Last week George Monbiot pretty much eviscerated Bono and ONE Campaign in his piece for the Guardian, charging that the Irish crooner and his organization claimed to represent the poor, but in doing so, stole their voice.
Bono claims to be “representing the poorest and most vulnerable people“. But talking to a wide range of activists from both the poor and rich worlds since ONE published its article last week, I have heard the same complaint again and again: that Bono and others like him have seized the political space which might otherwise have been occupied by the Africans about whom they are talking. Because Bono is seen by world leaders as the representative of the poor, the poor are not invited to speak. This works very well for everyone – except them.
The ONE campaign looks to me like the sort of organisation that John le Carré or Robert Harris might have invented. It claims to work on behalf of the extremely poor. But its board is largely composed of multimillionaires, corporate aristocrats and US enforcers. Here you will find Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush’s national security adviser and secretary of state, who aggressively promoted the Iraq war, instructed the CIA that it was authorised to use torture techniques and browbeat lesser nations into supporting a wide range of US aims.
Today, Michael Elliott, president and chief executive of the ONE Campaign shot back at Monbiot with what sounds like a grade school, “Nuh uh! No we don’t!” His entire defense of ONE’s practices rests on the fact that ONE has, not one but (2!) Africans on its Board. It’s African leadership team, which is separate from the core leadership, has more.
That’s not true. A case in point: just before the G8 summit we put together a meeting between David Cameron and African anti-corruption campaigners to argue the case against secrecy. Our board includes two of the most powerful African voices you could imagine: Mo Ibrahim, one of the world’s leading philanthropists; and Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Our African advisory board includes John Githongo, the anti-corruption campaigner, the musicians and activists Youssou N’Dour and Angelique Kidjo, and more. And we have just canvassed 200,000 citizens of three African nations on what the next development agenda should be – giving voice to those who are often ignored.
That Mo Ibrahim is one of the two Africans on this board isn’t surprising. He’s a billionaire who spends millions courting entrenched African despots to retire by dangling a $5 million dollar carrot in front of them. He’s rightfully earned his billions for sure, but to say he represents the voice of the marginalized is a stretch.
Here’s my take away from this fuzzy spat. Why does it not bother anyone that Africa’s development agenda is set by international organizations who are not shy about saying we make it possible for you to be heard at important meetings? We as Africans need to run our own organizations and set our own discourse agenda on the global stage. It is not enough to join someone else’s team. That’s what we’ve been doing for decades. We need to form our own effective leadership organizations. Last week I wrote about theft of agency and this part applies here.
Phycological appropriation is the master stroke of control and it is deployed by nearly all of development’s practitioners. The fact that there are few agencies built to run themselves out of business in the industry is testament to that continued reinvention of self in order to stay relevant and needed.
Mo Ibrahim and Ngonzi Okonjo-Iweala should be creating their own team with every token African on ONE’s Africa Leadership team and setting Africa’s future agenda. As Africans looking out for the future interests of our continent, our first priority should be making sure that we are fielding the best team possible and we can’t do that if we are sitting on someone else’s board, rubber stamping their ideas and solutions for the continent.