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An interview with U2's Bono

Posted on Monday, July 01 @ 05:39:42 CEST by Macphisto

Peter Mansbridge, CBC TV's The National
Airdate: June 28, 2002

He's known simply as Bono. Short in name, long in reputation. As the front man for the rock band U2, he uses his fame to get the world to listen, to hear about global poverty, the need for foreign aid, but especially the problems of Africa.

In a world of music, no band is bigger than U2 and no lead singer of a rock group more political than Bono. He's a rock star to be reckoned with. He's been mixing politics and music since the late 1970s. And since 1984 when he sang in Band Aid, Africa has been a priority for Bono.

This year in New York, Bono and Bill Gates announced a new plan to help Africa. It's called the data agenda and it aims to resolve the continent's debt problems. With Bono behind this initiative, Africa has received a lot of attention.

He's toured the continent with the U.S. treasury secretary. He's met with the leaders of France, Russia and Britain. And to ensure Africa was front and centre at the G-8 summit in Kananaskis, Bono met with Jean Chrétien in February.

CBC's Peter Mansbridge spoke with Bono who was in Monte Carlo where he had just received the final communiqué from the G-8 summit.



Bono, earlier this year you had hoped that this Kananaskis G-8 could produce the Marshall plan for Africa. You've seen the final communiqué now, is that what you're looking at?


No. No, I'm not looking at that at all. There are a lot of people's hopes and not dreams but real work dashed here as far as I'm concerned. It was an inspired thing, I think, of Prime Minister Chrétien to have the African leadership present. It was inspired to have as a centerpiece at this year's G-8, but really, what I'm looking at is a lot of rhetoric, a lot of the old numbers just kind of fiddled with.


"The scale of the response does not match
the scale of the problem."


There is, I mean maybe I'm being disingenuous. I'm feeling disappointed. There is some progress here. There are some smart things on the debt they've done, looking at debt sustainability in this. There's a little bit more money going around, but no, none of the vision we were hoping for. Basically, the scale of the response does not match the scale of the problem.


Well, what do you think happened here? Where did it break down?


Well, I don't think Mugabe's efforts helped in Zimbabwe. I mean when you have a crackpot like that, it just reinforces what a lot of people think about Africa, that it's a hopeless case.

But it's not a hopeless case. There is new leadership. There are some great people like Obasanjo, who are there in Kananaskis. There's Thabo Mbeki, even though he's been slow to turn on the AIDS problem, he's a very brilliant man. There is a great new African leadership and they deserved, in my opinion, a new and historic approach to this problem. And you know, it's all our problem.

That's the thing. People say, 'Well why should we care? It's a long way. It's Africa.' And there is some sort of I guess inherent racism in the fact that we can let this problem go on and on and on. But I think also, being fairer, it's more just to do with the fact that people think it's a hopeless case. Well it's not.


"The problem is, when it comes down to it, people are dying for the stupidest of reasons."



Well, who's not getting it then? You've met with many of these leaders. You've had access, unprecedented really for somebody who's been as concerned about an issue as you have. Who's not getting it?


You know, they're not bad guys. They're just busy guys. It's just bureaucracy. It's just, it's heart breaking really. I know how much Tony Blair has put into this and Gordon Brown has put into this. I've been on a tour of Africa with the secretary of the treasury of the United States. I'd like to tell you these people are the devil. Well they're not. They're people who want to put this right.

The problem is, when it comes down to it, people are dying for the stupidest of reasons. Money. I mean since last year's Genoa, the G-8 in Genoa, 2.3 million Africans have died of AIDS. I mean there are drugs available. We have interventions that are great advertisements for our ingenuity and innovation in the wealthier countries. They're not getting to the people. They'll always say, 'Oh, the delivery systems aren't in place. It's too difficult' – that classic line. Africans don't have wristwatches so they can't take these medications. I've been in Africa. I've been in clinics in South Africa where the nurses and the doctors are saying to us, 'We could do 200 per cent more than we're doing now, if we had the money.' Others saying, 'We could do a thousand per cent more if we (had) the money.' But these are the old excuses and it comes down to money.


"It's cheaper to prevent the fires than to put them out."



I've got to tell you, you not only sound disappointed, you look disappointed. But one assumes you're not going to give up as a result of this. What happens now?


No, I think I wanted for especially in Canada, Prime Minister Chrétien said to us a year ago, 'I'm going to give you your voice and I'm going to give you your chance' meaning the movement. And it's a worldwide movement that wants to put the relationship between the developed and the developing countries right. I mean it's a relationship that's been wrong for so long. This is the time and stop.

The message we are trying to get to the politicians is don't move in baby steps. Make a giant leap here. We'll give you the applause. This money that we're asking for, I think they're talking about $6 billion a year en masse if the Americans agree, and that's still I think $24 billion less than what the UN are saying is necessary to deal with AIDS and hunger and starvation in that continent. But $24 billion, it sounds like a lot of money, but when you think of the cost of, for instance, the war in Afghanistan and you realize what happens, it's cheaper to prevent the fires than to put them out. There are another ten Afghanistans potentially in Africa. I just thought they'd have the imagination to make a giant, giant leap here.


But do you still think that something can happen? You're not going to give up. People who agree with you are not going to give up.


No, no, we're not going to give up. We're not going to give up. And guess what? It's such a strange panoply of characters here. You have the churches. You have student activists. We're people who don't normally all hang out together. And people are waking up to what George Bush himself described as a genocide, referring to AIDS, and I see us as complicit by our inaction in that genocide. And it's bewildering to me that we're not treating this as an emergency.

I think the penny is slowly dropping. I think people are getting out on the streets. People criticize the anti-globalization people. They feel that they haven't figured out an agenda. There are some nut cases, I agree, out on the streets, but a lot of these people are responding at a gut level to what they see as the ever-widening gap between the richer countries and the poorer countries. In history, within our own borders, we know that when that happens, revolt is around the corner.


Let me just ask you one last question and it's a personal on in a way and I don't want you to take it the wrong way. On a day like this, some people are going to wonder whether, in a way, you got had. You've had incredible access to some of the most powerful people in the world. You're committed to this cause. At the end of the day, some of them got campaign photos with one of the most popular figures in the world and you're disappointed and depressed and you didn't get the commitment you wanted.


Yeah, I might be one of those people. If I'm speaking to you, Peter, next year and there hasn't been a real historic movement to deal with the problem of AIDS in the world and to deal with a continent like Africa bursting into flames while we all stand around with watering cans, I'm going to feel like I have been had. Worse than that, I'm going to feel like I've been a tourist in other people's tragedies. I'll feel I let those people down.

I'll tell you, I've always felt it was more glamorous to be on the barricades. It's much more rock 'n roll to be on the barricades with a handkerchief over your nose and throwing rocks. I always felt, you know, get into the room. The argument has a certain moral weight, moral force.

If we can get into the ear of presidents and prime ministers like I have with Tony Blair and last week with President Chirac, I know I can make these people's case in a way that sometimes even the African leaders can't because they're beholding to the institutions like the World Bank and the IMF whose shareholders are the G-8.

I'm still going to go there. I'm going to represent a broad movement. We will be back next year and you'll be hearing from me. You'll be hearing from the sleeping giant that is the church. I mean, what is going on with the churches? It is incredible. I tell these evangelicals in the United States there are 2,300 verses of scripture about the poor. It's the central message outside of personal redemption, the idea of dealing with the poor. And I'm asking them, where are they? Where are they on this? On a recent poll of evangelical churches, only six per cent said they wanted to do something about AIDS. It is unbelievable, the leprosy of our time if you like. But it's starting to turn; the Church is starting to wake up.

The students are getting louder and louder. And we are getting messages even from corporate America saying, 'What can we do? Can we help?' And I think over the next year you'll be hearing from us and closer to elections, in all these countries that have met in Kananaskis today, they'll really be hearing from us.


Bono, it's been good of you to talk to us and we will talk to you a year from now. Thank you.


Okay. Thanks, Peter. Bye.

Video of the Interview can be found here.

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