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Blair, Bono Tout Helping Africa at the World Economic Forum

Washington Post

January 26, 2007

DAVOS, Switzerland -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair and musician Bono on Friday urged countries and companies that have pledged to aid Africa to keep their promises and their helping hands extended.

A failure to do so would nullify the efforts made so far, said Blair, who made debt relief for Africa the platform of his presence at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting two years ago and again at the summit of the Group of Eight nations in 2005.

"I think it's important that the momentum is redoubled for the G-8 meeting this June in Germany," Blair told an audience that included U.S. senators, world leaders, corporate chiefs and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. "There are good things that have happened, both on debt cancellation and a lot of work done on HIV and AIDS."

South African President Thabo Mbeki and Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson agreed with Blair's call to redouble efforts to provide aid to Africa.

"For God's sake, we shouldn't be so poor," Johnson said. Africa is rich in natural resources but corruption, crushing debt and social services that need improvement have kept the continent in poverty.

"Get rid of the debt and that frees us to get to our objective," she said at the session, part of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.

Bono, who last year launched his Red campaign to raise money to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa, was more direct. He said corruption "is Africa's No. 1 problem. Above HIV/AIDS, above malaria, above catastrophe and conflicts."

"But there's also corruption that we should talk about north of the equator," he said, referring to a failure to move more quickly to cancel debt owed by many African countries and provide aid for anti-malaria netting or cheap vaccines. "I fear for the promises we made being kept."

Looking ahead to the G8 summit, Bono, like Blair, said it was imperative that African debt-relief remain a priority.

"As we go into Germany, this is where we find out if we are making progress, and if we fail it is corruption of the highest order, in my opinion," he said.

"Africa is this magical, extraordinary continent and we've got to start describing it more as an opportunity than a burden," Bono said.

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, an ardent supporter of campaigns to bring vaccines to the continent, said the momentum for Africa could be continued.

"I'm incredibly hopeful _ the breakthroughs are coming," he said. "We can solve the health crisis and generate a rich continent."

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