Make Bono History

Firstly Bono is collaborating with brostep pioneer Skrillex to save the African children. (They were together in Ghana last month.) Secondly The Observer (or The Guardian; it’s the same thing) has just published what might just be the most revealing and absurd interview with the world’s most self-righteous tax-dodging man who never removes his shades. The article was titled “There is a difference between cosying up to power and being close to power,” something Bono apparently is an expert in. Of course the interview was conducted in some underground bar in Accra rather than in Bono’s land of origin, where he talked about his “25 years as an activist for African development” and the late Seamus Heaney.

For those whose hatred of Bono is as deep and visceral as mine or those who are merely looking for concrete reasons to despise on this particular celebrity do-gooder, be sure to check out Harry Browne’s devastating takedown The Frontman published by Verso as part of their Counterblast series — other targets put to the metaphorical sword in this series include such verbose and smug apostles of imperialism as Thomas Friedman, the late Christopher Hitchens and Bernard-Henri Lévy. 

For those who avoid the high cult of tech utopianism, platitudes and technocracy known as TED talks: you might not know that Bono now describes himself as a “factivist” or in the words of the mildly sycophantic Tim Adams interviewer a “nerd who is aroused by the statistics of development” or in the words of Harry Browne, “Human beings have been campaigning against inequality and poverty for 3,000 years. But this journey is accelerating. Bono ‘embraces his inner nerd’ and shares inspiring data that shows the end of poverty is in sight… if we can harness the momentum.”

This data that so arouses Bono, according to Harry Browne, is mostly fantastical in nature.

Bono clearly takes great pride in his ability to get such diverse elites as the hawkish republican senator Lindsey Graham, former Bush jr cabinet member Condi Rice and the aforementioned EDM superstar Skrillex together in exotic locales like “this beyond-cool village bar” in Monrovia.

Bono also likes to boast about spending a lot of time with that famous humanitarian force known to the public as the US military — he has no qualms at all at courting these kind of interests and hanging out with such figures as General Jim Jones, Obama’s former National Security Advisor during Obama’s escalation of drone attacks on “militants” (anyone brown and male in the wrong place at the wrong time) in Pakistan.

When asked the tough questions like: ”The persistent liberal view would be that you should never get into bed with neocons under any circumstances … ?”, Bono always has the glib response:

Try telling that to the woman who is about to lose her third child to HIV/Aids. I know I couldn’t do that.

Or the woman who has lost her third child to a drone strike in Somalia or Pakistan. Or:

But isn’t the poverty that engenders these catastrophes structural – and created directly by the policies of some western governments? 

That these problems are structural is true. Of course it is. And you can always say that tending to the wounded will not stop the war. But the world is an imperfect place, you know. While we are waiting for capitalism to reform itself, or another system to emerge, or for these countries, as Ghana is clearly doing, to move toward the point when they don’t need our assistance, we have a problem. What you might call the situation on the ground. And our angle is really that we will use anyone who can help with that. When I came here, and visited hospitals with thousands of people camping outside for treatment, for drugs that were not available, I wanted to do what I could to make the madness stop. Watching lives implode in front of your eyes for no reason. Children in their mother’s arms go into that awful silence. And looking to the side and seeing the health workers and seeing the rage inside of them. I just thought: I’ll do what I can. And I will talk to anybody

That inside game sometimes looks like a cosy relationship with power…

It does confuse people. But there is a difference between cosying up to power and being close to power.

Really? In Bono’s world the causes of the very problems he is trying to solve are irrelevant to the solutions in the sense that many of these problems emerge because Bono’s friends are busy fucking over the very people he is trying to help in Africa on a fairly consistent basis.

Bono is a sinister piece of shit because he endorses a vision of social change as elite-driven technocratic solutions which can’t be questioned or critiqued because of the immediacy of intervening to save the poor black children. In other words he is part of rebranding the vision of such famously altruistic organizations  as the World Bank and IMF as part of an international aid campaign which can get on board rock stars, the Clintons and the Nelson Mandela foundation.

In effect it is reinforcing the same political arrangements which are responsible for the African debt crisis which Bono got his political start on in the first place. Bono of course doesn’t realize the irony of trying to make debt history by aligning himself with the World Bank and bankers. This vision of ‘humanitarianism’ or ‘aid’ is premised around billionaires throwing money at things and is all about the Übermensch figure of the philanthropist as the vanguard of social change along with the the celebrity rock star.

The ideological guise of “act now” obscures the necessity of understanding the actual political reasons for underdevelopment, famine and war on the African continent, Inter-imperialist rivalry and the new scramble for raw materials from Nigeria to Mozambique as well as the history of debt are subsumed under this dumbed-down vision of ‘humanitarianism’.

He provides a celebrity cover for imperialism and promotes a substanceless vision of development in which the agency of poor black Africans is non-existent. Instead they exist as passive subjects just waiting for Bono to parachute in and hand out same aid parcels. Oh and also he is a dick and proud tax-dodger in country (Ireland) which has just seen its economy collapse in debt crises brought upon by a rather loose and corrupt financial regime.

As Harry Browne once again succinctly puts it:

His significance, however diminished, is as a frontman, witting or not, for those who want to maintain and extend their dominion over the earth, and to make that dominion less and less accountable to the assembled riff-raff. That’s why it’s so important that he is not allowed to take ownership of the protest song in the same way he has previously seized, say, the color red or the idea of making poverty history.

Then there’s this from The Observer interview:

The other persistent criticism is about [U2’s] decision to offshore part of their income through the Netherlands to avoid tax. Was it not hypocrisy for you to try to hold the Irish government to account for its spending while going through fairly exhaustive efforts to avoid paying into the Irish exchequer yourself?

It is not an intellectually rigorous position unless you understand that at the heart of the Irish economy has always been the philosophy of tax competitiveness. Tax competitiveness has taken our country out of poverty. People in the revenue accept that if you engage in that policy then some people are going to go out, and some people are coming in. It has been a successful policy. On the cranky left that is very annoying, I can see that. But tax competitiveness is why Ireland has stayed afloat. When the Germans tried to impose a different tax regime on the country in exchange for a bailout, the taoiseach said they would rather not have the bailout. So U2 is in total harmony with our government’s philosophy.

The good news however is people are fighting back against the scourge of Bono:

I was booed by all the young entrepreneurs in the audience who thought I was peddling this idea of a supplicant Africa, which I happen to think could not be further from the truth. In the very same week I was chased down the street in Germany by a bunch of anarchists at the G8 summit, wielding placards and shouting “Make Bono history!” – which even as I was running for my life I thought was a pretty good line. So: we are doing something right – we are annoying both the capitalists in Africa, and the anti-capitalists in Europe. The thing is, I am not an idealist, never have been, I am just quite pragmatic about finding solutions.

Even young African entrepreneurs in Tanzania, supposedly the sort of people Bono believes are key to ‘African development’, are joining the rapidly growing “Make Bono history” camp. This is at least heartening news.



  1. I have noticed, since coming across AIAC, a strong anti-Bono bias that I could never really understand, until now that is. To me, he was an idealistic singer who wanted to use his fame, and fortune, to advocate for the African poor. Though I sometimes felt towards him the way I did with the present Bill Clinton, that is a little disturbed by the proximity to people I highly suspected for their ongoing action in causing exactly that which was deemed a scourge, I never gave it enough thought to change my feeling that AIAC was just overly reactive (yes, you guys tend to overreaction). Interestingly enough, the last paragraph of this article, quoting Bono himself, lays it bare: “we are doing something right – we are annoying both the capitalists in Africa, and the anti-capitalists in Europe. The thing is, I am not an idealist, never have been, I am just quite pragmatic about finding solutions.”

  2. I take comfort in the fact that, in the stillest hours of the night, Bono lies awake, haunted by the simple fact that he will never, ever be Joe Strummer – and that everybody else knows this, too.

  3. I’ve been eagerly waiting for this from AIAC ever since the Guardian softball article. Thanks for delivering, and hitting all the key points.

  4. What a poorly written critique. Not all Bone has done is brilliant, but the writer of this blog has done his job way worse.

  5. I just stumbled across a post on fashion blog Perez Hilton about Bono’s appearance in Louis Vuitton’s ads.

    Not only does the photo for the ad perfectly capture the ‘rockstars going to Africa to save the day’ idea, Perez Hilton writes of Edun, Bono’s company part-owned by LV: “Edun, which was started in 2005, helps encourage trade with Africa and has a mission to rid the country of poverty.”

  6. Pretty silly article. What are African elites and intellectuals doing for the poor except just whine about Bono and Oprah? They should all shut the heck up.

  7. agree Bono is a retard. why though is it so obvious that the World Bank are baddies? Just seems many analysts automatically assume that institutions like this cant change, just because they’ve done shit things in the past. WB is not the same as IMF. They have the IEG, work with the best academics, including anthropologists to ensure rigorous analysis and knowledge prior to designing projects. WB also transparently evaluates its own work much more clearly than other NGOs and they also dont arrogantly bypass governments.. I might be wrong, but at least worth a better explanation than just saying – we all know them – they’ve got a bad name, esp cause it includes the word bank in it…

    1. Because they’ve spent decades doing the wrong thing and immiserating the Global South? They may have changed, but they burnt every ounce of trust long ago. They’re going to have to work very hard indeed to earn it back.

  8. A lot of what he does and says should be criticized, but increasing the number of people on treatment for HIV/AIDS is not one of them. Many countries are not ready to provide ART on their own, and even in some that get much of the money from Global Fund, PEPFAR, etc., there have been issues with stockouts (see Zambia’s government and Nevirapine and Truvada shortages). I personally know people who have no income and would not be able to buy those drugs on their own, and need money to when the clinics run out. I think the author is being too cavalier about those people who would die without these drugs, the same way Bono is about drones (which I am completely against). He’s right, you can’t wait for governments to just step up and provide these on their own, when they’re not ready to. People will die, people who would otherwise be alive and healthy.

  9. Bono reminds me of this Kenyan, Nairobi senator – Gideon Mbuvi, AKA Sonko. I defo think they should hang out :-)

  10. Thank you for this! I almost puked when I saw the positioning of his name and face on the list of speakers at the CGI2013 summit. I thought to myself, “for real”? In 2013 they can’t find someone, who is, say, African, who is actually working on the ground, someone who is a game changer, as opposed to someone who is selling shitty T-shirts?? A moment of true irony came when during the plenary session, right after Bono dropped more politico names than the Ney York Time, Christine Lagarde spoke about tax evasion and social responsibility :o It was lost on Bono. He immediately started talking, all be it for five seconds, on how “this issue” is not just one in the developed world, but also in developed nations as well. Wow. Such an erudite response coming from an aging rock star. Why do summits and other global development initiatives to this day feel that they need to involve celebrities, particularly one who have demonstrated time and again that they don’t get development issues on the ground. Were it not for his money and celebrity status, he would not be there. And his imitation of Clinton looked pathetic, and judging from the look on Clinton’s face, he was none to pleased.

  11. I’m no fan of Bono, a bit of an egotistical hypocrite who chooses fashionable battles to publically lead but I also think the shots in this article are kinda weak, and the Bono hate book he keeps referencing is a bit shit and probably a mate of his. Fact is, the work that ‘THE BONO’ has done cosying up etc and getting himself hated by many has actually sent millions to Africa and other famine and AIDS stricken areas. With this in mind, he has save at least several thousand lives and made countless others far more endurable. I wonder what the author/s of this ranting text have done on a par?

  12. so easy to criticize, just bang a few derogatory words into your keyboard and watch the approving comments pour in. Much harder to actually make an effort and try to change things for the better which, like it or not, Bono has at least attempted, whether you approve of his methods or not.This article is pouring with bitterness. In their own words, the authors ‘hatred of Bono is deep and visceral’ so, given they have such an irrational problem when it comes to Bono, why should we attach any significance to their arguments? So much of the criticism of Bono is personal. The fact that some people have criticised Bono’s methods is hardly surprising, it’s a hugely complicated issue with no one clear solution but at minimum he should be applauded for trying to make a change

  13. You are a negasaurus-Rex. This would have been a much more valuable contribution as a cultural critique if you could come up with some suggestions of exactly what he should do with all that cash.

  14. Jesus. This screed is surely a bit too belated to arouse such high-strung tones, Benjamin. Terry Eagleton said everything that needs to be said ( which is more or less the same thing that you’re saying, but with fewer cuss words and a far lesser sense of your pretty impression of the indignant young Turk) in his four month old review of Harry Browne’s ‘The Frontman’. Read it here, calm the fuck down, and maybe try to think of something novel to say in the meantime. I tire of reading rehash, rant and rubbish.

  15. EXTRA HILARIOUS: the “village bar” in Monrovia he’s talking about…. yeah. It’s called ‘Tides’ and it’s owned by expats. Not sure how Waterside in Monrovia is a “village,” but the clientele in that place is typically foreign, usually UN, and when there are Liberians its definitely the elites. Pahn pahn drivers and university students don’t hang out there, they go to places like Destiny and that spot down near the graveyard on Center st.

    Another thing that’s really upsetting about bono is his support for the G8’s “New Alliance for Food Security”…if you deconstruct the whole thing its basically a blanket endorsement for corporate interventionism into agriculture in Africa for the purpose of raising profits and putting money into government coffers. The losers in this…yep, small farmers, the same people for whom additional income would help them buy their own health services instead of relying on annoying douchebags like Bono for their narcissism tinged assistance.

    I’ve been working for an African-managed-and-based civil society organization that monitors all the foul shit that extractive and agriculture concession companies do to the poor under the guise of ‘development’ and I can say with 100 percent certainty that Bono is part of the problem, not the solution.

  16. Also 100 percent guarantee the person who said this is A. white, and B. does not actually spend much time in Africa: “Pretty silly article. What are African elites and intellectuals doing for the poor except just whine about Bono and Oprah? They should all shut the heck up.”

  17. Pretty cynical article. It would be interesting to know what Benjamin Fogel has done for the world. No one is perfect, and I admire Bono for making his best efforts to make a difference. Perhaps some of his techniques will in hindsight be misguided, but kudos to him for making the effort.

  18. You’re obviously perfect, Benjamin. Don’t wobble though – it’s a very high perch to topple from.

    I don’t detect much argument here – just annoyance with Bono, which is assumes, because he gets where you are coming from and neutralises it. Stop writing shit blog posts, and come up with something, anything, that might to do anything relevant: a theory, a project, something. Blog post? Not.

  19. Yes the World Bank has not helped the poor much, and its policies have hurt the poor. However the new president of the Bank, is a doctor named Jim Kim who worked with Paul Farmer in Haiti and did a lot of good there. He has proclaimed that the World Bank and other organizations will end extreme poverty by 2030

  20. Poor people in Africa don’t need Bono nor AIAC to defend or protect them. We need to be left the F alone to manage our lives and destiny’s including making mistakes and learning or not learning from them-just like any other peoples!. NGO’s, Bono and websites like this exist because of the problems of the poor, eradicating those problems will take away the very reason for them to exist or derive their cachet. We don’t need Jesus nor Muhammad either. Bono is a hustler just like WB et al. AIAC are hustler’s too out to “save Africa’s face”.

  21. When Bono makes reference to African ‘debt’ in various interviews, it should be seen as a red flag. African countries have been in ‘debt’ to the banking interests of the same western colonial governments since they gained ‘independence’, and somehow no matter how many billions of dollars those western economic interests make out of their efforts to ‘help Africa develop and pay it’s debt…’, the debt is never repaid, in fact, any attempts by those governments to even get enough royalties for their resources to function as governments and provide services of any kind to their people is undermined by western powers who call it socialism. They call it socialism when they try to properly fund their own school system, and insist on funding western church groups who use education as a weapon of cultural warfare to convert people to Christianity starting with the children, and western ‘agricultural experts’ absolutely insist that food grown in ‘starving’ countries has to be exported for cheap to western countries and then other food imported back from somewhere else as ‘charity’ rather than used to feed people in the countries that grow it.
    Western aid to Africa is a myth. Africa isn’t poor, Africa is being looted, and Bono is a paid spokesperson for the looters.

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