WASHINGTON – Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has a warning for reporters traveling with him and rock star Bono on a four-nation tour of Africa: Be prepared for rough conditions.
O'Neill said during a briefing on the trip Thursday that he and his staff had worked "really hard with each of these countries to insist ... that we get to see what life is really like on the ground."
O'Neill leaves Friday for two weeks of travel, stopping first in Budapest for the annual meetings of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development before linking up with Bono — lead singer of U2 — and a mix of entertainment and financial reporters who are going along for 10 days of travel in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia.
O'Neill said he and Bono both insisted that the trip be a real fact-finding mission that would take them to places where they could learn firsthand what conditions are like.
"Those of you who are going — bring your boots, bring your long-sleeved shirts so you don't get malaria or something worse from a mosquito," O'Neill told reporters. "This is intended to be a trip to the real world, not an overflight just so that we can say that we were there."
Bono has campaigned for years to focus the attention of rich nations on the plight of Africa. O'Neill has been highly vocal in criticizing previous anti-poverty programs in Africa as a waste of billions of dollars because they failed to generate real economic development.
In addition to meeting with top government officials in each country, O'Neill and Bono will visit projects sponsored by the World Bank and other development agencies as well as various clinics battling AIDS and other diseases.
O'Neill's visit is also intended to highlight the Millennium Challenge Accounts, a program President Bush unveiled in March. The accounts would be used to boost U.S. foreign aid by $10 billion from 2004 through 2006, with the increased money earmarked for countries that agree to stamp out corruption and adopt economic reforms.
"When people can stay healthy, receive the necessary education and explore their entrepreneurial spirit, then people prosper, productivity grows and countries advance," O'Neill said.