23 April 2004
Ich bin ein Rock star..Bono was in Berlin this week, explaining that 'getting on the right side of
history' means defeating poverty and AIDS in Africa.
Speaking at the Global Business Council for HIV/AIDS Awards Dinner, other
guests included Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and James Wolfensohn, President
of the World Bank.
Here's what Bono had to say:
"Guten Abend. My name is Bono, Ich bin ein Rock star.. Ich bin ein
I don't think my group U2 has opened for a fish before - I hear at
least it's going to be salmon. This is a first for me. Herbert Groenemeyer
sitting there, I'd open for you anyday. You are one special mensch.
I want to thank Ambassador Holbrooke for the excuse to come to Berlin. I
love this city. Like so many people from so many countries, I was first
drawn here as the Wall was coming down, and I stayed a while; U2 recorded a
whole album here, at Hansa Studios, right in the shadow of the Wall. Of
course, the whole continent was in the shadow of the Wall, but we were right
there up against it, just as it crumbled. The dust is under the
fingernails of that album.
We arrived on the very last flight into the old divided city. It
was a remarkable moment. The streets were flooded with people as we arrived,
it was totally overwhelming and we wanted to be a part of it.
So this ragged Irish bunch of musicians went out to party and celebrate with
the people of Berlin, East and West. You know I'd heard about bierfestivals
and bohemia, but as I looked around I thought, 'Everybody looks so
depressed, maybe these rumours about Germans working too hard are true ?'
Or maybe they were worn out from dancing on the wall.
But you know it's just that we had somehow joined the wrong parade - the
one group in Berlin that was protesting against
the Wall coming down. So
briefly, there, I was on the wrong side of history. I want to come clean
Tonight I'd like to talk about getting on the right side of history. Not
just me but all of us. If you thought this dinner was off the record, its
not. History is taking notes right now. Like one of those journalists that
follows you into the bathroom to ask all those annoying but important
Now please don't get me wrong here. Frankly, history couldn't care less
what you or I say tonight. History only cares what we do when we leave, in
the weeks, months, years even, that follow.
Every age has its defining struggle; and the last one, in large part, was
waged and won here in Berlin - the fight against fascism and Sovietism.
People braver than me won that one.
generation has its own defining struggle, and it's the fight against
AIDS and the extreme poverty that fuels its spread and against our own
indifference. That's our struggle. And unlike before, Berlin's not the
frontline, although there are definitely battles to be fought here.
No, the frontline is Africa. I know that's hard to take when all we see on
the nightly news in the Middle-East. But history will remember this age for
three things. Yes, the war against terror; the internet; and I promise you,
how we let an entire continent burst into flames, while we stood around with
Of all the people speaking tonight, I'm painfully aware that this
stuff sounds odd, indeed, the worst coming from a spoiled rotten rockstar.
Feel free to wince - lots of people do.
But despite the bleak bedtime reading I get about the state of the world
from Jim Wolfensohn over there, I want to reassure you that what I've come
to say here is not all depressing. In fact, it's inspiring.
As I look at Jim Wolfensohn, I'd like to say what an extraordinary
man I think he is. And what an extraordinary idea HIPC was, the heavily
indebted poor countries (initiative) that he started, and what a great gift
for all these years of service, if he was allowed to finished what he
Because the thing that ought to be clear as we sit here tonight is not that
we've beaten this disease, nor that we're even close
to beating it, but that
. But it doesn't stop there. We are the first generation that can end
not just AIDS, but extreme poverty
. By that I mean the kind of stupid
poverty that allows a child to die for want of food in its belly, or for
want of medication readily available over the counter in any other part of
For the first time in history, we have the brains, we have the cash, we have
the drugs. Do we have the will.
Ja, ich bin ein Rockstar, but ich bin keine dreamer. I'm no
Pollyanna. I didn't come of age in the Sixties, with flowers in my hair; I
grew up in the depressed Dublin of the Seventies. I come from punk rock.
But in the face of a lot of evidence to the contrary, I think we have a
chance here - a historic opportunity. And I say that having seen what AIDS is
doing to Africa, to Africans. I've sat in meetings of South African AIDS
activists as they go through waiting-lists of their volunteers, deciding who
should get the anti-retrovirals they have to give - who lives, who dies.
The power no human should have.
Look around the room, imagine if that meeting was at your table. This is a
choice that no-one should have to face.
But they do. Every day.
Fact is no-one really has to face that choice, or, they wouldn't if we
decided they didn't. If we looked at Africa, looked at ourselves, and
decided, enough! no more Africans are going to die for lack of drugs
then we could pretty well end this thing. In our lifetimes. With time and
money left over for putting men on Mars and rockstars in the South of
Ok, yawn, rich rockstar asking for money again. Sorry. The outstretched
hand is unseemly in any time... I've seen a lot of them. And I understand
that at the moment many rich nations are having to tighten their own belts.
Serious stuff. Hans Eichel works hard for Germany.
Gerhardt Schröder works hard for Germany. But 9,500 new infections and
6,500 AIDS deaths every day, in Africa alone...?
This is when leadership really matters.
France has tripled its contribution to the Global Fund at the same time as
being harangued by Brussels. Germany needs to do at least same, so does the
We're pleading with the Americans to increase their contributions to the
Global Health Fund, but on their bilateral AIDS initiative their figures are
very impressive. There's a man here tonight, Randall Tobias, who is working
all hours to put 150,000 Africans on ARVs by the end of the year. Randall,
please help us with this generics problem, it's ridiculous and obscure the
great work you are doing.
There are a lot of great people in the room. Richard Feachem who heads the
Global Health Fund, Peter Piot from UNAIDS, Jack Chow from WHO the
professionals. We amateurs depend on them.
Mr Schroeder, you're a capable man and I admire you. Your country has been
through many traumas, even recently. It's a country I love, full of smart
hard working people (with impeccable taste in music).
Mr Schröder, I'm a rockstar -- it's my job to be a pain in your arse, but
this doesn't have to be painful. You started something great in Cologne in
1999. Let's finish it. History will be a much bigger pain in the arse than I
ever could be if we miss this opportunity.
For a half a percent of our GNP, that is half a percent of the wealth of
wealthy nations, we can stop the deaths of hundreds and thousands, indeed
millions, of people dying for the lack of drugs we take completely for
granted. Now a lot of you are business people: that's a hell of a return on
investment, isn't it?
Up the road, the Swedes, the Danes, are going further than a half a percent
to 0.7%. Indeed France, Spain, even little ole Ireland, have committed to
joining the Point Seven club. We need Germany to sign up for membership
You're at .27 now.
Some say we can't afford to I say we can't afford not to. The war against
terror is bound up in the war against poverty. I didn't say that, Colin
Powell said that, and when a military man says that military might alone is
not enough to win the war against terror, we should take notice. We know
that poverty breeds despair; and despair breeds violence.
But in turbulent times it's cheaper, and smarter, to make friends out of
potential enemies than to defend yourself against them. A better world
happens to be a safer one as well. That's a pretty good bargain.
Almost 60 years ago, another continent was in danger of terminal declineour
own. Europe. That we are standing here today is in part thanks to the
Marshall Plan. The United States offered 1% of their GNP for four years.
$100bn in today's money to rebuild our ruined continent. It was great for
Europe, but it was also great for America. Brand USA never shined brighter.
No-one is saying that Africa is the same as post-war Europe. But we need
the same audacity, the imagination, and the all-out commitment of a modern
Marshall Plan. That
was thinking big.
In the cold war, the Marshall Plan built a bulwark against sovietism; in the
hot war, for half the cost, this generation can build a bulwark against the
extremism of our age. It's worth remembering that every week religious
extremists take control of another African village. They are attempting to
bring order to chaos, why aren't we?.
I haven't heard a better idea, and I don't think we've got a better
opportunity up ahead. Let's push our leaders to use their run-of-the-mill
IMF, World Bank, WTO meetings, G8 summits to put a plan in place. Let's
show the world we are serious about this. These months ahead of us are
fertile ground for changing these tense times, fertile ground for this
generation to prove its worth.
But we need you. Tonight we're here to recognize some of the great work
being done to fight AIDS by the private sector. A 21st century Marshall
plan couldn't be just governments. It would be governments and corporations...
CEOs and NGOs... churches and students, activists -- and their mothers. And
the countless Africans who already know how to get great results. The
Marshall Plan didn't impose American solutions, it provided the climate and
the leg-up for Europeans to do what they thought would work best.
But the Marshall Plan also offered expertise, technology, science. The
people in this room make medicines that save lives, and engines that can
transport medicines. This stuff is what we are good at --- what Germans in
particular are great at -- so why not show it off? We need the corporate
A rock star is not supposed hang around men in suits, let alone wear one.
But this rock star isn't afraid to admit he really needs you. Thank you for
need you to help beat AIDS. We need you for your ingenuity, your energy,
your expertise. We need you for your influence
. If money talks, this room is
louder than any rock show I've been to.
We need you to show us what you can do.
Show us how you can make the drugs cheaper, high quality, and easier to
Show us the way to an AIDS vaccine.
Show us that if its possible to get a cold fizzy drink just about anywhere
in Africa, it's possible to do the same with medicines.
Show us what markets can do, by all means; but show us you know what markets
I implore you ...Let's not miss the opportunity to be the generation that can
put an end to extreme poverty.
We're the first generation that can. Because we can, we must.
One last thing. There's a song that I wrote here in Berlin 12 years ago
when the wall came down. It's a song I hold onto very tightly in tense
"Wir sin eins, aber wir sind nicht gleich... Geminsam koenen wire wiel
'We're one, but we're not the same... we get to carry each other.'
We come from different places, different countries, different professions.
We do different work. But in the end, it can all add up or it can take
away. To carry each other is not a burden at all but a kind of privilege.
Thanks for listening."
Bono was addressing the
GLOBAL BUSINESS COUNCIL FOR HIV/AIDS AWARDS Dinner,
in Berlin on April 21st.
More on the campaign to fight poverty in Africa here
Press photos here
More on the German campaign 'Gemeinsam für Afrika'