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Bono―We can be the generation that ended poverty


 Why have I fallen so head over heels for this island in the Northern Pacific called Japan?

Sold out concerts? Good friends? Or a sense that something is stirring here... Atara-shii kaze- ga fuku.. A zeitgeist, as we’d say in the West, that might become contagious, and transform the relationship between the developed and the developing world.

 Could this be possible? Can Japan, whose overseas aid monies have recently fallen to their lowest since 1964, lead the charge of restoring the rich countries promise to the poor, halving extreme poverty by 2015? I believe so. This is the most important objective of my life—outside of my family and the music which keeps my heart honest.

 Japan can do it because it is the head of the G8, which comes here in July. Japan can do it because you know how to do it. You have had amazing success in taking millions of people out of poverty in your own neighborhood. This country’s interventions were critical in creating the Asian tigers, and I am wondering if the same strategies applied to Africa might have similar results.

There are a billion people on the planet who live on less than a dollar a day, and they are mostly to be found in the magical, magnificent, confounding continent of Africa. 3,000 children die there every day of a mosquito bite: malaria. 4,000 Africans die every day of a preventable, treatable disease called HIV/AIDS—for lack of two pills a day to keep them alive.

 At a certain point their tragedy becomes ours. Not just a failure of human decency, but of opportunity and strategy.

 History has a way of making ideas that were once acceptable look ridiculous. Like slavery. Like women being denied the vote. Like Catholics in my country refused the right to own land.

 One day—and it’s coming soon—our children will ask us: did we really let people queue up to die? We did. We are. I witnessed it in a hospital in Malawi. Three people to a bed, two on top, one underneath. Condemned to death because we in the rich countries could not bring ourselves to pay attention to the nightmare that continues today: in a world of excess, the horrific absurdity of children with bellies distended from hunger and malnutrition.

 So the answer from our lips to our children will have to be “Yes. We allowed it to happen.” But I pray we will be able to explain the next chapter of the history book: that we put an end to it. A generation unwilling to put up with the nonsensical excuse that there was nothing we could do about the blight of extreme poverty.

 There is everything we can do. We cannot fix every problem; but the ones we can, we must.

 The only fault I can find with the present leadership of Prime Minister Fukuda ON AFRICA is that he is not SPENDING MORE POLITICAL CAPITAL EXPLAINING TO THE JAPANESE PUBLIC WHY THEY must DO MORE TO MEET THE REAL NEEDS OF AFRICA’S POOR. In truth, his doubling of Japanese aid amounts to about a quarter of what Germany will do this year. (It’s worth remembering that Germany still pays for reunification at a cost of 4% GDP). I did, however, find Prime Minister Fukuda to be a sincere and skillful diplomat - much more spontaneous than I had been expecting from one who takes his job so seriously. The bottom line is he is not sure that in a difficult economic climate the Japanese voter will support bold interventions in Africa, a land so far away

 I think they will and here’s why.:

Forget the moral imperative for a moment. The Japanese I know do not like the fact that China is leaving them behind in Africa. They know that the metal we need for our cars and machinery comes from Africa; the oil and gas our industries rely on come from Africa – and Africa is a growing market worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year. It has the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world. Cell phones cannot function without coltan another resource only found in africa

 The new Japanese ,the millennium or m generation as I call them have grown up on the internet. They are global by nature. Dismissive of borders. They belong to a global community united by music, fashion, and a point of view free from their parents concerns.

 They want to show the world what Japan stands for. Theyare proud of how Japanese technology is transforming the lives of the poorest of the poor.

 From drought resistant rice to insecticide treated bednets… I just this week saw an early model of an AIDS testing kit that doesn’t need refrigeration. There are, as we speak 11000 Japanese volunteers working on the continent - a record high number. This is the vanguard of Japanese aid - a combination of hi tech low tech solutions.

 If we know what to do to fight extreme poverty, why aren’t we doing more of it? We have the resources. We have the technologies. Why don’t we have the will?

If Japan had the will to view aid as investment where should it invest?

 By creating and jointly funding a new agricultural mechanism to recalibrate the supply and demand of staple crops so that at a basic minimum, every parent can give their child enough to eat. President Kikwete, in an interview with me in this paper explains that just one item – fertilizer – made affordable, would transform his country – Tanzania. Africa’s average use of fertilizer 8 kg per hectare, in The Netherlands it is 550kg.

 By making sure that African countries who are fighting corruption as well as poverty are not lacking for resources to put in place the precursors to economic growth: infrastructure, education, health systems.

 This kind of leadership has a price. A comprehensive doubling of aid to Africa would cost less than $10 per Japanese citizen. Less than the price of a movie ticket, or a few songs on iTunes. The good news is that you’ve already given this money through your taxes. The bad news is that the Government don’t yet believe they have your permission to spend a fraction of it to transform and save the lives of the poorest people on the planet. What a gift from Japan that would be to the world.

 I love these islands. I come from an island myself, Ireland. Joined by water to the rest of the world, people think we will be introverted through our isolation. But in a strange way, being alone in the middle of the sea turns you outward instead of inward. It makes us curious about the world beyond our shores. It makes us eager to be connected. It makes us want to prove to the world who we are and what we can bring to it. This is the wind I feel blowing through Japan. And its headed for Africa.