Bono portrayed as no do-gooder
Bono. Picture: AP

When Bono aka Paul Hewson aka U2's frontman became a global rock phenomenon and was listed as the world's richest musician in 2012, he had accomplished this enormous feat in tandem with becoming the embodiment of celebrity philanthropy.

Bono became best mates with presidents, prime ministers and prime real estate developers to make Africa his charity heartland as he preached the gospel of making poverty history.

Yes, one man came in the name of love and did all that. Or did he?

In his new book The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) US-born Dublin academic and former journalist Harry Browne has penned a dense polemic about Bono, his band and his rise in the world politics and corporate boardrooms.

He contends that through his charitable One Foundation for Africa and Red campaign, Bono is not only not helping - he's making matters worse.

Browne argues that as Bono advocates for Africa's poverty he embraces neo-liberal solutions with the likes of shock-doctrine economist Jeffry Sachs, at the same time pursuing his own multinational business interests.

What seems to be the case, argues Browne, is that Bono, even with his glow of humanity, is effectively an ambassador of economic exploitation serving the already rich and powerful.

It's not a new idea. Bono has long copped a hiding from African scholars who suggest positioning Africa as a place into which paternalistic charity can be poured, perpetuates financial dependency and disengages local initiative.

African scholar Dambisa Moyo has this view on why Africa remains in the grip of murderous poverty: "I believe it's largely aid. You get the corruption - historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty - and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people."

The most public Bono boo-boo is arguably U2's move in 2006, on the back of the mammoth Live 8 concert to "make poverty history", to move most of their tax liability from Ireland to Amsterdam after his native country revised the tax laws so U2 could no longer avoid paying royalties. This resulted in musician Sinead O'Connor spitting: "I pay my taxes in Ireland, Bozo."

Asked how Bono has responded to Browne's book, the latter replies: "There was a line in the London Independent in May that said rather than sue, Bono was going to get his celebrity friends to challenge my book and quotes Bill Clinton. I am delighted he's not going to sue but the book has been very carefully researched, written honestly and accurately. And a lawyer went through it with a fine-tooth comb."

The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) is published by Verso ($22.95).

The West Australian

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