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Bono interviews Obama for the African Century edition Add to ...

During the Africa Century guest edit on Saturday, Bono said he was meeting U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House recently, and had his upcoming stint at The Globe in mind. "Obama was walking out the door of the Oval Office and I said 'by the way...' Poor guy," Bono said. The meeting prompted the following exchange.

What's your most vivid memory from your last trip to Africa?

Stepping off the plane in Accra and being met not just by the sitting President, John Atta Mills, but also by the political opponent he very narrowly defeated in Ghana's last hard-fought but peaceful and fair election. Their presence there together was such a powerful symbol of Ghana's pride in its own democracy. Governments that are accountable to their citizens, and that accept the important role of peaceful opposition parties, are essential ingredients of any solid and sustainable development plan, and to any effort to build lasting peace and stability.

You're going to be in Canada in June for the G8. It's not straightforward to get eight people to agree on anything, let alone eight countries. What do you think you can achieve?

It is one hallmark of the G8 in recent years that, collectively, we have put issues of global poverty and development at the centre of our agenda. This is a sign of how far we've come and makes clear that one of the issues that the world's largest economies agree on without reservation is that development is a priority.

At this year's summit, we need to recommit ourselves to making serious and sustainable progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. We can, and should, celebrate the progress we've made, but we also need to be frank about where all of us - developed and developing countries alike - have fallen short.

The MDGs provide us with the goal posts; the challenge now is to make sure that we honour the aid commitments that are critical to development, and that we also look at:

  • how we can bring additional sources of capital to the table;
  • how we can foster the innovations that can be the game-changers in development;
  • how developing countries can seize the moment by putting in place the right policies and institutions;
  • and how, together, we can find new ways to accelerate progress in the years ahead.

The U.S. Food Security Initiative takes a new approach to providing development assistance. We're very excited about it. What impact do you think it will have and what are the roadblocks you are coming up against?

One of the important facts about the Food Security Initiative is that it was shaped by developing countries. The African Union's Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program calls on its members to invest their own resources, develop comprehensive country plans, and then to engage those of us in the donor community. We and our partners in the G8 - and other donors - have agreed to follow that model. Our food security initiative builds on the principles endorsed by the G8 last year in L'Aquila - principles that position donor countries to be far more supportive and effective partners. The challenge now is to translate principles into action. It's still early, but we expect that by the time the summit kicks off, we'll be able to say that we've allocated resources to country plans and to research and development, that we've launched a new trust fund headed by the World Bank, and that we're at the table with resources, technical advice and support, and the willingness to invest as partners.

These are tough economic times at home. What do you say to people who question whether the U.S. should be investing time and resources in helping people in other countries?

I can sum it up very simply: Development is a strategic and moral imperative for the United States. For too long, we have tried to manage extreme poverty and respond to its attendant consequences around the world: epidemic disease; political instability; the collapse of states; cross-border flows of refugees; and the absence of hope and opportunity that come with humanitarian crises. Our collective challenge is to pro-actively shape the world we want to see in the future by seeking, very deliberately, to accelerate development. The return on this investment is potentially enormous: a broader base for global prosperity, diminished military risk, and a more just and equitable world.

Wherever we went on my last trip to Africa, almost everyone agreed that the key thing for Africa's development is having better governments that are more accountable to their people. Is there anything the G8 can do to help with that challenge?

When I said in Accra that "Africa's future is up to the Africans," I meant it. Outsiders cannot engineer progress in the absence of leaders who are committed to serving the citizens they represent and delivering on their basic needs and aspirations. It is our job to empower those leaders - in government, in civil society and in the private sector - that are building effective and accountable institutions, and to support them in driving and sustaining development progress. And through our policy commitments and our investments, we continue to make progress. A key role for the G8 has been our leadership in global efforts to combat corruption and ensure that the policies and practices of developed countries - and our corporations - are supportive of good governance in developing countries. The G8 has sent this message time and again. But even more important, that same message is also being sent within Africa - by accountable leaders to their fellow leaders and colleagues, and by people to their governments.

I was really struck in my last trip to Africa by a growing new generation of African entrepreneurs and activists with the potential to change the continent's direction and future. What do you think we can do to support this rising generation?

I am constantly amazed by the innovations that are coming out of Africa. Mobile banking that is bringing finance to millions of people. SMS [text-messaging]technologies that are empowering farmers with real-time pricing information. New tools of citizen oversight that are increasing the quality of service provision. The continent is vibrant and not simply a place of enormous need. This simple fact reminds us that, while we must continue our efforts to meet the pressing needs of so many, we should be just as focused on what it takes to create vibrant market economies that will tap and unleash this creativity.

Could you elaborate on your often-described three pillars of U.S. national security strategy - defence, diplomacy, and development - and how they interact?

What's new for us is our intention to elevate development so that it stands alongside defence and diplomacy as an equal. Defence, diplomacy and development need to reinforce each other, but each also brings a unique perspective and set of capabilities to the table. Together, they make us stronger, smarter and more effective.

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