In 2005, at the G8 summit in Scotland, Bono and Bob Geldof heaped praise on Tony Blair and George Bush, who were still mired in the butchery they had initiated in Iraq. But this is worse. As the UK chairs the G8 summit again, a campaign that Bono founded, with which Geldof works closely, appears to be whitewashing the G8's policies in Africa.
The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched in the US when it chaired the G8 meeting last year. The alliance is pushing African countries into agreements that allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets. Ignoring the voices of their own people, six African governments have struck deals with companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont, Syngenta, Nestlé and Unilever, in return for promises of aid by the UK and other G8 nations. A wide range of activists, both African and European, is furious about the New Alliance. But Bono’s organisation stepped up to defend it. The article it wrote last week was remarkable in several respects: in its elision of the interests of African leaders and those of their people, in its exaggeration of the role of small African companies, but above all in failing even to mention the injustice at the heart of the New Alliance.
The Irish scholar Harry Browne maintains that "for nearly three decades as a public figure, Bono has been … amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful". His approach to Africa is "a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete". Bono, Browne charges, has become "the caring face of global technocracy".
Bono claims to be "representing the poorest and most vulnerable people". But Bono and others like him have seized the political space which might otherwise have been occupied by the Africans about whom they are talking. Because Bono is seen by world leaders as the representative of the poor, the poor are not invited to speak. This works very well for everyone – except them.
Bono’s ONE campaign claims to work on behalf of the extremely poor. But its board is largely composed of multimillionaires, corporate aristocrats and US enforcers. Here you will find Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state, who aggressively promoted the Iraq war, instructed the CIA that it was authorised to use torture techniques and browbeat lesser nations into supporting a wide range of US aims. Here too is Larry Summers, who was chief economist at the World Bank during the darkest days of structural adjustment and who, as US Treasury secretary, helped to deregulate Wall Street, with such happy consequences for the rest of us. Here's Howard Buffett, who has served on the boards of the global grain giant Archer Daniels Midland as well as Coca-Cola and the food corporations ConAgra and Agro Tech. Though the main focus of ONE is Africa, there are only two African members. One is a mobile phone baron, the other is the finance minister of Nigeria, who was formerly managing director of the World Bank. What better representatives of the extremely poor could there be? Yet ONE keeps telling you that it's a "grassroots campaign."
His positioning of the West as the saviour of Africa while failing to discuss the harm the G8 nations are doing has undermined campaigns for justice and accountability, while lending legitimacy to the neo-liberal project. This collaboration of multimillionaires and technocrats looks more like a projection of US and corporate power. U2's complex web of companies, the financial arrangements of Bono's Product RED campaign and his investments through the private equity company he co-founded are all famously opaque. And it's not an overwhelming shock to discover that tax justice is absent from the global issues identified by ONE.