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Empowering Africans

Africa needs neither sympathy nor charity - it needs permanent solutions. We must help Africa build itself from the ground up, providing safe local drinking water, ample food, quality medical care, permanent housing, full spectrum education and affordable energy. Then it will be possible to empower its people with the tools to create a sustainable economy, utilizing their own natural resources and talents to drive growth and prosperity.

Pierre Vella-Zarb, Thornhill, Ont.

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The cost of corruption

Author Dambisa Moyo's approach to helping Africa is more realistic than Bono's; she believes more aid will actually hurt Africa's prospects for improving living standards. My favourite anecdote from her book, Dead Aid, relates Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko's desire to reduce his country's $5-billion debt in the 1980s - while sending his daughter to her wedding in the Ivory Coast on a leased Concorde. If we are to continue giving aid, 100 per cent of it must go directly to the end user, not to government officials. African countries must help themselves by eliminating trade barriers between themselves. The West should eliminate trade barriers to African imports, unilaterally, if need be. Implementing these free market reforms will attract capital from the West, eliminating the need for African aid altogether.

Mark Howell, Toronto

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The problems in Africa that exist today are ones of internal struggle, leaving Africans more oppressed and impoverished than in colonial times. The levels of corruption and authoritarian control by their own people leave most Africans with little hope for the future. I was born in Uganda (before Idi Amin) and spent my early childhood in Zambia (then controlled by Kenneth Kaunda) and see little change in 30 years for the average African. The West for some reason feels a need to fix Africa and its complex problems. Since the days of Bob Geldof's impressive efforts in the 1980s to help Ethiopians, Africa is still stuck in a repeating cycle of aid. What on Earth do a couple of aging millionaire rock stars think the cure-all is for Africa?

Andy Reedman, Ottawa

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Who is not horrified and saddened by the situation in so much of Africa? Who would not wish for clean water, food, personal safety, education and opportunity for all? The success of grassroots projects - whether to dig wells, care for ailing grandmothers or educate girls - shows that individuals are willing and perhaps even desperate to help. Meaningful systemic change cannot happen in countries run by corrupt governments that have no political will to improve the lot of their own people. Sadly, the political will for true change also seems to be lacking outside Africa.

Jill Rafuse, Halifax

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It is a forgone conclusion that massive sums of money can be raised by Bono and Bob Geldof to help the long-suffering people of Africa. In a continent where the norm is corruption, who can guarantee it goes to the people who need it?

Murray Rubin, Toronto

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Lemon-aid

Hello, Mr. Bono and Mr. Geldof. My name is Natalie and I am 7 and three-quarters. Everyone in the world seems to need help, and the children in Africa need our help the most. In my school we have a lot of kids who do not bring lunches and snacks - they are really hungry like the kids in Africa. My mom and dad work hard to help the kids in my school have food for lunch. My parents also work hard to help make donations to families in Africa. In the summer time I set up a lemonade stand outside my house and give all the money I make to charities. This summer I am setting up a Library of Hope to share used books with kids who do not have books at home. Do the kids in Africa need books too? My mother explained to me that you are musicians who want to help the world by teaching us how to help others. So please teach me or give me ideas as to what should I do with my friends to help our hungry friends at school and also help the kids in Africa.

Natalie Hasham, Mississauga, Ont.

(Response)

Dear Natalie:

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What an amazing girl you are. Yes the children in Africa need lots of books. Thank you for all of your great work and give our regards to your Mom and Dad.

Well done. Keep going.

Love, Bono and Bob

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When mothers die

On this Mother's Day we cannot ignore the upwards of 60,000 pregnant women who die annually, mainly in eastern and southern Africa, of HIV/AIDS. It is also difficult to ignore the decision of the Harper government to exclude access to abortion in the initiative on maternal health at the up-coming G8 and G20 meetings. This decision puts Canada at odds with the global community and fails to recognize maternal health in a comprehensive strategy to address the issue of maternal mortality. It also creates a divisive environment in already complex conditions of ignorance, politics and access to health care including antiretrovirals. Collaboration and consensus is critical if health, family planning and ultimately children's health are to be addressed. When mothers die, children suffer. This is not the time for ideological posturing and political grandstanding.

Monica Cullum, Ottawa

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Micro-miracle

Last month I attended, along with 1,200 people from 80 countries, the Microcredit Regional Summit for Africa and the Middle East. What a treat to be in Africa and be amongst so much energy and enthusiasm. I heard endless stories (and met many real examples) of personal transformation with the help of microcredit organizations and their loans. Jamii Bora in Kenya has 300,000 clients and officially became a bank just days before the summit started there. They lend exclusively to the poorest of the poor with remarkable success. They were instrumental in turning around the chaos in the slums after the elections in late 2007. Many of the thugs who burned down markets have rebuilt them and now are businessmen with Jamii Bora in the same slums. I know many more lives could be transformed if some of our aid money was targeted to these microcredit organizations making the small loans to the poorest, as a dignified route out of poverty.

Catherine Little, Calgary

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The ills of illiteracy

A large percentage of Africa's current problems, from the AIDS crisis to the soaring crime rate to the ever expanding pockets of cultural and religious extremism, have their roots in poverty and its preconditions, the most important of which is illiteracy. African political leaders and those in the developed world need to make the education of Africa's youth a top priority. By removing barriers to education, Africa would make a prudent investment in its most crucial capital: its future generation. Education is the key that will enable Africa's future generation to unlock the door of opportunity and development that has long been closed to the continent and its inhabitants.

Hoda Vahdat, Richmond Hill

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A passage to Africa

Our family is travelling to Africa for three months the summer. The purpose? To teach our 10- and 12-year-old children about African life and to catch a glimpse of where we can invest our social and spiritual capital for the coming years. We will visit orphanages, schools, hospitals, community organizations, churches. We are concerned about safety and health issues, but we believe we will not be disappointed. Rather, we expect that the people we meet, the sights we see and the stories we hear will transform us. Our country is a top-10 world economic giant. We share the vision that Canada can do more to share the wealth of time, talent, touch and treasure. Let's call it a "debt of duty" that exists between our two continents. Over many years, North America has taken much more from Africa then it has given. It's not handouts that we want to leave, rather, it's our hearts, heads and relationships of trust and love we hope to invest in.

Chris Hornibrook, Sherbrooke, Que.

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A place of beauty ...

I have worked in the NGO sector all my life. I am only too aware of the problems that face so many throughout Africa. We know that an intolerable number of the 8.8 million children and over 300 000 women dying annually of treatable and preventable causes are in the sub-Saharan Africa. It is why Save the Children has worked so hard to focus the attention of world leaders on maternal newborn and child health at the upcoming G8 Summit. I find myself speaking so often of the problems in Africa that I fear Canadians will perceive the continent only as a place of never-ending tragedies. The dawn chorus of morning songbirds; the man who climbed up the mango tree outside my window with a basket on a pole to harvest the fruit; the fishermen on the Congo River, poling upstream in their dugout canoes; the boys swimming and clambering up unseen to stow away on the Brazzaville-Kinshasa ferry; the family who lives in a cargo container and planted a flower garden out front; the beautifully coloured cloth worn by both women and men, and the dignity of their bearing - these are all Africa, too.

David Morley, President and CEO, Save the Children Canada

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... and of truth

While the ills that plague Africa are numerous, when I look ahead I also see Africa's capacity to fix much of what troubles Western culture. We Westerners continue our steady descent into the gaping hole of narcissism and self-fulfillment. Africans can help us find the narrow way back to ubuntu - and realize our true interconnectedness. Africa, teach us! I do not wish to romanticize the African soul, but in our day of über-individualism and commitment avoidance, when Westerners prefer reality TV to real life, we have much to relearn. Ask a Westerner who they are, and they will probably start with their job. Ask an African, and they'll probably start with who they belong to. Increasingly, the West will rouse from its slumber and respond to Africa's pressing needs. May none of our efforts rob Africa of her dignity and wisdom, as her sage voice calls us to heed what matters most.

Jacob Buurma, Toronto

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