H.I.V. and are fighting for your life, or if you are a mother wondering why you can’t protect your child against killers with unpronounceable names or if you are a farmer who knows that new seed varietals will mean you have produce that you can take to market in drought or flood. But not the old, dumb, only-game-in-town aid — smart aid that aims to put itself out of business in a generation or two. “Make aid history” is the objective. It always was. Because when we end aid, it’ll mean that extreme poverty is history. But until that glorious day, smart aid can be a reforming tool, demanding accountability and transparency, rewarding measurable results, reinforcing the rule of law, but never imagining for a second that it’s a substitute for trade, investment or self-determination.

I for one want to live to see Mo Ibrahim’s throw-down prediction about Ghana come true. “Yes, guys,” he said, “Ghana needs support in the coming years, but in the not-too-distant future it can be giving aid, not receiving it; and you, Mr. Bono, can just go there on your holidays.”

I’m booking that ticket.

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