This post is part of a series of posts from TEDAfrica in 2007. It doesn’t make much sense without reading this earlier post on a talk by Andrew Mwenda at the same conference.
The second session opens with a remarkable piece of film, an excerpt from a stop-motion animation titled, “Only the Hand that Erases Can Write the True Thing”. It’s a haunting and moving piece, but i’s a bit jarring before we move into the rest of the session, which opens as a rebuttal of the first session.
Bono is the first speaker for the second session and he comes bringing greetings from Chancellor Angela Merkel, a video greeing that connects the G8’s meeting with TED’s meeting. She’s meeting with leaders of NEPAD and with President John Kufuor. She acknowledges dramatic African developments – the reduction in armed conflict, a 5% growth rate in several nations, an increase in the number of democracies on the continent. Yet, there’s still dreadful poverty, irregularities in Nigeria’s elections, and the ongoing situations in Zimbabwe and Darfur.
Bono takes the stage afterwards and says, “Try telling Chancellor Merkel that the Marshal plan was a load of crap.” He notes that Germany has been spending 4% of its economy to enable reunification. “Germans know better than anyone in the world how aid can work.” And he argues that the Marshall plan is “the best example of America intervening in a strategic way.”
Bono’s talk is a response to the “Mwenda plan” – a reference to Andrew Mwenda’s critique of foreign aid. He says he’s not sure there is a plan, and accuses Mwenda, in a swipe, of being a comedian – getting a laugh by pointing to the thing in the room no one will talk about. He argues that the money Mwenda complains about – $600 billion in the past 30-40 years – is really a very small amount of money, about $14 dollars per African over the past 50 years. (That doesn’t sound right to me – with $600 billion given and a current continental population of 900 million points to $600-700 per living African… but I don’t have historical population figures…)
The cold war was fought in Africa, Bono reminds us, and that we bear responsibility for supporting kleptocracies like Mobutu’s regime – “I don’t think its charity to not ask Mobutu’s grandchildren to pay it back.” He talks about his work on DATA – “Debt, AIDS and Trade Africa”, which he tells us can also be read as “Democracy and Transparency for Africa.” He explains that this came about through his attempts to get a meeting with George W. Bush. Meeting with Paul O’Neill, he confronted an ALCOA alum who’d done business in Africa, a realist who told him, “You’re crazy if you are asking for money so African leaders can decorate presidential palaces.”
The resulting conversations led to the Millenium Challenge Account, which has helped turn US aid from a historic low of 0.1%, half of which had gone to Israel and Egypt… and Bono argues that MCA is all about starting businesses.
Investment in Ireland has led to a very poor country becoming one of the wealthiest in the world. The key factor is a highly educated population. “I was educated by the state – there are some public goods worth spending for today.” He congratulates the US for writing a big check – $30 billion – and for enabling debt cancellation, which is letting 20 million people go to school.”I don’t want to be a defender of Museveni, but there are three times as many children going to school because of debt cancellation.”
Bono fields a couple of questions, two of them quite hostile. One notes, “a certain portrayal as Africans as unable to think, empty,” an accusation that clearly stings. Bono responds that he’s clearly done a poor job of showing his esteem for the continent, and notes, “I don’t think about Africans in any other way than I think about irish people.” A question from Derrick Ashong about how Africa can leverage its cultural patrimony gets a happier response: he notes that Irish culture isn’t a northern European culture, and that many traditional Irish melodies can be traced directly to Morocco – he illustrates with a short piece of song. “There’s a definite African heritage, a connection between Celtic and Coptic culture.” He leaves the stage to a standing ovation.