Make Bono History
How You Can Help Defeat the World’s Biggest Celebrity Activist in Seven Easy Steps
(Reading this blog is Step One)
The equation, to me, seems to go something like this…
1. Celebrity activist (Bono, Geldof, Jolie, Clooney etc.) visits an orphanage / refugee camp / medical clinic somewhere in Africa and ‘is moved’ or ‘deeply touched’ or ‘falls in love’ with Africa
2. Celebrity then raises awareness of favourite issue (and in process their own profile), through benefit concerts, ‘campaigning’ (cups of tea at Downing Street, Whitehouse or Geneva) or pretentious online video – (www.edun.com)
3. General public, now aware of issue, act (donate money, buy wristbands, join Facebook group)
4. World (Africa) saved!!!
If only it was so easy.
Paul Hewson, the man who calls himself Bono and fronts the self described ‘biggest in band the world’, U2, is the unofficial face of celebrity activism. In the same way McDonalds take full force of fast food haters, Nike’s swoosh became the symbol of third world labour exploitation and Shell are continually associated with environmental vandalism, Bono and his Armani sunglasses are the image of celebrity activism.
The news coming from East Africa this month is the all too familiar and awful story of drought, crop failures and high food prices. An estimated 10 million people will require assistance across Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda. The past twelve months have been the driest in the region since 1951, even worse than in 1984, when Ethiopia was struck down by the drought and famine which in many ways continues to represent Africa’s international image. How long will it be until Bono and his team of celebrity superheroes are back on our screens demanding more to done and given to help Africa?
Advocates of Bono will defend him, arguing he creates awareness, rallies world leaders and raises millions for causes such as AIDS and poverty. Fair enough, on the surface all worthwhile activities, but the devil is in the detail and the man who lectures the world on morality should perhaps not throw so many stones inside his glass house.
Tax – It is no secret that in 2006 U2 Ltd. moved their business to Holland. The announcement came one day after the Irish government declared all artists who earned over 250,000 Euros per year were required to pay taxes on them. U2’s earnings in the financial year 2009/10 were a disgusting $130 million (Forbes.com). The tax U2 would have paid on that amount would have gone a long way to helping the poor in their home country, which not long after fell on hard economic times.
If U2 Ltd. wants to relocate their business overseas so they can earn more money that is fine. As a business decision it is sound and while the morals are questionable, it is not illegal. However Bono should not be lecturing everyone else about helping the world’s poor when he and his band mates are tax dodgers, depriving their own country of much needed funds for schools, hospitals and public works.
Edun – Together with his wife Ali, Bono established Edun, nude backwards and a reference to the garden, purity. Edun is a for-profit clothing line, set up with the aim of ‘…creating a global fashion brand, making beautiful clothing whilst committing to developing trade with Africa and encouraging others to do the same’ (Edun.com). The Edun website is littered with references to Africa. However, behind the shiny exterior lies the truth.
In 2009 as the business began to lull, so too did Bono and Ali’s commitment to Africa. Most of Edun’s production was shipped overseas to guess where – China. In 2010 ‘[t]he vast majority of the fashion collection, accounting for about 70% of overall production, [came from] Asia, with the remainder coming from Peru,’ and ‘[a]bout 85% of the sales of clothing-maker Edun’s 2010 fashion line came from items that were made in China and Peru, while 15% were made in Africa…’. After hitting economic difficulties Ali Hewson stated ‘“We focused too much on the mission in the beginning. It’s the clothes, it’s the product. It’s a fashion company. That needs to be first and foremost,” Ms. Hewson says. “The aesthetic we always knew would be important…but we didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to achieve quality.”’ Plain and simple, the business of making money comes first and Bono and Ali are flexible on there so called commitment to Africa.
If Bono was such as expert on Africa, as he purports to be, he should have known there would be difficulties in production, time management and imitations. If Bono and Edun were truly committed to Africa as they claim to be, they should have invested properly in the continent, set up factories, fair work conditions, production systems and the like, but hard work like that is not as sexy as buying an $800 jacket in Manhattan with an ‘African’ connection.
Bono and Ali continue to exploit the image of Africa on the Edun website to sell their brand. Nowhere is China or Peru mentioned. They should hang their heads in shame by continuing to abuse the image of Africa to make their fortunes.
Spokesman for the world – How do the voices of political leaders, civil society, economists, business leaders, grass roots activists and NGO’s in a continent of more than fifty countries and around one billion people become usurped by a middle aged rock star with silly sunglasses and a cowboy hat?
If Bono truly cares about development in Africa he should parading the world, sipping tea with world leaders, staging awareness concerts with his mate Bob Geldof (incidentally, were you ‘aware’ U2 released How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb in November 2004, Live 8 was staged in July 2005, the album – and it’s four singles – were number 1 all across the world… convenient or a worthy album? Hmmm…) and take a back seat.
Bono should take a step back and let Africans speak for themselves. Has Bono ever thought there might be intelligent, articulate and strong Africans who can speak for themselves? Has he ever considered promoting the views of these people instead of himself? Has he ever thought there may be opposing voices to his coming from Africans themselves? One of Bono’s key arguments is for a seemingly never ending increase in aid. The call to stop, or at least revise, aid in Africa is a growing one. After 60 odd years, pouring billions upon billions into Africa, it is reasonable to ask how effective aid has been. The focus should be Africa, not what Bono says about Africa.
But Bono will not do any of this, for he is a performer, an artist and a showman. I might add he is very good at all these which is fine, for a rock star. However, to reduce poverty, fight AIDS and produce real change in Africa he needs to learn it takes more than grand statements (Make Poverty History, pg 31, 53, 59), pretentious videos (Edun.com) and 10 day listening’ tours of Africa. Change in Africa is slow, hard and for the most part unsexy work. Not Bono’s forte.
Usurping and trivialising the issues – celebrity activism, of which Bono is the face, often becomes more about the celebrity than the issue. The focus should be on the issues – poverty, AIDS, women’s rights, slavery, FGM, drought, globalisation etc, not on Bono, Geldof, Jolie, Clooney and Pitt. No matter how good their intentions, by continually ‘raising awareness’ they overshadow, trivialise and usurp the issues. “Unless these types of issues become pop, they don’t become political,” Bono says. “As a performer, I understand it takes a picture of me with the Pope or a president to get debt cancellation on to the front pages. Otherwise it’s just too obscure a melody line.” It is not and does not have to be this way. The anti globalisation movement, many environmental groups, refugee groups, fair labour advocates and other civil society groups made great strides in the 1990’s without turning their issues into taglines or ‘pop’. Even groups in the South can reach global audiences without simplifying their cause, the red shirts in Thailand, Zapatistas in Mexico and Burmese democracy groups are just three examples. Wearing plastic bracelets, rocking out at benefit concerts and joining Facebook groups are not concrete steps in addressing and ending the ills of the world. If collective middle class goodwill could solve the world’s problems, then maybe.
All of these issues are serious, complex and interconnected. Why should celebrities be the face of these issues? Why should celebrities be debating these issues in the mainstream and with world leaders? Why should we be lectured to by filthy rich tax dodgers like Bono about the plight of the worlds poor? If they really care and want to do something, invest (properly and honestly) in Africa, or go and work in Africa, or take a step back and create spaces for Africans to speak for themselves.
The Debt – Bono is arguably most famous for his ‘role’ in the Jubilee 2000 / Drop the Debt campaigns, advocating the cancellation of third world debt. Once again this master showman has been able to hijack the issue and make it Bono’s personal debt cancellation mission. An outsider could be forgiven for thinking Bono was the brains and driver behind the campaign. The argument to cancel third world debt has been around for decades. It reached it’s zenith in the build up to the year 2000, after years of advocacy and tough ground work by grass roots organisations all across the world. There are arguments on both sides debating the morality, reality and responsibility of all parties involved, however, as always these are overshadowed by one man and the issue continues to take a backseat to Bono.
Read more – To read more about Bono, the cult of celebrity activism and related issues, here are some more articles…
The Rock Star’s Burden (Paul Theroux) – http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/19/opinion/19iht-edtheroux.html
On Edun (Wall Street Journal) – http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704358904575478310504593870.html
On Geldof (The Age / Guardian) – http://www.theage.com.au/world/a-crusading-knight-gallops-into-battle-20100403-rko2.html
The 2011 famine in Somalia, covered by a fashion ‘journalist’ (Guardian) – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/01/liz-jones-somalia-famine
Comparing Lennon and Bono (The Age) – http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/music/imagine-theres-no-rebels-20101218-191en.html
Jubilee Debt Campaign – http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/Discussion forum – http://www.politicalworld.org/showthread.php?t=8622
Tax cheat (ArtUncut) – http://www.artuncut.org.uk/blog/
Celebrity activism (Guardian) – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/26/celebrity-ambassadors-charities-debate
Bono (Mail Online) – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-400188/St-Bono-hypocrite.html
Tax cheat – http://www.counterpunch.org/browne02272009.html