Dear Bono and Sir Bob
As an African woman from Senegal, I write this letter with some sadness. I have been following you both since I was a young girl living in Africa in the 1990s. I was a fan of your music too. It was amazing to follow your exploits as a young Senegalese girl. And it feels strange now to be writing this letter to you many years later.
Bob, I don’t know if you remember Jacques Bugnicourt, the founder of Enda Tiers Monde in Senegal. He was always talking about you. I was one of his executive assistants in Senegal and Paris.
Bono, I am well aware of your work and your passion for Africa. I have followed your videos, actions and speeches closely and I comment regularly on the One Blog.
I am not writing to criticize or be disrespectful. I really want to enter into a sincere dialogue and try to make you think differently about Africa.
Here is my problem
I know you want to help Africa and Africans, like millions of people around the world. I also know that you have African friends that you want to support in any way that you can. I know you are doing your best to get Africa in to the public eye and reaching out to world leaders to make them more aware of Africa’s problems, an influence that your money and connections buy you. But I and many other Africans now feel strongly that it is time for you to take less prominent roles and to leave space for us to speak for ourselves.
I am saddened and frustrated that you cannot see this for yourselves and that there appears to be nobody in your entourage who is making you understand. Perhaps you are so convinced that Africa needs your help that you are failing to see the bigger picture. The truth however is that you are making yourselves unpopular in many communities both in the real world and on-line. Some will defend your intentions, but the rest feel resentment and frustration at your continued high profile and your influence, despite your decades-long status as ‘friends of Africa’. There is a feeling also that you are not reaching out to the people that can really help to bring tangible change to Africa. This is a failure and Africa does not need to be let down yet again by celebrities or other well-meaning people with supposedly good intentions. Africans have suffered for decades, but they are proud people. They are givers. The trouble is, when you go to Africa, Africans look up to you and smile and are open, but you in your celebrity bubbles fail to see how vulnerable they often are in their day-to-day lives.
The Africa you knew in the 80s and 90s has changed dramatically. The African Diaspora has matured and the African people have changed. They are now working hard in and outside Africa and they are telling you that a constructive discussion about the future of the continent cannot take place with you at the helm. Africa needs partners not masters. You need to step back from the front of the stage and let Africans speak for themselves and make their own decisions about their future.
I also feel that nobody can develop a strategy for Africa’s future without speaking to all Africans. Selecting a few African celebrities or well know names will not give you a complete picture of what is really going on. On the One blog Listening and learning in Africa, you pledged to listen and learn from Africans and Africa, something I know you have already been striving to do on your visits to the continent. But this is not enough. Why should Africans write to you — Bono and Sir Bob Geldof — about their future? What can you do that you have not done already? Why haven’t you asked the Globe and Mail to use a different format after the recent controversies surrounding you. Don’t you recognise that your approach has often been the wrong one; failing to engage sufficiently with ordinary Africans, sometimes refusing to hear more critical voices and using your influence in ways that do not always benefit the continent, while some much-hyped targets – the millennium goals for example – will almost certainly be missed? Don’t you think that Africans deserve an apology or at least an explanation for these failures? Don’t you think that this all smacks of arrogance?
I realise this sounds harsh. I know that you are good people and I know that you are friends of Africa. But please, it is time to start learning from Africans. In addition to the millions living in Africa itself, there are nearly 40 million living outside the continent who want to bring constructive change to their countries and be listened to as well. Please reach out to them rather than looking for solutions on their behalf! It is time for you to start thinking differently and showing a bit of humility. You don’t have the solutions for Africa. If you disappear tomorrow, Africa will still be here and Africans will take care of themselves.
Here are a few ideas that would perhaps enable new spokespeople to emerge and make it possible for you to step down gracefully and leave a positive legacy:
1- Start empowering and promoting African leaders, engage the grassroots in your discussions, share your expertise
2- Bear in mind that we need partners not masters.
3- Speak to and learn from the African Diaspora and the many amazing Africans who are already successful.
4- Be more approachable, even to those who might be critical. Celebrities have influence, but do not necessarily have the answers.
5- Do not impose ‘solutions’ on Africans.
6-Listen, learn and then act.
Thank you both for your time.
A proud African woman
(Image credit to www.franknoon.com)