Bono, the U2 rock star, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and he is a credible candidate. But we have a better idea on how best to recognize his effective lobbying on behalf of African development -- Bono should be named the next president of the World Bank.
Don’t be fooled by the wraparound sunglasses and the excess hipness. Bono is deeply versed in the issues afflicting the least-developed nations of the world, as former Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill learned when he traveled the continent with the musician.
O’Neill, an uber-wonk, came back singing Bono’s praises. Bono even brought ultra-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms to tears by relating poverty in Africa to passages in the Bible.
Bono may not have a PhD in economics, but he’d have plenty of real economists around the bank to consult. Bono is the most eloquent and passionate spokesman for African aid in the Western world. And given that both ex-President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have in recent years made Africa one of their focuses, that’s saying something.
Bono led the Drop the Debt campaign in 2000, seeking to forgive billions in loans to the Third World, and in 2002 he co-founded Debt, AIDS and Trade in Africa, a serious group that seeks to raise awareness of Africa’s problems and lobby governments to help solve them. It could hardly ask for a better spokesman than its founder, whose fame has helped open doors that other lobbyists spend decades trying to crack.
Bono could enhance the World Bank’s image and sell its poverty-reduction mission far more effectively than the other deserving candidates being mentioned for the job, which traditionally goes to an American -- a tradition that deserves to be broken, even if not in favor of the Irish rock star.
For one thing, Bono could mobilize public opinion in favor of getting rich nations to abide by their commitments to development aid, which they rarely meet.
The singer likes to tell the story of how he got interested in Africa after visiting Ethiopia following the Live Aid benefit for Ethiopian famine relief in 1984. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, he compared contemporary indifference to Africa’s plight with the indifference of some who saw Jews being herded away on trains during World War II. Surrounded by titans of industry at Davos, he also spoke of aid to Africa in terms of brand identity: Brand America is doing poorly around the world, he said, and spending more on poverty relief would help market the country and its products.
President Bush, who has a large say in who will get the job, should realize that Brand America and the branding of both the World Bank and development generally would benefit greatly if Bono gets the nod.