Whether you agree or disagree with Bono about the African crisis, you cannot deny that he is passionate and has interesting ideas and things to say about it. At the UN Global Leadership Award Dinner last week, Bono had much to say about Africa, the United States, and the people who have the power to effect change in Africa. Because we were unable to fit all of Bono’s comments and all the photos we captured into one article (see The Business of Miracles), we offer the following for additional insight into Bono’s fight for Africa.
Bono on the world’s understanding the urgency of the African crisis: [We] have had to fight pretty hard for a long time to impress the public and the politicians with the scope of the problem. I think the mind reels, actually, at numbers. You put enough zeros at the end of it and it loses all meaning — except if you’re in the record business. And you’re losing zeros. But people now get it. And to see those cabinet secretaries, soccer moms, truckers, people like that in the Midwest when we toured, they’re starting to get the magnitude of this crisis. And they see that rarely in life is anything this clear as the urgency in Africa, rarely are the imperatives for action in economics, in teaching, in moral imperatives so clear and so consistent with one another. So the challenge is now to communicate. What we’ve got to communicate is that the world can solve the biggest problem in the world. It’s going to take a lot of convincing. It’s going to take a lot of cash, but the world can solve the biggest problem in the world.
Bono on investing in Africa: Could there be a better investment? Well, business people know value for money when they see it, and it is value for money. It is distasteful, I know, to use words like “value” and “investment” when we’re talking about human lives. But taxpayers, like investors, need to know whether their money is going to buy results. Well, we can do the math quickly and, crudely, dollars and cents equal lives saved. Those numbers are hard not to be compelled by, apparently. Not everyone is convinced. The checks are not coming in fast enough and often they’re not big enough. Not every promise gets kept. So we need to keep making the case, and we need to keep thinking in new ways. My idea at the moment — just the attack I’m taking — is to say, “Well, what if we label AIDS money as defense spending?” I’m not being glib about the great problems that this great country faces and security, but an effective AIDS clinic, well-stocked with life-saving drugs, is one of the best bulwarks against terror and extremism that money can buy. I can absolutely assure you of that. And what if the war against terror included a war against tariffs? Eliminating tariffs for cotton or ending export subsidies on agricultural products? Well, that would help cut off the despair, the rage, and the hopelessness that are like oxygen for these terrorists. It’s good math. This is smart.
Bono on America’s ability to change perceptions of the West: What’s going on in Africa and the rest of the world is a different thing. It’s an emergency. Seven thousand Africans are dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease. It’s madness. This is jumbo-loads of people falling out of the sky everyday, but we have the drugs!
Right now, there’s a problem in the world with the way people perceive us in the West — America and Europe. With these drugs, we can change the way they see us because we can change lives and transform communities. I say to the President and to corporate America, “Look, see these drugs as advertisements for you. Paint them red, white, and blue if that’s what you want, but get them to the people who need them and the way the United States is perceived in the rest of the world will change.”
…There was a report last week, the Bush Administration commissioned a panel to examine America’s image in the Muslim world. It concluded that hostility toward America has reached shocking levels and recommended that the U.S. increase its spending on public diplomacy. That seems right to me, but I’m not really in a position to judge. I can’t rightly say what the return will be, but I can see what a dollar a day will get you in Africa. It can buy a future. A dollar a day spent on anti-retrovirals, on what it cost to keep a person with HIV alive. And if we’re talking about public diplomacy, these pills are like diplomats. They are the embodiment of global goodwill in 50 or 100 milograms. And imagine if they reached the poorest parts of the world in that red, white, and blue. Coca-Cola and Elvis used to represent America around the world. Maybe they still do. But in this new century, in this time of crisis these drugs — these lifesaving drugs — are how America should be known.
Bono on believing: I am mad enough to believe that anything is possible. I’m mad enough about America, I’m mad enough about the U.N. as well, and I’m mad enough to believe that, together, there is very little that you all can’t achieve. I’ve been fond of saying that America is not just a country; it’s an idea. Well, the United Nations is an idea too. A damn good idea.
Bono on what the MTV audience can do to combat HIV/AIDS:The thing about MTV audience is it’s an active one. They’re going out buying records, going to concerts… We need to convince people that this is not just a cause. I’m not just another rock star with a cause. I sometimes am, and I will be again. But AIDS is an emergency, and if they can just communicate to the politicians that this is an important issue for them, the politicians who are very, very nervous in an election year, will know what they think of them. That would help.
Bono on working with the U.S. Treasury Office since Paul O’Neill’s resignation: I still have a great working relationship with the Treasury now. I’m always amazed that they let me in because, you know, I want their wallet — and so do a lot of other people. And they guard it. In the end, though, it’s not about checks. Just to sign is about checks; it’s about cashing the checks. I’m in the business of cashing checks. You know, politicians like to sign checks but sometimes they don’t like to cash them, so that’s what we’ve got to do here. But I think we’re getting places.
Bono on Tom Freston, Chairman and CEO of MTV Networks: MTV did a documentary of when myself and Chris Tucker went to Africa with the Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill. It actually turned out to be their highest-rated documentary. And it’s a funny thing because not everybody who works at MTV liked it. I mean, we had our friends and supporters, [among them] Bill Flannagan, but there were people who just didn’t like it. And while this was ongoing, this discussion [about airing the program], Tom Freston actually paid for it out of his own wallet.
Bono on Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services: I have seen Secretary Thompson in leather. He pulled up on a Harley Davidson at a U2 show in Wisconsin, actually. He was nearly thrown out until they checked that he was the governor of Wisconsin. Tommy Thompson is a passionate man about AIDS and is annoyed at some of the impasses we have faced. We really, really look to Tommy to realign the potential of the Global Health Fund. [He is] the man for the job.
Bono on Ted Turner: Ted Turner is more rock and roll than anyone I know. I figure he has thrown more television sets out of hotel room windows than Led Zeppelin. I went to see Ted Turner, and it was hard to find him, actually. He was in the hills of Georgia in a log cabin with his girlfriend, Rebekah, and it took a day of traveling to get there. I eventually got there early and found he was awake. He says, [Bono effects a southern accent] “Even God rests on Sunday. What do you want? You want me to write a check, don’t you?” And I said, “No. Actually, I’m interested in your advice.” He says, “Cut the crap. You want me to write a check. I’m happy to write a check.” [I said,] “No, really. I want your advice because it’s a hard story to tell. We have an entire continent bursting into flames and we’re standing around with watering cans. I’m hoping to get any great advice.” And then he said, “You sure about the check?” I said, “Absolutely. I’m not asking you for a check. You’re the world’s most generous man, but I’m not asking.” He said, “We’re gonna be friends.”
Bono on Jeffrey Sachs: Jeff, rock and roll! There’s a rock and roller. Jeff Sachs is the world’s greatest economist. He has a voice louder than anyone, and he’s now in New York City. You’re lucky to have him here. Yeah, there’s a rock and roller and a nuisance if ever I heard one, Jeff Sachs.
Bono on the audience attending the dinner: It’s not really an MTV crowd, is it? No nipple-rings, no tattoos, no strange piercings of any kind so far.
Bono on the band’s reaction to his attending events like the UN Global Leadership Award Dinner: Now my band, they’re worried — and they’d tell you! They’re worried because they think this is becoming my kind of crowd.
Bono was not the only person who had interesting things to say at the dinner. Perhaps the most interesting comments from the evening came from Tom Freston, Chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, who explained why a rock star fighting for Africa is not so strange an idea.
Tom Freston: We all like the idea of helping people in trouble but when a problem is too big or too intimidating there is a natural tendency to sort of look away. We’ll say, “Well, I can’t really get a handle on that. Maybe I’ll put my energy on something a little closer to home — something that’s maybe a little easier where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” I’m afraid that that is how too many people look at AIDS in Africa. AIDS is such a tough issue to begin with, and when you mix in the politics, the poverty, and the economic issues facing Africa, you can really see why even well-intentioned people get discouraged. But not Bono. Bono figures that maybe the biggest problems call for the biggest ideas. He thinks that future generations may not remember who won the U.S. presidential race or which regime is in power in Iraq or the ups and downs of the world stock markets, but in 200 years, history will want to know who chose to let an entire continent be consumed by a plague or who went to work to stop it. History is tough on people who look the other way.
Bono is an artist, and artists in a sense are canaries in a coalmine. They pick up on things before the rest of us do that. Artists get out in front of the public sentiment which is sometimes a really tough place to be. When Bono began warning us a while back about the crisis in Africa and was meeting congressmen and senators — even Senator Jesse Helms and even President Bush — a lot of people told him to sit down and shut up, that this really wasn’t our problem. A couple of years later, President Bush is going to Africa and talking about the strategic need for the U.S. to be involved there. Now we all hope that President Bush will remain true to his word and his commitment. But Bono knew right away, and it just took the rest of us to figure out that this is all our problem.
Photos by Ruth Barohn and Tasha Hindman for U2log.com. Quotes transcribed by Ruth Barohn. Please do not use the photos that appear here on your website or forum without our explicit permission.
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