Why Bono Should Have Stayed Home
June 5, 2002

Maria Tomchick

Bono has been in Africa, touring villages, schools, and hospitals with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and a handful of reporters. The goal is to educate O'Neill -- and the US public via the press -- about the state of Africa's poor and what the US government and world financial institutions can do to help alleviate poverty.

Bono's wants financial institutions to forgive the debts of Third World countries. But while he posed for the cameras and asserted that it would take "billions of dollars" to feed and educate African children, his traveling companion, Paul O'Neill, fatuously remarked, "I think if people understood they could give six copies of Dr. Seuss and every child could have one...that translates better than saying give us more money."

It's an uphill battle when you're dealing with a former Alcoa executive whose pension alone pays him almost a million dollars a year.

If Bono had only stayed home, he could have been doing a lot of productive things. For example:

Bono could have lobbied against the Farm Bill. George Bush signed the Farm Bill in mid-May, sending $180 billion to US farmers and multinational agribusiness corporations. Some of those corporations include Fortune 500 companies: Archer Daniels Midland, Kimberly-Clark, Boise Cascade, Chevron, DuPont, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., Georgia Pacific, Westvaco, and many others.

For the first time in history, the formula for distributing the aid has no upper limit, so the bigger the farm or corporation, the bigger the subsidy. It's a direct incentive to expand, add more acres, and produce more food. But the reason farmers in the US need subsidies in the first place is that there's already too much food being produced all over the world, which has driven down worldwide food prices. Low prices have driven a lot of family farmers--both here and in the Third World--out of business.

It's a vicious circle, and there's only one way to end it: halt subsidies to large farms and multinational corporations, and use that $180 billion to subsidize family farms, both here and in the Third World.

Bono could have met with Bill Gates. The world's richest man recently hooked up with the UN's World Food Program to donate money to multinational food companies, including Kraft, Procter & Gamble, and H.J. Heinz. The Gates Foundation--the largest private foundation in the US and probably the world--is donating $50 million to lobby Third World governments to relax their food certification policies and to remove tariffs on imported foods. Some of the money will pay for advertising pre-packaged foods to "create a market" for them in nations that currently rely on locally grown food. What will food companies need to do to earn this help? They'll have to add a few vitamins to their food. Fortified ketchup, Tang, and Cheez Whiz are some of the products Bill Gates wants African children to consume every day.

Bono has met with His Hi-Tech Holiness before; maybe next time he could give Bill Gates a little lesson on the importance of fruits and vegetables.

Bono could have brought world attention to the UN's recent obesity study. In mid-May, just after Bill Gates announced his intention to hook the world on fortified Kool-Aid, the World Food Program announced that obesity is a growing epidemic all over the world. They're not just talking about the US and Europe. Every country that's in the process of industrializing -- that has a growing urban population -- has an obesity problem. It's because urban people everywhere eat too much ketchup, Cheez Whiz, and other foods that are heavily processed, fatty, high in salt, and full of sugar. Krispy Kreme, anyone?

Bono could have helped kick the foundation out from under the WTO. Who enforces trade rules that make it impossible for Third World governments to close their markets to imported junk foods? Three little words: World Trade Organization. Maybe the anti-globalization folks have a point, Bono. The least you could do is raise a few dollars for them; it wouldn't take billions, you know.

Bono could have exposed the World Bank and IMF as anti-farm, anti-family, and inhumane. If the WTO stops nations from keeping cheap junk food out of their markets, the World Bank and IMF keep those same countries from implementing land reform policies that would help small family farmers. Just the mention of the words "land reform" is enough to send the financial elite into paroxysms. Just ask Hugo Chavez.

Bono could have lobbied the UN and the US government to support democratically elected governments all over the world and urged them to implement and enforce international anti-corruption and financial transparency laws. Just cancelling the debts of Third World nations is not enough. Who ran up those debts in the first place? I'm sure Bono on his trip has seen more than a couple of African dictators living in splendor with their private jets, chauffeured limousines, silk suits, and platinum wristwatches. We can forgive the debts of Third World dictatorships, but these guys will run it up again and pocket the dough. There are ways to make it hard for dictators to come to power, stay there, loot their countries, and hide the money in Swiss bank accounts. If we can freeze terrorism funds, surely we can find Nigeria's lost oil money.

And, lastly, Bono could have written some political music. Meaningful political change comes from the bottom up, usually through a broad social movement. Artists are often in the vanguard -- among the first folks to broadcast what people are saying, feeling, needing, and demanding. Bono, you've written political songs before. Why so quiet now?