Odd Couple' Differ On Aid to Africa
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
May 29, 2002
Posted to the web May 29, 2002
Irish rock star Bono and US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, currently visiting Ethiopia, were at odds on Wednesday over aid to Africa.
Bono called for rich nations to stop imposing massive trade barriers and offering huge subsidies for farmers, as this had a crippling effect on impoverished African countries. But the treasury secretary said that huge subsidies for US farmers were here to stay - at least in the short term.
The pair - who have been described as the Odd Couple - are on the last leg of a four-nation African tour which also took in
Ghana, Uganda and South Africa.
Bono - whose real name is Paul Hewson - said: "I think it was really wrong-headed of the United States to demand for others what it won't accept for itself. You are telling countries like Ethiopia and Ghana and Uganda that they can't have trade subsidies, but at the same time putting US $85 billion in trade subsidies in the farming sector of the United States - that is not really a level playing field."
But O'Neill, speaking afterwards at a press conference, said the US had opened up its markets to some 1,800 products from
Africa. "In an ideal world there are no trade barriers in the world," he said. "In the longer term that is the direction we want to be headed."
President Bush signed a US $190 billion farm bill on 13 May raising subsidies for grain and cotton growers in midwestern and southern US states.
"As we look at Africa we note that one of the things that is true among the countries of Africa is that the trade and the tariff barriers between them are high and represent significant barriers to internal development," O'Neill said. "We are here because we care, we are here to listen and learn. We found on our trip that the problems and challenges for Africa are substantial."
"Compassion is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't improve people's lives by itself," he added. "So when I have been critical of what has gone on before it is not because I don't want to invest a lot in improving people's lives, but I know the difference between caring greatly and succeeding greatly.
Bono - who heads the rock group U2 - said Africa was at "Ground Zero" from where the continent could be rebuilt. He added that without massive aid, countries descended into conflict which could then lead to famine.
"We saw what happens if you don't give people a right to clean water or access to education," said Bono, who came to Ethiopia during the 1985 famine. "Of course conflict was one of the main reasons for the Ethiopian famine in 1985."
But he added: "It feels like Ethiopia has turned a corner and we are just here to listen and learn on how we can find a new partnership."
He said it was up to celebrities to try and draw attention to the plight of poor countries and then politicians could act. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we could affect some kind of change," he stated.
The pair end their trip on Friday.
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