Various singers took to a stage in Cape Town, South Africa, on Saturday to focus attention on Africa’s AIDS crisis. Headlining the concert was none other than U2 lead singer and AIDS activist Bono.
Bono’s duet with R&B artist Beyonce Knowles drew much attention. Titled “American Prayer,” Bono said the song was about asking “churches to open their doors, to give sanctuary that breaks the stigma that goes with being HIV positive,” according to a BBC News online story.
“If God loves you,” Bono added, “what’s the problem?”
Bono, now 43, can be found among almost any global AIDS awareness movement. His particular concern is the AIDS crisis in Africa, having co-founded the DATA organization in 2002.
DATA stands for Debt, AIDS, Trade-Africa. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with additional offices in Los Angeles and London, DATA aims “to advocate policy solutions to the crises of unpayable DEBTS, uncontrolled spread of AIDS, and unfair TRADE rules that keep AFRICANS poor,” according to the organization’s Web site.
DATA sees tackling the crises in Africa not in charitable terms, but in terms of equality and justice. It also believes in making African nations accountable, thus providing a secondary acronym for DATA: Democracy, Accountability and Transparency, which it calls for from the various African nations it seeks to help.
DATA doesn’t accept donations, nor does it grant money for projects or partners. “DATA is solely focused on spreading the word about the crisis and advocating solutions that will work,” according to the Web site.
DATA claims that if the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan would earmark one cent for every $10 spent, the lives of 8 million Africans would be saved each year.
In January 2003, Bono wrote an article that appeared in the Washington Post. Titled “Mr. President, Africa Needs Us,” Bono wrote that “it’s hard not to be evangelical about the facts” of Africa’s AIDS crisis.
“A plague of biblical proportions is spreading on what historians and America’s critics will note is America’s watch,” Bono continued. Bono mentioned his then recent tour through the Midwest, the Heart of America Tour, where he attempted to spread DATA’s message.
“In churches in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska,” he said, “I was asked to preach from the pulpit, but actually it was the congregations that led the call, not me.”
Bono has also drawn criticism for his targeting of American Christians in his African cause. A Christianity Today editorial in February 2002, not long after Bono’s Midwest tour, referred to Bono’s “thin ecclesiology,” saying the singer had kept Christians at arm’s length until he found them useful.
The editorial concluded: “God may very well be using Bono to challenge the conscience of American evangelicals. It is well within God’s frequently evident sense of humor to use a brash rock star in the causes of justice and mercy. If that is so, we hope that God also uses this time to draw Bono into a deeper sense of what it means to be a Christian.”
Christianity Today also chronicled Bono’s Midwest tour in a lengthy and insightful article about the rock star. But Bono hasn’t limited his interest in American AIDS involvement to that tour. He regularly comments about ongoing U.S. policy for AIDS funding.
When an amendment authorizing more AIDS spending recently passed the Senate, Bono issued the following statement:
“This is a key move from the Senate. More money to fight the AIDS emergency is critical, not just to save millions of lives in Africa, but to keep the momentum going.”
DATA supports a Web site, various campaigns, paid advertising and grassroots efforts among various groups, including communities of faith.
It regularly sends celebrities to the African continent to focus attention on the crises, as well as bringing African activists to the United States to tour with celebrities invested in DATA. Celebrities who have taken part include Chris Tucker, Ashley Judd, Warren Buffett and Lance Armstrong.
Saturday’s Cape Town concert was organized by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as a spectacular push for the foundation’s “466 64” campaign, which urges people, “Give one minute of your life to AIDS.” A Web site—www.46664.com—was also set up to broadcast the concert and further the campaign’s reach.
“466 64 was my prison number,” said Mandela when he launched the campaign in London in October. “For over eighteen years I was imprisoned on Robben Island, known as just a number. Millions of people today infected with AIDS are just that—a number. They too are serving a prison sentence, for life.”
Concert organizers predicted that the show would be heard and seen by more than 2 billion people in 166 countries through a combination of TV, radio and Internet broadcasts.
The concert also roughly coincided with today’s World AIDS Day, which is sponsored by the National AIDS Trust, a policy and advocacy organization in the United Kingdom. This year’s campaign theme is, “Do you have time?”
The campaign claims that five people worldwide die of AIDS each minute; the campaign, in synch with Mandela’s 466 64 movement, urges people across the world to take a minute to learn more about AIDS.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.