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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Doing the Grand Tour in Africa
The same experience .. but differing views
The same experience .. but differing views

They are an improbable pair: Paul O'Neill, the hard-nosed corporate chief executive turned US Treasury Secretary and Bono, the flamboyant Irish rock star. They have been called the odd couple during their tour of four countries in Africa.

Beneath the diverging appearances, there is apparently some agreement - that Africa's problems need to be tackled quickly.

US Treasury Secretary O'Neill: weighing the aid options
US Treasury Secretary O'Neill: weighing the aid options
And they both think that this can be the African century, the period in which Africa makes a decisive step forward.

The Continent is indeed due to be the leading item on the agenda for the summit of the G8 group of leading powers in Canada in late June.

Mr O'Neill's trip is in part a fact-finding exercise on behalf of his political master, President George W Bush.

Wasteful aid

But they didn't resolve their differences over development aid.

Mr O'Neill went to Africa convinced that vast amounts of financial assistance have been wasted.

African coffee bean factory, Ethiopia
What's the best development path?
He seems to be have had those views reinforced. In Uganda he was clearly perplexed to see that clean water is a priority, that aid has been going into the country for years and yet few have access to water they can drink safely.

In South Africa he was outraged that HIV /AIDS programmes weren't treating more victims with medicines.

He was, by all accounts, moved by what he saw. He just remained sceptical about the role of aid in improving things.

Bono, by contrast, went to Africa wanting to help get African hands on more US money.

In fact, the US Administration did relent a bit at the summit on Financing for Development in the Mexican city of Monterrey. But he wants the US to dig much deeper into its pockets.

Rash of visits

Africa's economic development needs are getting a lot of high level attention.

The head of the World Bank James Wolfensohn is going in July. The Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who is the current G8 Chair, has been another pre-summit fact finding mission.

Bono met Mandela to mobilise support
Bono met Mandela to mobilise support
And the International Monetary Fund boss, Horst Koehler was there in April.

His was a lower profile visit. He met heads of state but much of his time was taken up in working meetings with officials, bankers, business people and other social groups.

Like Mr O'Neill and Bono, he too professed to be convinced that Africa can turn the corner.

Not overnight, but he insisted that the internationally agreed millennium development goals for tackling poverty mostly by 2015 can be achieved.

Summit debate

When the G8 leaders get down to discussing Africa in their Canadian mountain retreat they will be well armed with facts about the Continent.

But will they interpret them in the same way?

Probably not when it comes to the question of large increases in aid budgets.

But they do have a broad agenda that they spelt out at last year's summit in Genoa in Italy: an agenda of encouraging the private sector, integrating into the global economy, and improved, less corrupt and more democratic political institutions.

They are hoping to convince the African leaders -some of whom will be invited to the summit - that this is the best path to African development.

See also:

31 May 02 | Africa
25 May 02 | Entertainment
22 May 02 | Africa
03 Feb 02 | Entertainment
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