Bono and Jeffrey Sachs will begin blogging for FT.com from Monday afternoon, EST. In the meantime, here’s a Q&A between Alan Beattie, the FT’s trade editor, and Bono, carried out this weekend, ahead of the meetings.
AB: What is this week [and the Millennium Development Goals summit] all about?
Bono: Most of us woke up on New Year’s Day 2000 with a hangover and a hazy memory of a night of pleasant fanfare and dumb parade. However, the new millennium was also celebrated by our commitment to eight goals that would change the planet and demonstrate to the developing world how we might, through a combination of know-how and resources, partner with them in efforts to help millions out of desperate poverty. We gave ourselves 15 years, we’re halfway there. How do we measure up?
AB: What are the two or three goals you want to achieve this week?
Bono: 1. Blogging for the FT, being your roving reporter in the canyons of Manhattan. While the world upends on Wall Street, I’ll be mostly midtown at the UN and the Clinton Global Initiative talking about the resilience of the world’s poor while the world’s rich find out how fragile life can be.
2. Unlock €1bn of unspent European Union Common Agricultural Policy money. This year our farmers don’t qualify for it, food prices are high. African farmers desperately need it.
3. Show what’s working as well as what’s not. Bad news about Africa travels much farther than good news. There will be a historic and innovative announcement on malaria on Thursday – watch out for it. Thanks to debt relief, aid and African leadership, 29m more children are going to school.
AB: What will you actually be doing in the days ahead?
Bono: A sleepless cocktail of rabble-rousing, meetings with politicians, chief executives, faith leaders and NGOs. People such as Nicolas Sarkozy, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Gordon Brown.
AB: What exactly happens in the meetings you have with these world leaders?
Bono: Judo in a suit.
AB: Will people care about development amid an apparent collapse in the global financial system?
Bono: Lots of people will be focused elsewhere – understandably so. But it would be a huge mistake for us to ignore the strategic importance of the continent of Africa. China gets it, India gets it. The private sector too – it’s where the growth is. A partnership on development is not just heart, it’s smart.
AB: Many promises have been made and broken at summits over the years. Why is this one different?
Bono: Progress happens much more slowly than we’d like, but these summits are an opportunity to climb that bit higher and hold countries accountable for what they said they’d do. Certainly It’s not all doom and gloom.
AB: A lot of the emphasis at these summits is on the rich donor countries. Are developing countries also doing enough?
Bono: Some are, others are not. Those that are should get as much money as they can absorb, for example Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, Mozambique. We’ve done a lot of work on the Millennium Challenge Account, a US programme that offers a big pot of money for governments that are stamping out corruption, making it easier to do business, investing in human capital.
AB: Are you concerned that the development debate is being reduced to a narrow focus on aid?
Bono: I hate talking about aid and, in my experience, so do Africans – they’re entrepreneurial by nature and want our trade more than our aid. But they need seed capital and some start-up infrastructure to get going. Needless to say, it’s hard to do business if you’re dead or dying. As things stand, aid when well spent is a critical source of investment.
AB: Is being a celebrity rock star a disadvantage when it comes to being taken seriously?
Bono: I get the absurdity. Taking yourself too seriously is the bigger mistake. Celebrity may open the door to the White House, Downing Street or the Elysée palace, but once we’re in the office they soon regret the invite if they’re just looking for a photo. We’re time-consuming and expensive to do business with.
AB: And finally – how much money have you personally lost so far in the Wall Street turmoil?
Bono: I’m OK. I’m not super careful, but I’ve always tried not to be stupid about money. It’s a serious business – especially if you don’t have any.