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O'Neill, Bono in Africa focus on money, development and AIDS

Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com

Pretoria: U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Irish rock singer Bono brought a roadshow to South Africa discussing and studying debt, aid and social issues to Africa's economic giant on Thursday May 23, 2002.

Speaking to reporters after meetings with South African President Thabo Mbeki and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, Bono and O'Neill gently sparred about each other's role in fostering aid for needy areas of Africa, the world's poorest continent.

"He is the man in charge of America's wallet and I am looking to open it," said Bono, referring to O'Neill. "I am not looking for small change, I am looking for big change."

Bono, frontman of rock band U2 and advocate of debt relief to poor countries, is well-known for his interest in African development issues. He and O'Neill met about a year ago and agreed to a tour of Africa, originally scheduled for late 2001 but delayed because of the September 11 attacks.

O'Neill, an ardent advocate of private enterprise, said he had already seen enough in the opening part of his four-country visit while in Ghana to show that easy and practical solutions to some basic needs were readily available.

He cited the example of Ghana's need for clean water supplies, noting that in many cases, it could be solved by drilling $5,000 wells. "So rather than looking for issues to debate, I have been trying to gather facts and find out what's life really like on the ground," the U.S. Treasury chief said.

Speaking separately to reporters, Bono said Mbeki had raised the issue of recently enacted U.S. farm subsidies as a stumbling block to promoting free trade.

U.S. Treasury officials traveling with O'Neill later denied Mbeki had raised the issue of farm subsidies as Bono had said. The officials said it was Bono who had begun discussing the topic at the meeting. But U.S. officials said farm subsidies clearly were an important issue for South Africa, noting that the nation's Finance Minister Trevor Manuel raised the topic at a later meeting with the two visitors.

Asked to clarify O'Neill's position on the matter, a U.S. official said: "As the secretary has said on numerous occasions, his preference is for a world without trade preferences."

Bono said the U.S. farm subsidies issue was "infuriating" to him because the United States is pressuring farmers in Africa and elsewhere not to subsidize their own products. "It's just the wrong message," Bono said of the U.S. decision to add billions of dollars worth of subsidies for American dairy and farm producers.

SOUTH AFRICA, U.S. TO FIGHT CRIME

Manuel and O'Neill, in a joint statement, agreed "to fight all forms of financial crime, especially money laundering and terrorism financing." They pledged to support the building an integrated financial intelligence network, aimed at fighting financial crime.

Manuel said they discussed issues of African development and NEPAD -- the New Partnership for Africa's Development initiative, which aims to woo massive foreign investment with promises of good governance.

South Africa provides an unusually vivid palette to sketch out the differing positions of the altruistic rock star and the world's most powerful finance minister. It is both a regional economic superpower but also the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS pandemic which afflicts a staggering one in nine South Africans.

Reporters traveling with O'Neill shouted questions to Mbeki, seeking clarification about his position on HIV/AIDS when he appeared with O'Neill and Bono during talks at a photo call. Mbeki has in the past questioned the link between HIV and AIDS.

But Mbeki refused to answer and cut short the session to begin talks his American and Irish visitors. In Ghana, Bono said support for the United States could quickly turn into anger if Washington does nothing to alleviate poverty.

"We are driving down the streets and people are waving, people are jumping up and down, they are glad to see the United States," Bono said. "If this country doesn't get help, doesn't get the sense of a new beginning... you come back in five years and they'll be throwing rocks at the bus."

In a U.N. ranking of human development, Ghana sits at 119 out of 162 countries. The bottom 28 countries are all in Africa. Bono and O'Neill are to visit Uganda and then Ethiopia after South Africa, where they were also due to spend the night in a game park. O'Neill returns to Washington on May 31.
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