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Bono says improving technology could lift Africa

- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - Rock star Bono said Tuesday that technology is key to solving Africa's problems and urged other stars to come forward and promote good causes.

Following his Sunday's sold-out concert in Johannesburg that drew bigger crowds than the World Cup final, the U2 frontman said social networking, coupled with improved access to information, could transform governance on the continent, that is beset by corruption and autocratic leaders.

In a sit-down interview with The Associated Press, Bono said an example was the use of social media to coordinate demonstrations and mount international pressure during the recent uprising that forced the resignation of the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.

"It's hard to be a totalitarian regime when people know so much," Bono said. "It's also hard to be a corrupt police officer when people can text and tweet about it."

Bono, the Irish rock start turned activist, spoke on the margins of a conference on African development. The 50-year-old was dressed in black, his hair short and spiked and wore tinted and star-studded sunglasses.

He has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his aid work in Africa, and has had a long history of activism, particularly on AIDS. Recently, he has also advocated government transparency through improved technology, the focus of the development group One, which he co-founded.

On Monday, Bono returned to Soweto's Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, the largest hospital in South Africa. He had visited the same hospital in 2002 along with then U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. Shortly after that visit President George W. Bush, launched the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, to direct U.S. aid to the countries that bear most of the world's AIDS burden. PEPFAR has ensured Bush is loved across Africa, where the program has helped to treat more than 2 million people suffering from AIDS.

South Africa has more people living with HIV than anywhere else in the world, with some 5.7 million of 50 million people infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

"It's important for people in the capitals in Europe and in D.C. to know what they've done, particularly the American people who've been heroic in fighting against AIDS," he said.

A lot has changed in South Africa's own response to AIDS since 2002.

Sibongile Molefe, once a frail and bedridden HIV positive patient that Bono met in 2002, is now thriving. Since taking anti-retroviral drugs, her health has improved and now she teaches others about AIDS.

She said Bono's first visit to the hospital at the time when AIDS was particularly stigmatized in South Africa sent a strong message to patients.

Bono recalled how during his first visit to the hospital, people were "queuing up to die."

"It was horrific back in those days," Bono said. But now, he was pleased to see Sibongile Molefe as an activist.

Bono urged other famous people to use their star power to publicize issues such as government transparency or AIDS.

"I feel like I've been doing this a long time now, and I think when I walk into the room now, I've been invited because I know the subject rather than people wanting to ask me to sign an autograph for their wall," he said.

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