June 4, 2004
But the scale of the suffering and the scope of the commitment, they often numb us into a kind of indifference. Wishing for the end to AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa is like wishing that gravity didn’t make things so damn heavy. We can wish it, but what the hell can we do about it? Well, more than we think. We can’t fix every problem — corruption, natural calamities are part of the picture here — but the ones we can, we must. The debt burden, as I say, unfair trade, as I say, sharing our knowledge, the intellectual copyright for lifesaving drugs in a crisis; we can do that. And because we can, we must. Because we can, we must. Amen.
This is the straight truth. The righteous truth. It’s not a theory; it’s a fact. The fact is that this generation — yours, my generation — we’re the first generation that can look at poverty and disease, look across the ocean to Africa and say with a straight face, we can be the first to end this stupid extreme poverty, where, in a world of plenty, a child can die for lack of food in it’s belly. We can be the first generation. It might take a while, but we can be that generation that says no to stupid poverty. It’s a fact, the economists confirm it. It’s an expensive fact but cheaper than say the Marshall Plan that saved Europe from communism and fascism. And cheaper I would argue than fighting wave after wave of terrorism’s new recruits. That’s the economics department over there, very good. It’s a fact. So why aren’t we pumping our fists in the air and cheering about it? Well probably because when we admit we can do something about it, we’ve got to do something about it. For the first time in history we have the know-how, we have the cash, we have the lifesaving drugs, but do we have the will?
Samantha Power, an author of incredible moral force, said recently that the fate of Africa will define us. She suspects that in thirty years, our children will be asking, “Where were you when Africa disappeared?”
And for me the proving ground has been Africa. Africa makes a mockery of what we say, at least what I say, about equality. It questions our pieties and our commitments because there’s no way to look at what’s happening over there and it’s effect on all of us and conclude that we actually consider Africans as our equal before God. There is no chance.
Now, I’ve been down the path of global-poverty-guilt before. That’s where you start to look at every Slurpee and think, “Those ninety-four cents could have made a difference… in Africa.” But bump that. Worthless. What’s needed is real action, strenuous action, and just a tiny — miniscule — bit of sacrifice.
Here’s more, much more on AIDS in Africa if you’re interested.
Before I go, a snipe about the news: Okay, so Bono gave this speech, right? And it invoked the central crisis of our time, and ideas about justice and responsibility, and the idea of America itself, right?
The AP headline: “Bono behaves during commencement speech.”
To which I reply: ??!?!?!??!!!