Net Gain or Net Loss?

Bono had proven he was serious about helping Africa long before he took the Music Hall stage at Fair Park on Friday. It took a few years and a sycophantic 60 Minutes story last year, but my cynicism gave way to real respect for his campaign against poverty. He doesn't have to do this stuff. He didn't have to found Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa (DATA) in 2002. He didn't have to take the lead in successfully lobbying the G8 for African debt forgiveness. And he certainly didn't have to come to Dallas.

So just for one evening, I tried to extend the same suspension of cynicism toward Dallas-based ExxonMobil, one of the main sponsors of Bono's visit. Just because the world's most profitable company has fought tooth and nail to maintain U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and drill in previously protected natural areas, it doesn't mean they can't also be doing some significant charitable work in Africa, right? Well, apparently it does.

Bono's smart, self-deprecating speech included his customary plea for the U.S. to increase its foreign aid spending to one percent of GDP (it's about 0.16 percent now). Afterward, there was an announcement of a "special donation" from ExxonMobil: antimalarial mosquito nets equal to the number of people attending, plus an additional 5,000. If the the Music Hall was filled to its 3,420-person capacity, that's 8,420 nets. Now, mosquito nets are important. On May 1, Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly wrote about the critical role of nets in fighting malaria in Africa. But assuming Reilly's figures are right and a net shipped to Africa costs about $10, that's $84,200 the oil giant pledged—about .000001 percent of ExxonMobil's profits for last quarter alone ($8.4 billion). That's not a helping hand; it's more like a slap in the face. --Rick Kennedy