Bob Geldof astonished the aid community yesterday by using a return visit to Ethiopia to praise the Bush administration as one of Africa's best friends in its fight against hunger and Aids.
The musician-turned activist said Washington was providing major assistance, in contrast to the European Union's "pathetic and appalling" response to the continent's humanitarian crises.
"You'll think I'm off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical - in a positive sense - in its approach to Africa since Kennedy," Geldof told the Guardian.
The neo-conservatives and religious rightwingers who surrounded President George Bush were proving unexpectedly receptive to appeals for help, he said. "You can get the weirdest politicians on your side."
Former president Bill Clinton had not helped Africa much, despite his high-profile visits and apparent empathy with the downtrodden, the organiser of Live Aid, claimed. "Clinton was a good guy, but he did f*ck all."
His comments, made on the first day of a week-long visit intended to put Africa on the agenda of the G8 summit in France at the weekend, caught off-guard some aid organisations that have accused Washington of using its food aid as a covert subsidy for American farmers.
They had also tempered praise for a recent US pledge of $15bn (Â£9bn) to fight HIV and Aids in poor countries with criticism that too much was tied to campaigns promoting sexual abstinence - in deference to Christian lobbyists who oppose the use of condoms.
The US has also been accused of planning to bury a radical French plan that would help some of the world's poorest farmers by ending the dumping of subsidised western food in Africa.
Geldof, however, lauded the US and Britain for supplying the bulk of the 1.15m tonnes of food aid that has been pledged to Ethiopia to plug a food shortage that threatens 15 million people.
But another 365,000 tonnes of food aid are needed, said the World Food Programme.
Lord Alli, the aid activist who is accompanying Geldof on the trip organised by the UN children's aid agency Unicef, echoed his praise of the Bush administration.
"Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn't talk, but does deliver," Lord Alli said.
This is the Irish musician's first visit to Ethiopia since the 1985 Live Aid concert that raised $60m for famine victims. With his compatriot Bono, of the rock group U2, Geldof has become a leading figure in the campaigns for debt relief and trade reform.
He and Bono met Tony Blair in Downing Street last week to ask the prime minister to put Africa's Aids pandemic on the agenda of the G8 summit.
The non-governmental organisation, ActionAid, expressed surprise at Geldof's comments. "Bush's increased aid comes with harmful loan conditions," its USA policy officer, Rick Rowden, said.
"The US treasury's role in the IMF and the World Bank imposes high interest charges, privatisation and cuts in domestic subsidies which ruin third world companies."
Justin Forsyth, Oxfam's director of campaigns and policy, said Geldof's remarks "shouldn't be taken out of context ... Bob Geldof rightly highlighted that the Bush administration deserve credit for dramatically increasing US aid for HIV programmes in Africa.
However, Bob is also cam paigning to reform the international trade rules where the US administration remains a major impediment to reform. These trade rules disadvantage poor countries by much larger amounts than the US will ever offer in aid."
Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, a Washington-based NGO, said Mr Clinton's Africa rhetoric was often hollow, but that he deserved credit for pushing through an African Growth and Opportunity Act, which is supposed to give certain countries access to US markets.
"Clinton began the long overdue process of helping Ameri cans rediscover Africa. He visited twice and was the first to declare HIV/Aids a threat to national security", Mr Booker said.
But Geldof was adamant that the EU was the greater villain for delivering just a small fraction of Ethiopia's staple needs and refusing, unlike the US and Britain, to supply any supplementary foods, such as oil, which give a balanced diet.
"The EU have been pathetic and appalling, and I thought we had dealt with that 20 years ago when the electorate of our countries said never again," he said. Warning that the "horror of the 80s" could return, he added: "The last time I spoke to the EU's aid people, they didn't even know where their own ships were. The food is there, get it here."
The head of Unicef in Ethiopia, Bjorn Ljungqvist, declined to be drawn, saying only that funding and shipments came in cycles.
A swelling population, drought, flooding and a collapse in prices have made millions more Ethiopians dependent on food aid than 1984, but this time a sophisticated relief effort has averted mass starvation. Unicef does not yet use the word famine, but 3.5 million people do risk starving, said Mr Ljungqvist.
After a closed-door meeting from which occasional laughter could be heard, Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, gave a rare press conference alongside Geldof. Mr Meles accepted that his government bore some responsibility for the hunger, but declined to specify policy failures.
Geldof, dressed in a white linen suit and desert boots, said the new government was a vast improvement on the "communist-terror" regime it ousted in 1991.
Noting that Addis Ababa had shed its heavy security and North Korean ambience, he called for a Marshall-style plan for Africa. In return, African leaders should be less corrupt. "I'm not a bleeding heart, I'm not an optimist. I'm a pragmatist, this is doable," he said. "So let's do it."
Compassion fatigue was a problem. "Even I'm sick of myself, of looking at this mournful, lugubrious face in the mirror. I'm that quarter-page Oxfam [advertisement] in the Guardian, always asking for money."
To see the link between HIV and hunger and poverty, Geldof visited children orphaned by Aids in the Zenbe wak suburb of Addis Ababa. In a dark hut of mud and sticks, he traded jokes with Shash*tu Fikadu, 10, and her brother, Assefa, 13, who respectively want to become a doctor and a mechanic.
"I'm going to come back on my motorbike and you're going to fix it so it'll go very fast, then I'll fall off and you'll fix me," he told them.