Ich bin ein Rock star..

23 Apr 2004
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 Dubliner

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 about that.

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 questions.

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.

But our 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 watering cans.

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 started.

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 we can. 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 the world.

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 France.

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 UK.

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 world.

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 coming.

We 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 administer.

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 marketscan't achieve.

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 times:

"Wir sin eins, aber wir sind nicht gleich... Geminsam koenen wire wiel erreichen"

'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' ('Together For Africa') here


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