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White House Summit on International Development: Sustaining the New Era

Remarks by Bob Geldof

Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sir Bob Geldof.

Sir Bob Geldof: Thank you very much. Obviously, I'm a giant mega rock and roll star, and frankly this is a pretty small audience for me. And the very least that the organizers could have done was ensure that I didn't walk onto the strains of Sting. They could have bound another Boomtown Rats record somewhere, you know. Actually, just before I came on John Sullivan suggested to me that the President would be needing a new job soon so why didn't I, you know, pick him up as a roadie or something. But I'm not sure he'd be that good.

Thank you very much for asking me here. It's very daunting, it's very daunting talking to the pros.

It's hard being an activist type with the people who analyze this stuff, who are the cold face of it every day. At the same time, part of my, and other people's, jobs is to try and sell what you do, try and tell people that this is in fact a great adventure, that this almost is what America was born to do. This is the Jeffersonian America, full, live in real time. The President alluded to the Marshall Plan, I'll come to that later. Many people have called for a Marshall-type plan for Africa, but the sense that this is America at its best. You're the guys who operate the levers of that, so it's difficult to know what really to say, except that what's happened here over the last few years is a story that hasn't really been told properly, which is why I'm here I think, because I can address the media or because, you know, myself and Bono, my good friend, get on television because we're pop signers and that.

We can tell this but it's viewed with a great skepticism. And it's a pity because when I talked in the past to Bobby Pittman and Tony Fratto and Jendayi Fraser and all the architects of what's going on here today and in Africa, they found it almost impossible to frame this in the narrative of a good adventure, but that's what it is. And it's got a good ending so far. But ladies and gentlemen, we are living through the dark side of this great global connectiveness. The wealthy have just learned about the appalling fragility of life while the poor continue their daily struggle for existence. That's about to get worse for them.

Developing countries must prepare now for a drop in trade, capital flows, remittances, domestic investment, as well as a general slowdown in growth. Well, how do you prepare for that? How do you prepare when you're a fragile, nascent economy to suddenly have the rug pulled out from under you, and more specifically, your poor. The food and fuel crises have knocked down the poor who are just about struggling to their knees because of what you do, because of what this administration has done with the millennium challenge and PETFAR and all the other things.

And as they're knocked down by the food and fuel crisis, we have an almost perfect storm of poverty because the financial crisis threatens to buy them.

So what to do? Now in the stew and froth and bubble of the competing cultural values and ideologies of the current election season, there are timeless verities that must constantly be proclaimed by America, that the unique uniting cultural values and ideologies is one that obviates the sort of puerile nature of politics of the left and right and elevates itself above that into the moral sphere where you reach out to help those who need a hand. That's what you've always done. That's what we count on. That's the great idea of this place. See, we don't have an idea in the U.K. or Europe what's the idea of China, what's the idea of Russia. But you've got an idea.

When you fail to do it, you betray your own country almost. But this stuff is great for us because we can all agree upon it, that this is an empirical issue. This great pornography of poverty can be resolved. And it's to the great credit of both camps in this election that both Senator McCain and Senator Obama not only appreciate this, but are quite prepared to build on the legacy that you've heard about all today. And it is no small legacy, it's a grand legacy, it's an undying legacy literally.

And it must be, it must be that his bar that was set quite high is attenuated and accelerated. Now, I have a great fear that because of the crisis we're living through, that this would be put behind somewhere, that the cry will be to look after our own, quiet correctly. You see, man doesn't operate out of self-interest. Man operates in the moment. And the moment is this crisis and the moment is the poor of this country and, without question, it is the moral duty and obligation of any national government to take care of its own. But out of self-interest, were we to have the foresight, as you know, we need to bring the poor of the planet into the economic loop and bring them into the dignity of being human. It is not dignified to scrape and scrabble at the floor for a crust or a leaf. So all this today, all your work, all your analysis, all your finding rounds, all of that is to do with the ethics of dignity. And there is not a single politician or political party who should get away with forgetting that.

And it is easy to continue from this high bar already established because to put it in perspective, if people say, "Let us deal with our own poverty, let us deal with the new poor of this crisis," yes but right now, total global ODA from the United States is getting near to zero, 0.2 percent, close to it, not there yet. Last time I looked, 0.16 but I was told it's getting up to 0.2. That means that you have 99.8 percent of American GDP to take care of your poor and your problems. Is that not enough? Self-interest here lies in the poor of Africa, the poor of China, the poor of Asia being taken in with the rest of us to release that intellectualism, that creativity, that dynamism into the human loop.

But will it? Will we fall back? Will we once again trawl across the emaciated bodies every night on our prurient television screens? I don't want to see it. The Minister for Health for Ethiopia has just been here. Reality is that over six million, nearly seven million people are suffering acute malnutrition. We don't say famine these days, but close to. There is an air of futility when I think back that I got into this 25 years ago because I saw those emaciated dignified people crowing across the desert in their tattered togas and just stopping in a field and just hoping one day somebody would come -- we just stopped - somebody would come. But because of this new phenomenon of globalization, people came. The death of distance has meant that we are now aware of each other.

And, ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you that once you are told of some monstrous human crime and you do nothing, you are complicit. And it is a crime that in a world of surplus, people should die of want. It is not only intellectually absurd, it is economically illiterate and it is morally repulsive. So if it is economically illiterate, let's get down to the task. And if we are repulsed morally, let's feel better about ourselves by doing it. You see, the new multilateralism must put global development on a par with international finance. It is the same thing. Our globalization must mean the shared responsibility and opportunities. This is the paradigm of the 21st Century - cooperation, even compromise. And that, in effect is what's being celebrated here today. The President was fulsome in his praise not only of you, quite rightly, but his predecessor, AGOA which has elevated many countries into being properly functioning economies.

Africa doesn't want to be aid-dependent, it wants the market. The President celebrated Bob Kerry and Bill Frist, Don Payne, the Congress, the Senate, the Congress, the President. That's how it's meant to work, isn't it? Here you have cooperation for something that ends up being this administration's great legacy, and in being a great legacy so too must it continue. And it will be hard for you guys to ensure that it continues. This story must be told. You can't leave it up to a couple of Paddy pop singers to tell it. You must get out and you must tell the story of self-interest.

You must tell them that this continent, this great continent that can take the United States, Europe, India and China and fit them all easily into its borders. This vast continent with everything that any of us could possibly want. Right now in your pocket, there's a piece of the Congo. Your Blackberrys and phones don't work without coltan. It's all there. They need to tell the adventure of what America did and what it will continue to do. And while the Chinese take everything they need for their huge economy, their huge burgeoning economy - quite rightly - and why the Indians invest massively there, where are we.

Certainly the private sector in America is there, but not enough. So what is it the Chinese and Indians get that we don't? The correct response to Chinese mercantilism is our private sector. And I tell you this, rather like the Marshall Plan, as America faced the Soviet Union over the plains of Europe for the last 60 years, so too they will face China over the hills of Africa. In competition, America right now takes something like 28 percent of its oil from Africa and China 33, but that will grow. And what has Europe got to say about it, ladies and gentlemen? It is pathetic. So now I'll speak as a European. If America defaults on its promise, it will be used as an excuse by the Europeans to renege. Do not let Europe hide behind America. If you keep your promise, then Europe can't hide. Now at Gleneagles in 2005, I was there when Tony Blair had a little moment of political coup d'etre. He took the G-8 compact and asked the leaders to sign it, effectively turning it into a contract. Now America will meet its sworn contract, but the rest - Japan yes, but from a ridiculously low base, Britain yes, the others no. All last week I was begging the European leaders not to go back. This morning I wrote to Berlusconi, who sat on the lawn of the White House and talked glowingly of the Marshall Plan.

Do me a favor, as we say in London. Italy has slashed its aid levels consistently. It has no intention of meeting the MDGs and yet it's convening the G-8 this year. What will be on the menu? Africa. What are they going to do? Nothing. It is pathetic. And while Berlusconi might have derived benefit from the Marshall Plan. Churchill called it the single most generous act in human history. Yes, Marshall is a giant. America is hugely generous. But let's take your 0.2 percent of today and compare it with the 1 percent of the Marshall Plan, 1 percent GDP for four years. Now it worked for a couple of reasons. It worked because Europe just had to rebuild the institutions it destroyed while it committed continental suicide in the 1940s. But it also worked because post-war there was one global economy, here, this place. And they needed someone to sell their stuff to. There was no one around, so rebuild a shattered economy and let's trade. And in that trade, you get the most effective bulwark against Stalinism that it's possible to have. So self-interest and generosity, perfectly compatible, but we in Europe live eight miles, eight miles from the continent of Africa.

But for us, it's as far away as it is for you. And yet our histories and our futures are inextricably linked in some sort of tango. We'd better learn the rules of the new dance. Think of Africa not through the prism of poverty, but though the prism of potential and you see it as 950 million producers and consumers, not as 950 million hopeless, impoverished peoples. Where are exports? I've talked of India and China and the United States. Where are we? It drives me mad.

Inevitably, we will be dealing with each other. We have hordes of Africans that we meet on our beaches every summer. They're dead. They've washed up on our shores like the Cubans in Miami. They're coming to us for a better life. I'm an immigrant, I'm Irish. We grew up in abysmal poverty. I got out. Lucky, I got to a country that was tolerant, the U.K. We are not tolerant of Africa. We ignore it.

But if we are to stop immigration, if we are to stop destabilization, if we are to stop mistrust and brewing hatred, we invest. Aid is a benchmark, it's a floor. It will keep people going and the statistics the President read are seriously impressive, but not nearly enough. We just keep it at bay and then we try and build up the structures of the state. We try and we keep the populations healthy, educated, and then they can begin to build and an economy develops and no one wants to leave home. They stay and we can trade. You know it, I know it, but we don't do it and we don't tell the story in an effective way that makes you say, "Yeah, what geez." We need export markets, there they are, we need their stuff. This must happen in the coming years of the next administration. You helped to start it here. It's one of the unsung virtues of this administration. It's difficult for the pop singers to talk about this because they expect us to be (inaudible) to just have a general view of the administration.

Yes, speak truth unto power, absolutely, but also speak truth about power. And when power works in this classically American way of cooperation, to the benefit of all and out of self-interest, tell that story. In order to help us live, the mind censors the senses. You and I have seen things no human being should ever have to see. When the people of our country see it, they respond. Generous America, the luminous continent of Africa, it's always been like that. Can we tell that story afresh? Can we make them be part of this great adventure? Yes. But we need to go out and tell it.

The work needed to - what do I want to say - the work needed to deliver humanity is endless because, as one plateau was reached another looms up behind it. The worst of progress is not that it is an illusion, but that it is endless. But progress it is. We're in the middle of this meltdown. The great guru of our economic age, Warren Buffet, says buy, buy when they're fearful. Well I want to look to Warren, who's a friend of this issue, and when the world is fearful buy when everything is down. Let's buy into Africa, let's buy into the poor. It is the future. The poor always win, always win. Ladies and gentlemen, I don't remember much from school, but I do remember two lines that I carry in my head from the great German poet, Goethe.

He said, "Whatever you can do or dream, you can. Begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

That's true. Thank you very much.

Announcer: Ladies and gentleman, please join in thanking Sir Bob Geldof.