Make Bono History

For those whose hatred of Bono is as deep as mine or who are merely looking for concrete reasons to despise this particular celebrity do-gooder.

Bono and Barack Obama.

Firstly Bono is collaborating with brostep pioneer Skrillex to save the African children. (They were together in Ghana last month.) Secondly The Observer (basically the Sunday edition of The Guardian) 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.

Further Reading

Edson in Accra

It happened in 1969. But just how did he world’s greatest, richest and most sought-after footballer at the time, end up in Ghana?

The dreamer

As Africa’s first filmmakers made their unique steps in Africanizing cinema, few were as bold as Djibril Diop Mambéty who employed cinema to service his dreams.

Socialismo pink

A solidariedade socialista na Angola e Moçambique pós-coloniais tornou as pessoas queer invisíveis. Revisitar esse apagamento nos ajuda a reinventar a libertação de forma legítima.