Bono: ‘The semi-official position of Cheeky Representative of A Lot of People in Africa.’
Bono has declared:
‘I represent a lot of people [in Africa] who have no voice at all…. They haven’t asked me to represent them. It’s cheeky but I hope they’re glad I do.’
I am not at all glad that you are representing Africa’s poor nor am surprised that yet another privileged white man has elected himself as the voice for poor Africans who obviously cannot speak for themselves. Never mind the millions of poor in South Africa leading the biggest strike since Apartheid to win better wages. Never mind the hundreds of grassroots movements throughout sub-Sahara Africa that are working to secure some level of sustainability. It is not that Africans have nothing to say, it is simply that no one is listening. And, why is no one listening? Because they are being distracted by a washed up rock star who has undemocratically trotted across Europe influencing unilateral decisions without bothering to consult with the people who will be affected by the great white hope.
The agency of many Africans is suppressed because people like Bono decide to marginalize these voices. Instead of challenging the power dynamic that relegates the voices of Africans to the periphery, he jumps right into the power mix and reifies this relationship and then pronounces that Africans have no voice as if he is disconnected from this reality. How wonderfully convenient and disgustingly pompous. The craziest thing about Bono is the way in which he attempts to position himself as some radical, as someone who has challenged the Western world. He has not challenged the Western world at all; he has just made it easier to ignore African voices and has further legitimized the outsourcing of international relations and economic policy to celebrities who have taken a patronizing and fetishized obsession with Africa. Maybe it is the trend to be a political celebrity, or maybe celebrities are bored, or maybe…(?) When trends escalate from a passing (yet, still insulting) fancy to a major deciding factor in the lives of Africa’s poor, that is when I have a problem.
Sokari wrote about this before, but really who died and made the washed-up Bono the representative for the poor and struggling in Africa. Speaking about the G8, Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill writes:
Who or what was this stately presence at Heiligendamm? It wasn’t a state at all, or even a pseudo-state like the Vatican. It was one Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, the sanctimonious wraparounds-wearing lead singer of a wrinkling Irish rock band that hasn’t made a decent album since 1987 (though I suppose 2000’s All That You Can Leave Behind was okay). He has gone from being the singer of really serious songs for Africa, who gyrated and screamed on the world stages provided by Live Aid in 1985 and Live 8 in 2005 to ‘raise awareness’ about African poverty, to the semi-official representative of the African poor, the widely recognised ‘conscience of Africa’ who is invited to put pressure on world leaders and hold them to account.
Bono’s view of G8 dominated much of the news coverage, with serious media outlets running headlines such as: ‘U2’s Bono: G8 Not Keeping Money Promises To Africa’; ‘G8 Africa Pledge Is A Smokescreen, Says Bono’; ‘G8 Reaffirms Aid To Africa; Bono, Geldof Say It’s Old Money’
Campaigning on African poverty is something that ‘gives me a sense of purpose, something to work for’, as a contributor to Bono’s Vanity Fair puts it (21). Or as Paul Theroux bitingly argues: ‘Because Africa seems unfinished and so different from the rest of the world, a landscape on which a person can sketch a new personality, it attracts mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth.’ (22)
I think Paul Theroux is spot-on! Africa is on the hot list because it is imagined as this mysterious and uncharted terrain upon which those in search of purpose or recognition can gain some sort of importance for having discovered, conquered or civilized.
Indeed, we could just as easily ask what earthly right the G8 itself has to discuss and determine what should happen in Africa’s poorest countries. Like Bono, no G8 leader has ever been elected by the nations of Africa.
Here O’Neil makes an excellent point. So in a lot of ways, Bono strategically inserts himself into the legion of unelected bodies who make decisions about Africa a) without any accountability to African people and b) without recognizing Africa as a heterogeneous space and Africans as people intelligent enough to speak up for themselves.
This nastiness of Bono is that it is not an isolated event, in fact O’Neill argues that it is ‘facilitated by the unholy marriage of politic that s and celebrity.’ He couldn’t be closer to the truth and Mick Hume speaks about this more in ‘When Celebrities rule the Earth.’ O’Neill calls Bono a ‘celebrity colonist.’ What is your take? I think such an appellation is too easy, hastily obscures some realities and segregates Bono’s actions from the larger picture. Colonialism was an economic, psychological and socio-spatial project that was not reliant on one lone pioneer, but rather dependent on an intricate network that works to facilitate the initial penetration, create myths and alternate realties to legitimize the said penetration, and is monopolized with the task of keeping the empire alive without explicit outposts. With that said, I think that Bono is a pompous and paternalistic character that has recast the century old narratives of the helpless Africa. However, I find that his actions are just what the doctor ordered. The way neo-colonial ties were maintained in the 90s are not the same way they are maintained today. So yes, most definitely we have a form of celebrity colonialism–a rather glamorized bastardization of old school colonialism, but our critique must move from a problemitizing of Bono to a complete problemitizing of the way Africa is cast, recast and marginalized in the global community–we must look at the ways in which white men have become the most important Africans.