Tuesday, May 1, 2007

One Percent

Last year Bono gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, addressing President Bush and other assembled dignitaries, in which he made a principled and compelling argument for the responsibility of the developed nations to take a more active role in relieving suffering in Africa. As we finish up with The Poisonwood Bible and with a semester in which one of our essential questions is "What do we owe to those who are less fortunate than we are?" I often ask my students to read at least excerpts from the speech. Early on he states the broad case:

Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment. 6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality. Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.

At the end of his speech he paints the picture of what it would mean if the United Speech were to devote to the cause of eradicating poverty and disease in Africa an additional one percent of its national budget to the less than one percent that we now provide:

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than one percent.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America: I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing…. Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.
What is one percent?

One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet. One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent is digging waterholes to provide clean water.One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism towards Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description. America gives less than one percent now. Were asking for an extra one percent to change the world. to transform millions of lives—but not just that and I say this to the military men now – to transform the way that they see us. One percent is national security, enlightened economic self interest, and a better safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, one percent is the best bargain around. These goals—clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty—these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a Globalised World. Now, I’m very lucky. I don’t have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don’t have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don’t have to make the tough choices. But I can tell you this: To give one percent more is right. It’s smart. And it’s blessed.

There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames. I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did—or did not to—to put the fire out in Africa. History, like God, is watching what we do.

Bono's entire speech is now available on YouTube. It's worth a look:

1 comment:

Mark Hanington said...

That is a very moving speech. While many people heard it, I wonder if anybody actually (italics) heard it.