Why are we still talking about Bono?

If an article starts with Bono, I’m inclined not to listen. I’m not sure why celebrities continue to hold the spotlight in being experts on poverty or development.

This morning I read an article by Bright Simmons of Ghana thinktank Imani, and Jammie Drummond of One.org entitled Africa: The Rise and the Rise of the African Factivists. The article both started and ended with Bono, and its middle was made up of indicators that Ghana is working its way out of poverty and into a lower-middle-class zone. The article hails the government’s transparency, oil income, and harnessing of diaspora power. But what the article doesn’t talk about are corruption rates that are seriously impeding progress, the inability of the government to pay its doctors and teachers a living wage, the extreme amount of oil income that actually leaves the country, and the fact that diaspora remittances are helpful on a case-by-case basis, but do not actually address structural causes and barriers of poverty.

Recognizing and celebrating successes is good, yes. But let’s also talk about the major challenges Ghana faces, such as the disproportionate foreign ownership of natural resources (eg oil and gold). It poses the question: what are Western indicators of development success versus actual indicators of success?

For example, in March Bill Gates posted Three Reasons Why I’m Excited About Ghana, a post that quickly went viral and included this graphic:

What gets Bill Gates going

So wait, what? You’re excited about a “strengthening democracy” and “free speech” but then show a photo of a journalist who won’t show his face because he fears for his life? Huh.

I’m also not sure why we should be excited about the fact that there are more mobile phones than people in Ghana, especially considering the e-waste hazard this creates, but again, SMS technology is a hot topic in the development world right now, and Bill Gates likes it, so it must be important.

It’s time to look beyond what is trendy and really get down and dirty and find out what is and isn’t working. And please, I beg, it’s time to stop quoting Bono.

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