You know the saying, ‘when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’? Well, once again, we ‘voiceless’ Africans are being used as pawns in other peoples fight. Best selling author and Guardian newspaper contributor George Monbiot penned a piece in the publication that induced waves of disgust to wash over me.
The article, ‘Bono can’t help Africans by stealing their voice’, is scathing to the extreme. The author calls the pop star a land grabber, a muzzler of African voices and a front for Western business interests. All in all, if Mr.Monbiot is to be believed, Bono is cross between British colonialist Cecil Rhodes and Heart of Darkness’s Mr Kurtz. A very bad man.
He writes that Bono and his ONE campaign has ‘ seized the political space which might otherwise have been occupied by the Africans about whom they are talking’. Funny enough, the African leaders and businesspeople who ARE working with Bono are Uncle Tom-ish in their devotions to the western way of doing things.
He accuses six African governments of “ignoring the voices of their own people”, to strike 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”. He goes on to undermine the two African members of Bono’s ONE campaign, Mo Ibrahim and Nigeria’s Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, insinuating that they can’t represent Africa’s poor because they aren’t poor themselves.
Before I begin, I must state that I have my own issues with the Bonos’ and Madonnas’ of this world. While I believe that their hearts are in the right place (at least most times anyway), their real impact on the ground in negligible to say the least. This is true, not only for the pop stars, but almost any kind of NGO on the continent. While these NGO’s, campaigns and what not, are able to change a few lives I must admit, they are unable to lift entire countries out of poverty. Only the state is able to. so, I am certainly not on Bono’s side. However, I am certainly not on Monbiot’s either.
He’s right to say that that Bono can’t help Africans by stealing our voices, but in his article, Monbiot is guilty of doing the same. While he attacks Bono for not having enough Africans on his NGO’s board of governors, even the two Africans on it are not African enough for his taste. Why? Because they are rich, powerful and successful? Who are the ‘real Africans’ that you want on the board? The illiterate, starving, jigger-infested type that you see on television? This reminds me of the time that I was accused of not being a ‘real’ Rwandan by a foreigner friend of mine during a debate about rural development. I was too “North American” (read civilized) in their opinion to understand what the average villager went through.
Well, as an ‘African voice’ I would like to respond to Mr. Monbiot. I would love it if companies like Monsanto, Dupont, Nestlé and Unilever came to Rwanda (with or without promises of aid). In fact, if RDB got even one of them to invest in Rwanda I would do a jig of celebration. I honestly wouldn’t mind Monsanto’s entry into our market. Our agricultural export sector would grow as a result and so would our tax receipts as a result.
Those companies have made the West rich, why should they be stopped from doing the same here? Are we doomed to have hectares and hectares of arable land that isn’t exploited because we must remain ‘pristine’? I’m sure that is what Monbiot and other western liberals wish. That way they can fly in, travel across our countries in air conditioned cars, take pictures of themselves holding snot-covered children and marvel at the ‘primitiveness’ of it all. All before flying back home to live their comfortable lives. To them I say, thanks and no thanks. We know what we want. Sorry if it’s not yours or Mr. Bono’s version of Africa, Mr. Monbiot.