Friday, December 09, 2005

Bono and the Professor

Bono's credentials with the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy have held up remarkably well, due not least to his careful avoidance of partisan politics in the US. But the esteem is fraying. A couple of weeks ago the Wall Street Journal online was trafficking a story about Bono having a hat flown at a cost of nearly $2000 from London to Italy and Friday's print edition lumps him in with Jeffrey Sachs of the UN for wanting to hold Africa to low standards in terms of corruption rankings.

Sachs argues that poverty causes corruption and so that ratings of corruption should make allowance for levels of poverty. Since most of Africa is poor, by this standard most of Africa is not corrupt. The WSJ (subs. req'd) is not happy:

The report also gives the dangerous impression that corruption is under control -- as Irish rock star Bono also did recently on U.S. TV. "The bottom-line argument here in the U.S. is that people didn't believe [aid] was getting to the people that it was supposed to, because of corruption and stuff like that," he told Conan O'Brien this fall. "They didn't want their tax dollars redecorating presidential palaces. We've covered that now." Just like that.

Now the Journal sort of has a point, because Africa has experienced a fair bit of political regression recently, which could well undermine the benefit of aid. But there is the issue of the amount of money at stake in this debate relative to other things that the US is up to. For instance, in the same day's paper:

New U.S. embassy in Baghdad is 16% complete, a Senate report says. The 104-acre complex will include 21 buildings, swimming pool, food court and power station. The report concludes the complex is within its $592 million budget and ahead of schedule for June 2007 completion.

A very large and suspiciously self-sufficient "diplomatic" facility for a country that's supposed to be almost ready to have the stabilisers taken off, as Dubya has been telling the people recently. It seems therefore that Africa's problem in fact is that its presidents aren't bad enough to attract the big bucks that come with getting deposed by the US.

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