Anger, Passion, Charm, Concern

22 May 2002
Angry and passionate, Bono blends charm and concern on African tour reports Clar Ni Chonghaile of Associated Press.

ACCRA, Ghana

Bono leans back in his car seat. His shirt is stained with large patches of sweat, his boots are dusty. He has been talking to Ghanaians at a trade fair for over an hour, but he is still eager to discuss Africa's desperate need for aid.

He is also angry after visiting the run-down district of Nima in Ghana's coastal capital Accra. There, malaria runs rife, there is no running water, and the poverty-stricken residents have to pay to go to the toilet. "I got all kinds of mixed feelings. Agitation ...quite angry. I'm getting angrier as the day goes on. I cannot believe that this is a world I want to be part of," he said Tuesday.

"Nima is the real world. It's where the full force of the free market is being felt. I thought they should be throwing rocks at us," he said.

It was the end of a long day and the first of many. Bono is in Africa for a 10-day tour with U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. The trip is billed by the U.S. administration as a fact-finding mission, that comes on the heels of a new commitment to boost aid to Africa.

For the lead singer of U2, the trip is more like a mission.

"The aim of the trip is to show Secretary O'Neill effective aid and what it can do," he said. "These people in Africa don't have much time for us to dress up for the debate, as important as that may be."

Bono and O'Neill may be sharing a plane on their tour through Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia, but that does not mean they share opinions on how best to help these countries.

Bono acknowledges that he is learning from the silver-haired 66-year-old, who has criticized past anti-poverty programs in Africa, saying they failed to generate real development and so wasted billions of dollars.

"He's shown me stuff. The trade fair was his idea. He believes in private enterprise. I've explained to him that in some parts of Africa people are too sick to be part of the work force. There is a poverty trap," he said.

O'Neill did not visit Nima with Bono. He was giving a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce, but the duo will be together again on Wednesday, flying to the northern town of Tamale to talk to villagers.

The pragmatic O'Neill says he is in Africa not to preach but to listen. However, he does already have some strong ideas about what needs to be done.

"I think that the solution to poverty is jobs," he told the American Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. "I'm more interested myself in seeing that funds flow where opportunity is going to be created."

After his visit to Nima, Bono was more concerned with what he called human rights - the right to clean water, and to primary education. He says that until these rights are assured, debt forgiveness for poor countries must continue.

"Whilst these are not available, we should not, must not and cannot collect these old debts. We must make sure in terms of trade that there is a level playing field," he said.

The 42-year-old pop icon has long campaigned to get the Group of Eight top industrial countries to provide greater debt relief for the world's poorest countries. He is the co-founder of the DATA - Debt, Trade, Aid for Africa.

During his first day in Ghana, Bono told President John Kufuor that he was a fan of the country, and its "dignified and smart" people.

"Ghana is in a position to leap ahead. If it doesn't and if the international community doesn't bring common sense and cash to bear, all the good will you see latent in the people will be taken advantage of by other extremist philosophers that will turn us into their enemies," he said later.

The fact that Bono is such an outspoken advocate for aid does not seem to have dampened his star appeal. At the trade fair, people were thrilled to have their photos taken with him, and others shyly asked for autographs.

"He's a rock star, and people get very excited when you go places with him," O'Neill said. "But he is also very smart and he cares about people a lot."

Smart and straight-talking. Bono was blunt about what he ultimately wants.

"It's time for action and I am convinced that we will see a historic initiative on AIDS within a year. I am confident we will see debts of countries performing well against corruption further canceled or fully canceled ... and a serious increase in aid," he said.


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