[Washington Window] Irish rock star Bono joined religious leaders at St. John’s, Lafayette Square on Sept.16 in calling on President George W. Bush to move more vigorously against AIDS in Africa.
The group was disappointed that the Bush administration will not commit to requesting full funding for the Global AIDS Act, which the President signed in May, or the Millenium Challenge Account, which would provide developmental assistance to poor countries.
“President Bush has clearly and repeatedly promised that the United States will do more to help reduce hunger, poverty and disease worldwide,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “But Congress and the President are now shortchanging both initiatives.”
Congress authorized $3 billion for the Global AIDS Act in its first year, but the administration is working on a budget that includes only $2 billion in funding. Beckmann said the Millenium Challenge Account might receive only $800,000 for the $1.3 billion authorized by Congress.
Three bishops – John Ricard, of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Stephen Paul Bouman, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Lawrence L. Reddick III, of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church – joined Beckmann, Bruce Wilkinson of World Vision and Bono, leader singer of the band U2, and founder of DATA (Debt AIDS Trade in Africa) to urge Bush to fully fund the two initiatives.
“The urgency is, if you don’t keep the promise the first year, the rest is going to be a joke,” said Bono, who arrived at the conference in his signature wraparound shades after meeting with the president.
Bono said while he and Bush agree on the importance of the issues, the two disagree on the amount of money that needs to be spent.
“The need is great, and I believe the capacity is there – he doesn’t,” Bono said. “I believe it’s wise to spend now to build the capacity, to build the infrastructure – he doesn’t. We’re having a row.”
He described the situation in Africa as an emergency, not a cause.
“Africa in chaos the world does not need right now – but it is,” he said. “We mustn’t give in to the idea that it’s a lost continent and get numb to its predicament.”
Bono brought along a Ugandan nurse, Agnes Nyamayarwo – an AIDS survivor who has lost a husband and two sons to the disease – to give her testimony. Nyamayarwo will appear with U2 at several stops on its U.S. tour to tell her story, the singer said.
“If you watch someone die, if you watch the wailing and keening of their family, you can get very angry,” he said. “But right now, I’m trying not to get angry. I’m trying to calm down and get the president to open his wallet.”
Although the U.S. is facing its own financial difficulties, “there is some kind of correlation between America’s safety and the plight of the poorest people of the world,” Bono said.
“The plight of the poor is what’s on God’s mind – and I believe that,” he said.