Rock icon Bono Tuesday urged rich nations to take the "smart and strategic" choice of fulfilling their aid promises and debt relief programs for the world's poorest countries.
Speaking in Brussels after a meeting with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Bono tried to inject momentum into aid and debt commitments, to ensure the issue remains on the global political agenda.
"Africa is our neighbor. Love thy neighbor is not advice, it's a command," he said. "It's smart and strategic. There is a lot of unrest in this world, a lot tension with extremism. I think it's better for us to put them in schools than for them to be put in the schools of extremists."
Bono, instrumental in organizing the Live 8 concerts, personally lobbied G8 leaders in 2005 as they pledged to double 2004 levels of aid to Africa from $25 to $50 billion by the year 2010. But the U2 frontman pointed to new statistics showing that G8 countries are failing to keep up with 2005 promises. The figures came in report released by DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), an advocacy group founded by Bono, which shows the G8 is set to boost aid this year by $2.3 billion - but this is only about a third of the $6.2 billion rise they need to be on track to keep their commitments
Bono warned that meager aid in the years to come could undo all the good work that had been achieved. He urged Germany to use next month's G8 meeting - in the northern German town of Heiligendamm - as a platform to push for more aid for Africa. He said that while Japan and the UK had done much to raise their aid levels in recent years, Italy and France had both fallen behind and were "two cases we are very worried about".
"The price of credibility is two cents in 100 euros to get back on track," Bono said. "If the G8 fail to keep these promises, the price we pay will be infinitely more expensive. This will create a generation of cynics in our own countries, and in dangerous times, give those in the wider world a reason to distrust us when we need to do the exact opposite."
Both Bono and Barroso condemned the tendency of some countries to hide aid failings behind debt relief. "Debt cancellation is a brilliant thing," Bono said. "Twenty million people in Africa went school because of the 'Drop the Debt' campaign. But we don't want these one-off debt payments to provide a smokescreen for aid that is not going up."
"The countries keeping their promises are the ones with the greatest social movements," he said. "If your schools, your churches, your rock bands decide we're not going to stand for this waste of human life, that's what carries the day. Being a singer in U2 was not the critical factor in meeting leaders, Bono said. "I think they meet me because they are interested in our audience as U2. It's a noisy audience, and they want their case heard."
Bono said Africa was like "a neighbor's house on fire," for many Europeans. "Africa has problems. We can fix a lot of them." He said helping Africa could become a European project that might even overcome some of the teething European problems of integration.
"It's not our job to tell a government how to execute what they promise to do - it is our job to sound the alarm when they look like they are about to break a promise to the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth," he said.
Although the EU countries raised aid spending by 5.7% last year, it remained short of the huge rises needed to fulfill the G8 targets. The Commission - the EU's executive authority - insists has met its commitment to reach aid worth 0.39% of gross national income (GNI) by 2006, reaching a figure of 0.42%. It has set a target of 0.51% of GNI in aid by 2010 and 0.7% by 2013.