The Common Good

Bono to the G8: Transparency, 'We Won't Have Food Security Without It'

Bono addresses the G8 symposiumon food security Friday in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

One of these things is not like the others.

In a room filled with African heads of state, captains of industry, leaders of international development and countless executives from NGOs at the G8 Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington, D.C. late last week, stood one Irish rock star — Bono, the lead singer of U2 and co-founder of the ONE Campaign.

At first blush (to the uninitiated, perhaps), Bono's presence might seem incongruous, but most of the folks in the room at the Ronald Reagan building a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue know the Irishman more for his tireless humanitarian efforts than his closet full of Grammy awards. For more than 25 years, Bono, 52, has been involved deeply and effectively in international affairs as a champion for the poorest of the poor.

"We’ve seen the bleached bones of livestock, we’ve seen emaciated children, the withered crops," Sen. Pat Leahy said during his introduction of Bono, a dear friend of his for decades. "If we don’t find some way to respond to this then we’ve failed, we’ve failed as a world and it’s a shame on our collective souls....[Bono has been] a passionate powerful voice, he’s stepped up, he’s inspired me, he’s inspired others

“Because of him, there are millions of people — millions of children — who have a better life today, who will never know Bono, who will never meet Bono, but because he spoke to power around the world, and spoke to our individual conscience, to our better angels – because of him, they will have a better life," Leahy said.

Bono spoke Friday not long after President Obama addresssed the symposium to announce the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition  — an historic effort between G8 member nations, African countries and the private sector designed "to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years through inclusive and sustained agricultural growth."

A key part of the new alliance is the promise of $3 billion in investments from more than 45 private sector firms around the globe, including U.S. seed, chemical and agricultural equipment companies DuPont, Monsanto and Cargill, for agricultural programs on the African continent in the next few years.

"If you listen – and actually at the ONE campaign we really try to listen to what people in the developing world want  – they will say, 'We have a lot of what we want already we just can’t get to it,'" Bono said. "'Make it easier for us to do business,” they tell us, “for our entrepreneurs, for our farmers.'"

"Well, President Obama is talking business this morning. Secretary Clinton is about to talk some business. And we think that’s great. They’re bringing U.S. companies and African business leaders together. That’s exciting. This G8 -- its’ not just an aid agenda, it’s a trade agenda. Of course it is. What do you think we are? We understand this."

In his nearly 20-minute speech, Bono hailed the progress that has been made in combatting extreme poverty, hunger and disease in Africa in recent years. The key to that success and any in the future, he insisted, is one thing: Transparency.

Africa may be home to 400 million of the world's poorest of the poor, but it is also one of the richest lands on Earth in terms of untapped natural resources (both geological and human), he said. As Africa's bountiful resources — gold, oil, natural gas, precious metals and mineral deposits — are extracted in the coming years, without transparency billions of dollars will find their way into the pockets of a corrupt few rather than the African people who need and deserve them.

"Can we manage the oil as well as the farmland? Manage it properly, responsibly, transparently?" Bono asked the audience. "Because when we don’t, you know what happens. Hundreds of billions of dollars got lost to oil and gas corruption in Nigeria. That’s what the watchdog groups are telling us. Just mind blowing. Huge numbers.

"Crops need sunlight. So does resource extraction. Both need sunlight’s disinfecting glare. Isn’t transparency the vaccine to prevent the worst disease of them all? Corruption. Everybody here knows that corruption kills more children than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. So that’s what I want to leave you with. That very simple word. That very simple concept. Easy to say. Much harder to realize, especially in law. The word 'transparency.'

"We won’t have food security without it," he said. "But we will have oil riches without it but those riches will be held and hidden by very few hands."

Here below is a video of Bono's address in its entirety. We've transcribed his talk and posted the text below the video if you'd like to follow along as you watch.

Bono's address begins at the 4:27:30 time mark

Watch live streaming video from thechicagocouncil at livestream.com

BONO:

Better said of Pat Leahy, I would say, prizefighter for the world’s poor. What a sort of righteous voice. Louder – louder than any rock band, actually, that big voice. He’s been to a few U2 shows but I think at heart, he’s a Dead Head. Yes, the mans’ a follower of the Grateful Dead, even with that shiny pate. But no greater prizefighter for the world’s poor and the people who deserve the compliments he’s just handed out are actually in this room.

Thank you, Pat.

And thank you for having me at this incredible forum. It’s a decision you may shortly regret.

You may have noticed that I’m one of the few speakers whose name isn’t preceded by His Excellency or the Honorable. My name is usually preceded by other adjectives. Use your imagination – you’re probably right.

I’ve only 10 minutes, so let me jump in. Ten minutes is not long if you’re Irish.

As some of you know it was a famine in Ethiopia by way of Live Aid that brought me into development issues 25 years ago. One of the not unimportant advantages of ending world hunger would be that you wouldn’t have to listen to me or my friends singing about feeding the world when you’re actually doing it. So there’s a lot at stake here.

Strange to say but it’s not just music that is subject to the whims of fashion – development too.  Hunger was kind of off the map in some quarters. Agriculture was old hat in some quarters. Boring. Unsexy. Of course it’s not boring if you live in the Sahel, it’s wasn’t boring to some of the people in this room and outside of it who have been agitating for some time now. This issue lies at the very heart of self-sustaining development. People like Jeff Sachs, Bill Gates, Mo Ibrahim, Tom Arnold I thought I saw there from CONCERN. David Beckmann. I see a lot of friends. The Chicago Council itself whoa re hosting today,  I’d like to thank them for their work raising and banging the drum…So thank you.

The president of the United States as it turns out is also one of them. So I think we should give it up for the president because if the words of his speech this morning are turned into bold action in partnership with the developing world and the private sector, then today was a real moment. And we would love that to be true, and I think that might be true.

Now, Irish people like to think we understand food insecurity. You see, 150 years ago 2 million of us lost our life to the famine and another 2 million became policemen in New York, Boston, Chicago. In those three cities, I’ve never had a speeding ticket. Never! But I’m not going to talk about Ireland or Ethiopia and my time there then or more recently because you’re the professionals, you’re the experts. You’ve seen more than I’ve seen, you’ve seen things you don’t want to have seen, things that have changed the way you see everything else. Things that have changed.

Certainly the conversation has changed. Aid is way, way smarter than it was because of science, technology, accountability, learning from mistakes. And one more thing: It’s finally dawning on most of us that the continent that contains the most poverty also contains the most wealth. Four hundred million of the world’s poorest are in Africa, but the continent is rich. Richer than rich. I mean the land and what’s beneath it.

Imagine 19th century America -- plus elephants. Imagine a place of unbelievable plenty. A place bursting at the seams, bursting at the seams of gold, reserves of oil, gas, gold, tin, colt and copper. You heard the president talk about how much of the world’s undeveloped arable land is on the continent of Africa. I think it’s 60 percent. Not to mention the human resources living on top of this wealth. That’s the Africa that’s in the room today and I don’t dare to speak on its behalf. I speak as a fan.

A lot of people say the 21st century is about China. Well, ask the Chinese ‘cuz they’re all over Africa. They figured out by 2050 the population of Africa will nearly double China’s. Think about that. Ask Walmart. Walmart invested  $2.4 billion in Africa. They see the potential. Actually not just the potential, they see the reality.

How many of the Americans here, how many of the Europeans (yuck), wouldn’t swap your economic growth rate with much of Africa’s right now. So the challenge is not the old one of how to make up for a lack of resources, the challenge is how to well manage an abundance of resources and how to make sure this bounty benefits all people over the long term, not just the few people in the short term; how to use this plenty to eliminate poverty, extreme poverty, and this is new.

Now, though the old problems persist, I think you can see today that the way we’re addressing them is different and it has to be. What President Obama’s announced today is new, it’s a new approach to managing these resources as partners, not patrons. Horizontally, not vertically. Not what we give to them but what we, all of us, can do to take plans that are country owned, country led and help them succeed. By the way there are country devised plans ready today that if they are fully supported that will get us to that magic number of 50 million being lifted out of poverty. There are 30 plans ready today to get to that 50 million number being lifted out of poverty. That will prevent millions from stunting.

You know what is absolutely maddening – I know you know – you’re standing in front of some beautiful child who is clearly no longer hungry, but there’s something missing. That cognitive dissonance. And you realize how vulnerable those early years are.

You don’t have to be poor to be utterly impoverished by that sight.

And by the way it’s not just African governments that we’re in partnership, it’s African business, African civil society. That’s what’s changing this whole debate. We’re listening. Can we listen enough? No. So what we’re talking about this morning is what all of us can do to unlock what’s in the soil, in the seed, in ground, in the rock beneath our feet.

Well there’s one rock above ground that I can see now. You know what it is? It’s a headstone. A big slab of granite on what we around here used to call the “donor recipient relationship.” As you know, it’s been dead for a while and this is not even the funeral. This is the wake. It’s kind of an Irish wake. Ya know, people are in a better mood than they should be, just for a second we can raise a glass to past accomplishments in the old mode because some amazing things did happen. Debt cancellation, PEPFAR, Global Fund, MCC. Some crazy and bizarre things happened, too. Rock stars campaigning for historic AIDS initiatives in Crispy Cremes in the Midwest truck stops. And then the darker toe of undergraduates enforcing structural adjustments on countries they’ve never even visited. Ah the good ol’ days.

Let’s see today as a wake for all of that and its’ come at the right time. Why? Cuz’ guess what? We’re broke.

When the ONE campaign and I go busking for development assistance in this capital and the capitals of Europe in some quarters of the word “aid” sounds like an expletive. Really. It’s like you’ve brought a bad smell into the room. It’s like, ‘Ooh, that guy’s got body odor.’ But we need aid. Of course we still need aid. Of course we do. Does anyone disagree? Anyone apart from brain-dead, heart-dead idealogues or professional controversialists.

Come on. Everybody sane, every sensible person knows that.

The L’Aquila promises must be kept and be a baseline going forward and we’ve got to keep overall aid budgets on track, which is really a tough sell in these times. Has anyone been to Europe lately? Is it still there? I’m a proud European and I believe in the EU. Most people call us the IOU. Zero-point-seven commitment is a serious commitment but it’s under threat and so are the lives that it will support.

Very few countries have been courageous enough to keep their promises on aid. Ireland’s actually been doing it. Sweden and Norway, double doing it. The UK is doing it too. If you see David Cameron having an austerity pint at the bar, please shake his hand. It’s probably a gin and tonic, but shake his hand. Because this is serious leadership, serious courage and it puts him in a fantastic position to build his partnership for next year’s G8 in the UK. We’re counting on Germany, we need France, we need Spain. And let’s face it, a world without Italy would just be boring, ya know. (Thank God he’s gone.)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 25 years of doing this stuff it’s that paternalism – the old way we did development – is no match for partnership. It’s through a partnership, north and south, rich and poor, business and government that will reach our real goal. It’s the thing we all want. It’s the moment that we make aid history. It’s by partnership that we can hasten the day when the developing world will not only feed itself, but feed the rest of us. Because 9 billion people can get pretty hungry. A few weeks ago ONE CEO Mike Elliott was asking Greg Page, the head of Cargill, if a global population of 9 billion (which is where we’re headed) can actually feed itself. “Oh it can be done,” Page replied, “but it can’t be done without Africa.”

If you listen – and actually at the ONE campaign we really try to listen to what people in the developing world want  – they will say, “We have a lot of what we want already we just can’t get to it.

“Make it easier for us to do business,” they tell us, “for our entrepreneurs, for our farmers.”

Well, President Obama is talking business this morning. Secretary Clinton is about to talk some business. And we think that’s great. They’re bringing U.S. companies and African business leaders together. That’s exciting. This G8 -- its’ not just an aid agenda, it’s a trade agenda. Of course it is. What do you think we are? We understand this.

Look I could and should go on about Feed the Future more than I am, but I’ve only go ta few minutes left, so instead I ask for your indulgence. Top soil isn’t the only resource we wish to mention here. There are riches. There are riches deeper down.

So before I quit I want to say a few words about oil and gas and precious metals and minerals. Rock stars love shiny things. This is the bling part of my speech. I know I’m over 10 minutes, but just stick with me.

$246 billion. That’s a lot of bling. That’s the value of what Africa’s extractive sector exported in 2009. Six times larger than aid receipts, seven times larger than agricultural exports. You don’t need me to tell you what wealth on that scale could mean for investments in health, education, roads, electricity. The lot. A lot. A lot of power to transform lives.  But only if we don’t blow the cash.

I know I’m not the best spokesman for responsible budgeting. I once bought a hotel. I thought because I stay in a lot of them I’d know how to run one.

But I do at least know that it’s essential that we don’t blow these extraordinary resources.

Can we manage the oil as well as the farmland? Manage it properly, responsibly, transparently?

Because when we don’t, you know what happens. Hundreds of billions of dollars got lost to oil and gas corruption in Nigeria. That’s what the watchdog groups are telling us. Just mind blowing. Huge numbers.

Crops need sunlight. So does resource extraction. Both need sunlight’s disinfecting glare. Isn’t transparency the vaccine to prevent the worst disease of them all? Corruption.

Everybody here knows that corruption kills more children than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

So that’s what I want to leave you with. That very simple word. That very simple concept. Easy to say. Much harder to realize, especially in law. The word “transparency.”

We won’t have food security without it. But we will have oil riches without it but those riches will be held and hidden by very few hands.

Transparency. When promises are made we need to know what they are and how they’ll be fulfilled.

Transparency. When tax dollars are being spent we need to know what good they’re doing.

Isn’t it striking that the people who know the very least about aid flow are the people who pay for it – the taxpayers – and the people whose lives depend on it.

That is insane.

According to the World Bank, since debt cancellation an extra 46 million children are going to school today across Africa. That is incredible, is it not?

But how do we know? Because we insisted on tracking the money.

An extra 46 million children going to school because of solid accounting and smart African leadership. This is ffffnnmm…GREAT!

That’s what we need to do whether we’re talking about aid flows or private investments or national budgets. Track where the money is coming from, and where it goes and what good it’s doing.

This will root out corruption, this will help stem land grabs, this is more efficient. More importantly, it will strengthen the hand of the poorest in whose name this is supposed to be happening.

Look, U.S. Congress has done something truly seismic in this respect, something transformative for the world’s poor and we didn’t even talk about it today, really. Nobody knows about it, nobody except the African leaders who are here. They know all about it.

You know that Congress required extractive companies to publish what they pay to oversees governments project by project with no exceptions. It’s huge. This is knowledge that citizens can use to hold their leaders accountable. It is great stuff.

I personally met with 12 out of the G20 heads of state, rakes of finance ministers on this point. We’re so excited about it.

Why are we doing this? Because we’re listening. We’re listening to the people we seek to serve. And this is what they’re telling us to do.

So if I’ve gone too long and if you’re scratching your heads about why I’ve started on about extractives at an agriculture and nutrition event – and I know Raj [Dr. Rajiv Shah, head of the USAID]isn’t – as we approach 9 billion people on this finite planet, resource scarcity will be a recurring theme and risk factor.

These agendas of food, of land, of water, timber, fisheries, energy -- renewable or otherwise -- they’re actually the same agenda.

And that’s the key thing I want to leave you with this morning. It’s the same agenda. What started today, what President Obama has announced today, is a sign of what the G8 -- and the G20 in six weeks time -- can achieve. This can be a one-two punch on a resource agenda that to make this a very memorable year. In the middle of all this economic awfulness something could actually happen here.

Africa rising. Africa starving. It’s the clash of the clichés. Poverty and plenty. They’ve coexisted in Africa, they coexist here. You heard the president talk about hunger in America. This is the paradox of the world we live in and that most people in this room have given their lives to resolve.

And can I say, to end, can I say how humbled I am to be in this company. I work hard on this, part-time. You have spent your lives trying to cure these ills -- your whole lives -- to cure the most troubling contradictions of life on this Earth. It’s hard but you’re still here. Still fighting this fight. Even fighting about how to fight this fight. -- a fight toward fairness, against despair, against the depravity and the depressing injustice of hunger.

This could be the moment when the people you serve, the people who till the soil, who draw the well from deep down beneath it, see most or more of that benefits of that vital work. This could be the moment that all of us as partners see the scales tip from poverty toward plenty. How peaceful this century turns out to be and how prosperous it turns out to be might just depend on this.

Thank you for your patience. Thank you.

###

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. You can read Cathleen's spiritual profiile of Bono in her book The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People. Follow her on Twitter @GodGrrl.

 

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