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O'Neill, Bono Prepare for Economic Tour of Africa - 2002-05-18


Two months ago, President Bush announced plans for a $5 billion increase in U.S. aid to African countries that encourage private enterprise and take concrete steps to stem corruption and human rights abuses. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, along with anti-poverty activist Bono from the rock group U2, are about to visit sub-Saharan Africa to get a first look at where and how this money can best be invested.

The Bush Administration is hoping this odd alliance between rock star and Treasury Secretary will not only attract added publicity among young, politically active people but will also help draft some clear guidelines for spending hundreds of millions of dollars in increased U.S. aid.

The music television network MTV will be covering the trip.

In March, President Bush announced what he called a new compact for global development, in which the United States would pledge as much as $5 billion in additional aid to African countries that agree to invest in their own people through good government and free markets.

A year after Secretary of State Colin Powell went there, Treasury Secretary O'Neill will travel across Africa, meeting with leaders in government and industry in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia. "If we don't demand results, we are not doing our jobs on behalf of compassionate taxpayers who want to help alleviate poverty. Nor are we serving the poor who struggle for an opportunity to improve their own lives," he says. "Compassion requires that we be hard minded."

The Bush administration credits U2's Bono with having a deep knowledge of the issues. Treasury Secretary O'Neill hopes to return from this trip with ideas about how and where new aid can best be put to use on a continent where corruption, poverty and the spread of aids are virtually inescapable.

President Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton was credited with being the most involved American president in Africa since Jimmy Carter. But for many Africans, increased aid and attention, as well as new laws passed by Congress that reduce trade barriers to African goods have yet to translate into tangible results.

Julius Mucunguzi is a senior reporter at "The Monitor", an independent daily newspaper in Uganda. "Colin Powell was here the other time. And we don't seem to see much really that comes out of it for people who should benefit. We need more than just the coming in of foreigners. We need to transform our economy," he says. "We need to make sure that we put people in government who are accountable. Uganda is still ranked very high on the charts of the most corrupt countries, at least according to the recent report by Transparency International."

Whether a Republican administration with strong ties to corporate America can succeed in generating more reform and private sector investment in the world's poorest continent is far from certain. But Herman Cohen, who served as the top diplomat for Africa during the first Bush presidency, already senses a shift in priorities. "Clinton's tendency was to be more generous and include everybody. But with Bush it's going to be generous but selective," he says. "These countries have all established a very good track record so what O'Neill is going to do is (say) I like Ghana because they've set up a good atmosphere for a private sector. The new president comes out of the private sector. Same thing for South Africa, Ethiopia, they've all done a good job on economic policy."

Secretary O'Neill and U2's Bono begin their trip to Africa in Ghana Tuesday.