May
30
2002

'Africa, a Shining Dizzying Continent of Possibilities'


30 May 2002
'Africa, a Shining Dizzying Continent of Possibilities'
Remarks by Bono addressing the Closing Ceremony of the African Development Bank meetings May 29th 2002



This is where it all started for me. Seventeen years ago, I came to Ethiopia on a wave of tears and compassion, flowing from the rich countries to the poor from soccer stadiums taken over by musicians to refugee camps taken over by the starving war weary people of Ethiopia.



The brilliant Bob Geldof taught me then the importance of being focused, angry, persistent.



We raised 200 million dollars, and we thought we'd cracked it. It was a great moment, it was a great feeling. Then I discovered that Africa pays 200 million dollars every five days repaying old debts. Can I repeat that, 200 million dollars every five days. Tears were obviously not enough.



We discovered what you here today already knew. That a lot of the problems facing the developing world are structural... deeply embedded in a dysfunctional relationship with the developed world that's been so wrong for so long. This relationship has bred conflict and corruption. From the emasculation of the slave trade to unfair trade, from physical bondage to economic bondage, from the white man's burden to the black man's ---- burden. And, the new colonialism of structural adjustment.



I was so encouraged on the second day of this trip to hear Secretary O' Neil say to President Kufuor that he had come to Africa to hear from African's about African's needs. He knows like you know that Africa's problems cannot be solved by charity - or by prescriptions written in Washington.



Countries like Uganda and Ethiopia, which have been coming out of conflict and are now tackling corruption - these countries deserve a new kind of relationship. Partnership.



The problems are complex, nobody denies that, we've seen it with our own eyes.



But there are a few big decisions that we simply can't wait on any longer - Three million people in this beautiful country are walking around with the death sentence of HIV on their heads. That's as many people as live in my home country of Ireland. The AIDS epidemic is acting as the wake up call for all of us around the world, to put excuses and old attitudes behind us.



So what can we do?



First, it is not acceptable that these countries are still servicing old debts. It is not acceptable that Ethiopia, where 62 per cent of adults cannot read, where one million children are orphans, is paying 100 million dollars a year to us - this is not acceptable on any level, anywhere, anyhow.



Second of course we are looking for an increase in aid, of course we are - call it transitional money if you will, seed money if you want to... to re-ignite their economic engines - their people actually.



We need to put billions more in, and we must see it for what it is: value for money, smart money for the United States and Europe, because of the chaos that will ensue if we don't will cost us a lot more in the long run. Look what happened when we abandoned Afghanistan.



It's a painful transition that Ethiopia is making... and its people feel it the most. This transition puts pressure on government. We can't afford to lose good leadership, we have to support it. We have been all too eager in the past to support bad leadership, leaving the poor to pay the price.



When aid works, it really works. The Secretary and I have seen some of the results, at national, local and community levels.



Money is not going down a rat hole as a few people have said in London and Washington. It is more likely to be going down a waterhole - - Saving children from dying of diarrhoea, guinea worm, water borne killers.



It's an investment. It's an investment we can't afford not to make, in the most valuable resource of all - people. But as the new African leadership knows, aid by itself is not the answer.



Because, thirdly, I'm sounding like a banker now, did you hear that the firstly, secondly and thirdly....these countries need to be allowed to trade fairly. Not free trade, fair trade.



You know, I have that picture in the back of my head, when Ronald Regan in Berlin with his great line "Tear down this wall". Do you remember that? President Meles Zenawi faces a higher wall, a wall built of tariffs, quotas, of subsidies. Mr Secretary - tear down this wall.



Look, I'm here to represent what we are calling the DATA agenda - stopping the crises of debt, AIDS and trade in Africa. The acronym works two ways - because in return, African leaders must heed the calls of their own people for D for democracy, A for accountability, and T for transparency.



Prime Minister Zenawi, you must respond to civil society if we are to begin a new relationship and a new partnership.



It's the beginning of the twenty first century for God's sake. We have to put the past behind us. It's just that time.



It was bold and daring and imaginative of the Secretary of the US treasury to ask me and my DATA colleagues on board. This trip has raised hopes. It would be scandalous to raise hope without delivery.



The Secretary knows about delivering results. Measurable results. What's the result of this trip? Well we'll have to see. He has got to go back to his President and Congress and in that sense he's a messenger for the people he has met and been so moved by. People like Agnes in Kampala who is soon to die of AIDS leaving a family of six orphans. Iris, helping the poorest women in Soweto with access to micro credit so they can build a roof over their heads. Mabel, an extraordinary spirit that we met on the streets of Uganda.



And let me tell you about Jonah. This is a man we met in Soweto, an extraordinary looking young man, striking and fit. Five years ago he weighed half his body weight.Five yeas ago had TB, and scars all over his body from scratching terrible skin rash.He managed to get onto a Medicine sans Frontiers programme and his life has been transformed by anti-retrovirals. We were excited, he was excited. He told us that his wife had died of AIDS, leaving him with two children. That made him feel even gladder to be alive. We were excited again. Then he told us that his present love was also HIV positive. She is not part of the Medicine sans Frontiers programme.



So here was Jonah's dilemma. He said he could share his drugs with her and that they both die slow. Or he could give his drugs to her knowing that his children would lose their other parent to AIDS. Or he said, I can keep the drugs and lose the woman I love. That's a decision that no civilised world should ask Jonah to make, in my opinion.



I would like to tell you more about this extraordinary man I've been travelling with. Secretary O' Neil is not just a suit and tie - he has a heart and a head for these problems. In my opinion he is the right man for the job. He is God's messenger. But this is the man who would ask God for measurable results.... Who will ask God for measurable results! And I think that he is right.



I've been watching him - He learns by questioning every accepted fact, to work out how we get results, results, results. But what are the results of inaction? Do we raise hopes just to dash them?



In the last ten days while we've been on this trip, in Sub Saharan Africa:



- 55,000 people have died from AIDS

- $400 million have been spent by Africans on debt payments - much of this to the IMF and WB. - 14,000 mothers have given HIV to their children, in childbirth.



Can you believe that? I can't believe that. It's insanity.



On a brighter note, and there is much to be excited about, those same people, Mabel, Agnes, Iris, Jonah were all striking not for their tragic circumstances but for their peculiarly African indomitable spirit.



Africa, a shining dizzying continent of possibilities.

Africa, a landscape like no other.

Africa, a map of bewildering and beguiling contradictions.

Africa, a maze of smart dignified noble people.

Africa, we'll get out of your way - take over.

Africa, this is your century.

Africa, let's not wait to the end of the century.
This article is tagged to:
Bono, Hearts + Minds