new post on one of The Atlantic’s blogs breathily covers Bono appearing at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. to talk about Africa and foreign aid. It’s not clear why a publication like The Atlantic (or its online equivalent) is covering Bono giving a talk about Africa but the fact they covered it at all is part of the problem.

The post starts with a description of Bono’s attire. “Bono wore a rock star uniform of black jeans, a black v-neck t-shirt, black beads, and a black blazer, along with his trademark wraparound sunglasses.”

Bono’s appearance was to open this season of The Atlantic’s “Washington Ideas Forum.” We haven’t seen the full schedule, but, apart from the coverage that comes from inviting Bono, this is not promising. In fact, there are debates occurring right now in Washington, Addis Ababa, Mexico City, and around the world on how aid is delivered, and how it can be more effective. This week, the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB & Malaria is meeting in Geneva to decide on the future of their malaria initiative, among other decision points which will impact global health. The UK has announced it will no longer provide foreign aid to India, which is part of a larger debate around whether “middle income countries” should be eligible for aid at all.

Yet none of these issues are covered in the Atlantic’s international section.

Instead we’re treated to advice from Bono on how to change the world. He comes up with a “new” category of humanitarian: “the Afro-Nerd.” Then Bono said this: Instead of fighting companies or politicians, the young generation should fight against “all the obstacles to fulfilling human potential.”

I am sure that the recent deaths of 45 miners in South Africa had a lot to do with the behaviors of corporations, and that the price of drugs in developing countries is directly related to patents held by pharmaceutical companies usually based in the US or Europe (among other factors).

Perhaps one reason Bono is not interested in discussing economic power and its affect on development is that he unabashedly advocates for greater private sector involvement — without much thought given to promoting human rights in the private sector. According to the Atlantic piece, ‘He recently told Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola, that if Coke signed on to Red, it would be able to update its old “Coke Adds Life” slogan to “Coke Saves Lives.”‘

Last time I checked, Coca-Cola had been involved in some egregious human rights abuses, and continues to contribute to policies which prevent people in Africa and elsewhere from accessing free, clean water — I think we can agree they don’t deserve such a zippy advertising slogan.

We won’t say much more about the practices (if you care, look here and here for example) of one of the main sponsors of the event, Bank of America.

To the editors of the Atlantic, we beg you — please no more articles claiming to discuss African issues which are just about rock stars turning up at an American university. And when it comes to foreign aid and development, give us real debates. The issues are too important not to get serious coverage.

And to Bono: you have a pulpit. Please use it more wisely. At least we’re not as unkind as a commenter on our Facebook page: “Oh, spare us your platitudes Bono — just sing.”

* Gif via Anneke Hannine (on our Facebook page).

Further Reading

No more caricatures

Engaging seriously with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life could help us understand how South Africa got where it is and where it’s going.