If you follow the travels of U2 rock star Bono, you’ve no doubt heard of ONE – the grassroots organization he co-founded. ONE is all about fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease in Africa and other developing nations. I get that.
MORE THAN JUST ONE VOICE
For those of us who’ve served in Afghanistan – who’ve witnessed up close the ravages of abject poverty there – it’s impossible to forget. Some of us channel that experience into advocacy for the Afghan people. At least that’s the case for me. I want to help their country find progress in whatever way I can – even if it’s from a distance. Because ultimately, Afghanistan will never “win” until its people can find a way to sustain themselves.
Therefore, it makes sense that I would admire Bono’s commitment to helping the poor. And when he speaks on this subject, I try to listen.
This week, The New York Times launched a new guest column by Bono called “Africa Reboots.” If his first thoughts are any indicator, I believe the message he’ll be sharing here is just as important as the message he spreads through his music.
It’s no secret that lefty campaigners can be cranky about business elites. And the suspicion is mutual. Worldwide. Civil society as a rule sees business as, well, a little uncivil. Business tends to see activists as, well, a little too active. But in Africa, at least from what I’ve just seen, this is starting to change.
The energy of these opposing forces coming together is filling offices, boardrooms and bars. The reason is that both these groups – the private sector and civil society – see poor governance as the biggest obstacle they face. So they are working together on redefining the rules of the African game.
Bono is absolutely right. Governance is key.
GOVERNANCE AS GAME-CHANGER
Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes once wrote that, without government, man’s life would be “nasty, brutal and short.” Unfortunately, even with government, this is too often still the case in much of the world – including Africa and Afghanistan.
What’s needed is good government. Not perfect government (which we can never expect to see in this world) – but a government that serves the people, instead of the other way around.
Winning a war is usually a short-term military objective. But transforming government takes much longer – especially in cultures where religious and cultural traditions shape social structures. To see systemic change in Africa and Afghanistan, we must remain committed for the long haul. If we aren’t, whatever gains we make on the military front are likely to slip away (as we’ve seen with these nations in the past).
For better or worse, this planet connects us all. A strong defense may protect the U.S. from future attack on domestic soil. But the best defense is a good offense. If we can be an active example to other nations in helping them establish good governance – if we can help them weed-out corruption, and find legitimate ways to attract investment in constructive endeavors – then it’s likely we’ll all win in the long run.
As Bono suggests – it’s not about endless aid. It’s about something far more valuable and enduring. It’s about helping others rewrite the rules of their game.
P.S. To learn about how our military reached out to forge relationships with Afghan people while I was deployed as a trainer with the Army, check out my book, “Afghan Journal: A Soldier’s Year in Afghanistan.” Read an excerpt and reviews at the “Afghan Journal” site, or buy the book at Amazon.com.