A Chance for Real Change in Africa

Bono, activist & global rock star, is on a journey to help save millions in Africa.


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I´m here as part of a journey that began in 1984-85.

That summer, my wife Ali and I went to Ethiopia, on the quiet, to see for ourselves what was going on. We lived there for a month, working at an orphanage.

Africa is a magical place. Anybody who ever gave anything there got a lot more back.

Ethiopia not just blew my mind, it opened my mind. On our last day at the orphanage a man handed me his baby and said: take him with you. He knew in Ireland his son would live; in Ethiopia his son would die. I turned him down. In that moment, I started this journey.

In that moment, I became the worst thing of all: a rock star with a cause.

Except this isn´t a cause. 6,500 Africans dying a day of treatable, preventable disease — dying for want of medicines you and I can get at our local chemist. That´s not a cause, that´s an emergency.

You know, I could make the soft argument for action — or I could make the more muscular one. The soft argument you´ve all heard before. People are dying over there, needlessly dying, at a ridiculous rate and for the stupidest of reasons: money. They´re dying because they don´t have a pound a day to pay for the drugs that could save their lives. There are hard facts that make up the soft argument.

Let me make another, more muscular argument. Let´s be clear about what this problem is and what this problem isn´t. Firstly, this is not about charity, it´s about justice.

Justice is a tougher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

we have the cash
we have the drugs
we have the science
but do we have
the will?

We could all do more to put the fire out. We´ve got watering cans; when what we really need are the fire brigades. That´s the first tough truth.

The second is that to fight AIDS, and its root cause, the extreme poverty in which it thrives, it´s not just development policy. It´s a security strategy.

The war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty. I didn´t say that, Colin Powell said that. When a military man from the right starts talking like that maybe we should listen! Because maybe, today, these are one and the same wars.

In these distressing and disturbing times, surely it´s cheaper, and smarter, to make friends out of potential enemies than it is to defend yourself against them.

Africa is not the frontline on the war against terror. But it could be soon. Justice is the surest way to get to peace.

So how are we doing, on this other war, that will affect so many many more lives than the war I read about every day?

I know progress when I see it. And I know forward momentum when I feel it. And I do feel it.

This is a real moment coming up, this could be real history. The problems facing the developing world afford us in the developed world a chance to redescribe ourselves in very dangerous times. This is not just heart — it´s smart.

There is progress, but it´s incremental. History never notices that, and the lives that are depending on it don´t deserve the wait.

You know we made a promise to halve poverty by the year 2015 — a big millennium promise.

But this is the big year, 2005. All of you have to double aid, double it´s effectiveness, and double trouble for corrupt leaders.

The Group of Eight (G-8) rich countries regularly get together. People look at these meetings and wonder whether they ever achieve anything. I stood at the meeting in Cologne in 1999, with how many thousands of people. We got that announcement on debt cancellation which now means that three times as many children in Uganda are going to school. We need to finish what was started in Cologne.

We can´t fix every problem, but the ones we can we must. But it´s going to cost. Justice, equality, these ideas aren´t cheap. They´re expensive — I know that.

But ending extreme poverty, disease and despair — this is one thing everybody can agree on. These efforts can be a force not only for progress but for unity around the world.

Earlier I described the deaths of 6,500 Africans a day from a preventable treatable disease like AIDs: I watched people queuing up to die, three in a bed in Malawi. That´s Africa´s crisis. But the fact that we in Europe or America are not treating it like an emergency — and the fact that its not every day on the news, well that is our crisis.

If I could ask you to think a hundred years ahead, to imagine what we, and our times, will be remembered for, I would venture three things: the Internet, the war on terror, and the fate of the continent of Africa.

We are the first generation that can look extreme and stupid poverty in the eye, look across the water to Africa and elsewhere and say this and mean it: we have the cash, we have the drugs, we have the science — but do we have the will?

Do we have the will to make poverty history? Some say we can´t afford to. I say we can´t afford not to.

This spirit, that everything is possible, is what I´d really like to pick out. We are the first generation that can actually eliminate absolute poverty from the planet. This is the first generation that can afford it, because of the wealth of the wealthy countries. We can afford it.

We can actually transform the real lives of people living in absolute poverty. That´s just an extraordinary thing, to be around at this time, and I for one am not going to let it pass.

This essay is adapted from Bono´s speech at the Labour Party Annual Conference, Brighton Centre, September 2004.

Since 1999 Bono has become increasingly involved in campaigning for Third-World debt relief and the plight of Africa. In 2002 Bono set up "DATA,", an organisation which raises awareness about Africa´s debts, spread of AIDS and unfair trade rules. In July 2005, Bono helped to organize "Live 8," a series of ten concerts around the world aimed at encouraging the representatives of the world´s industrialized countries at the Group of Eight Summit to write off Africa´s debt, reform trade policy, and grant more aid for crises such as the AIDS epidemic.

A long-time "student" of economist Jeffrey Sachs, Bono wrote the forward to Sachs´ 2005 book, The End of Poverty in which he says, "History will be our judge, but what´s written is up to us... We can´t say our generation didn´t know how to do it. We can´t say our generation couldn´t afford to do it. And we can´t say our generation didn´t have reason to do it. It´s up to us, we can choose to shift the responsibility, or as the professor proposes here, we can choose to shift the paradigm."

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