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Bono, O'Neill end Africa tour, leaving Africans wondering what will change

Posted on Monday, June 03 @ 03:06:05 CEST by Macphisto

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Associated Press) -- The Irish rock star and the U.S. treasury secretary joked and argued their way across Africa for 12 days, raising awareness of the problems faced by the world's poorest continent.

U2's Bono, the passionate liberal wearing designer wraparound glasses, and Secretary Paul O'Neill, the pragmatic conservative in business suits, were nicknamed "the odd couple" as they visited African hospitals, schools and businesses.

Most of the people the pair met had never heard of either man, but they're happy for the attention and hope the high-profile trip brings more help for Africa's troubles. Those with experience dealing with the international community doubt it will.

"One cannot exaggerate the political significance of it because the key constituency O'Neill deals with is very different to the people Bono speaks to," said Yao Graham, coordinator at Third World Network (Africa). But, he added, it will take more than a tour "for the attitudes and views of the Bush administration on African problems to change."

The trip, which ended Thursday after stops in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia, was conceived after Bono cajoled a skeptical O'Neill into seeing for himself how Africa is affected by heavy debts, unfair trade rules and ineffective aid programs.

Throughout the tour, where they shook hands with AIDS victims and hugged orphans, the two debated and joked. O'Neill, 66, sometimes put his arm around Bono, 42, and described how they had bonded.

It was a serious trip, nonetheless.

At an Ethiopian coffee company, where workers earn less than a dollar a day, O'Neill and Bono discussed how the firm gets less than 2 cents for each pound of its coffee, a tiny fraction of what coffee sells for in the United States.

The rock star and the politician often disagreed on the best remedies, but both said they had benefited from the experience.

"I think everyone on this trip is going to be changed by it. He's (O'Neill) not the suit and tie you all tend to think he is. He has a hard head, but he also has a heart," Bono said.

The Irishman argued it's better to have a businessmen who wants results than a "liberal going back to the United States boohooing to the American public to dig their hands deeper into their pockets."

O'Neill was noncommittal about possible policy changes.

"I want the advantage of a week or 10 days to reflect on all of the many things we have seen" before trying to distill that into any advice for President Bush, he said. "We are determined that we are going to do whatever we can together to make a difference and make it fast."

During the trip, O'Neill was stung by media suggestions that he is uncaring, while Bono was hailed as the compassionate rock star.

"We feel the United States has totally distorted African development, whereas people like Bono, he's trying to find out what the people really need," said Opa Kapijimpanga, coordinator at the Zimbabwe-based African Forum for Debt and Development.

The fact that few Africans had heard of Bono was irrelevant, Kapijimpanga said.

"Anybody -- and it doesn't matter where they come from -- anybody who tries to push for a more democratic global system is welcome," he said. "We know for sure Bono is making an effort, but we know how rigid the north is."

Liberals tend to blame Africa's woes on colonial and Cold War policies, corrupt governments and trade rules that benefit rich nations over poor ones. Conservatives point to corruption, government meddling in economies and a lack of free markets.

Half the continent's 340 million people live on less than $1 a day. Experts say African economies would have to grow 7 percent a year to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015, but the chance of many succeeding is unlikely. Last year, the continent achieved overall growth of 3.4 percent.

Omar Kabbaj, president of the African Development Bank, said official development aid would have to at least double to meet those growth targets.

Foreign aid to Africa totaled $19 billion in 1990, but has fallen to $12.7 billion, said Jamie Drummond, spokesman for Bono's DATA advocacy group.

While Bono got more attention during the trip, most people realize it's O'Neill who will have the biggest influence on U.S. policy.

"For us I think the only interest is in the treasury secretary in terms of whether the United States can be persuaded to provide some more funding to Uganda," said Vincent Edoku, chairman of the Uganda Debt Network. "I heard about the treasury secretary but didn't know he was coming with that Bono man."

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